How to play on clay

Amateur tennis players in the UK have traditionally had a limited choice of local surfaces – namely hard or, if you’re very lucky, grass courts. However, due to increased interest in the sunnier climes of Roland Garros and the Madrid Open, more people are looking to test their skills on clay.

The dusty courts are still few and far between in Britain, but a few have popped up in the capital (St Mary’s, Westway and The Warren). Nevertheless, before you don your Rafael Nadal-style sleeveless shirt and slide willy-nilly past the baseline, there are four key ways you should adapt your game for clay.

1. Get the right kit

Unless you’re going to be regularly playing on clay, it’s not worth breaking the bank for specialist footwear. That said, a decent pair of durable shoes with tailored grip will make a noticeable difference to how quickly and efficiently you can move around the court – as well as stopping you from falling over. For example, the Nike Air Vapor Advantage Clay shoes are fitted with Nike’s hefty XDR outsole for controlled sliding.


2. Slide, slide, slide

Sliding is the most distinctive feature of playing on clay. It’s quicker than running over the loose surface and allows you to change direction more smoothly. The key is to slide your leading foot over the court as you move into and play the shot. Remember to always bend your knees or your foot will get stuck in the clay, increasing the risk of a twisted ankle. If you’re still not sure, Roland Garros has put together a handy megamix of professional slides for inspiration:


3. Be patient

Clay courts are relatively slow and the ball bounces high, making it difficult to play an adrenaline-fuelled game of short rallies and fast winners. You should, therefore, concentrate, keep a low centre of gravity and be willing to settle in for long baseline-focused points. Try to lull your opponent into a false sense of security by repeatedly hitting cross-court before suddenly switching to a backhand or a drop shot – your “secret weapon”.


4. Make the most of spin and slice

Adding topspin to a shot on clay will force your opponent to adjust their body as the ball comes towards them at shoulder height. This is because the powdery surface exaggerates the rotation of the ball, which also makes slicing doubly effective: it’ll keep the ball low and may even cause it to “skip” off the ground, catching your opponent unawares.

Now read our tips for playing on grass.

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