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What Makes Clay Courts So Difficult for Americans?
By: Eric Coursey

There are two types of clay courts, the red clay and the green clay. The red clay can be natural or made up of crushed bricks mixed with other materials as it is at Roland Garros. Green clay is made up of crushed stone and a mixture of rubber and plastics. These mixtures really reduce the forward velocity of the ball, eliminating the advantage of a power game.

Clay courts are slippery which makes footing on your shots a little tricky as well as eliminating any quick directional changes you might try to make. The clay surface also the slowest surface to play on reduces the affect of hard hit balls. Clay is ideal for players with lots of top spin, it also increases the effectiveness of the drop shot as well as back footing your opponent. Any shot that forces your opponent to make quick directional changes will be highly effective.

Rallies are longer on clay court then they are on other court surfaces. You have to make more shots then normal which can really tire a player out. The clay surface doesn't allow you to set up as well for your shots as other playing surfaces do. Grass and hard court allow a player the ability to stop and plant themselves for their shot. When playing on clay, you will slide into a lot of shots. The combination of having more time and the slippery surface really equals out the playing field.

Most American players are very powerful. They tend to stay on the baseline and power all of their shots. This technique may work great on grass and hard courts where the play is fast but not so on clay. The clay works directly against your power, slowing down the ball and making it bounce higher allowing the opponent more time to set up. You have to have endurance and patience to play on clay. You have to hit more shots that would be winners on other court surfaces before you get one on clay. Clay courts is to an American, like running a marathon is to a sprinter. You can only sprint so far before the marathon runner catches you. The American's can only power their way so far into the French Open before the clay specialists show them how it's done.

This Year James Blake, commenting on his defeat to Gael Monfils . "He gets so many balls, especially on this surface, with it being that slow. Makes you win the point a few times. I just didn't do that." James Blake was the last American man in the French Open until his match with Monfils. Power shots don't stand up to the endurance of the clay court specialists. To be good on clay you have to work hard. It's a surface for the grinders, the players with loads of heart and determination.

Playing on clay is a lateral game, you can't be quick to run to the net. The serve and volley game is really of no use on clay courts. Playing on clay takes time, pushing your opponent deep and wide allowing you plenty of time to get to the net to finish off the rally. The key to success on clay is combination shots. You have to slowly work your opponent wide and get him or her out of position allowing you to hit winners. Push them deep and then draw them in. Make your opponent move back and forth, hit a wide shot and then hit behind them. The second key to winning on clay is patience. You need to have the patience to outlast your opponent and force them to make errors instead of going for winners. These two things will greatly improve your playing ability on clay.

Winner = Any shot that lands in and your opponent is not able to get to.
Back footing = When your opponent is running in one direction, hitting the ball behind them.
Roland Garros = The location where the French Open is held.

Eric Coursey is the webmaster for www.my-advantage-tennis-shop.com. My Advantage Tennis provides information on tennis equipment and apparel. You can also sign up for free tips on tennis equipment, apparel and strategies.