Clay court tennis strategy for intermediate players.

As we all know, good people make all the difference in the world.

So it is in sports, specifically racquet sports, where a good, competitive playing partner has the ability to kindle new flames and rekindle old ones in the way that no online tutorial or video game computer ever could. Of course, good people come and go, so I’m going to take this opportunity to put to paper some of the tips, tricks, and strategies that I’ve accumulated during my very enjoyable run of clay(ish)i court tennis this summer with my very good friend and playing partner Darren.

Whereas I usually only play tennis once per year or so (compared to 75-100 badminton sessions per year), this summer I’ve easily played a dozen times, which was more than enough to justify purchasing my first tennis racquet in close to two decades.ii That might not seem like an inordinate amount of tennis, but with good people on the other side of the court, the quality is as important to keep in mind as the quantity. And oh the quality this summer!

As such, I’ve already moved from not-so-beginner to comfortably-intermediate in terms of ability. While far from ready to knock off Nadal, or even being local-level-tournament-ready, I’ve picked up a handful of useful mental maps that I’ll surely forget in the long, cold Canadian off-season. So that I have something to come back to next spring, at least as much as for your benefit, here they are :

  • While the slice backhand feels more naturaliii and appropriate to the surface, throw in a sprinkling of top-spin backhands to back-up your opponent a bit and make his shot selection less automatic
  • Don’t be too eager to come to the net because a ball lobbed over your head is almost impossible to hunt down on the slippery surface
  • Spin both first and second serves as hard as possible
  • Look for cross-court opportunities from mid-court, these can be winners
  • Watch for sneaky drop shots when you’re well behind the baseline
  • Minimise the speed and aggression of your ground strokes because the funny bounces typical of the surface tend to require last-second micro-adjustments to compensate — these adjustments become exponentially more difficult with increased speed
  • Wear clothes that you can move and sweat in, you’ll be doing a lot more of both than usual given the sunny outdoor conditions
  • Knock the clay from your shoes regularly, you’ll lose even more grip when your treads are clogged
  • Don’t give up, comebacks and streaks are always a possibility
  • Winners are few and far between on the slower surface, stay patient and consistent — just getting the ball back and in play goes a very long waysiv
  • Enjoy yourself, it’s summer!

Clay is a wonderful surface. If you haven’t tried it, I wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s easier on the joints and so much more fun in the sun, especially with good people. Summer is too short to be inside, so get out there already!

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  1. While clay courts are essentially the norm in Europe, there’s relatively unusual in Canada. I had the good fortune to play on real clay a number of times in Quebec in my youth, but more recently, my private athletics club installed pseudo-clay surfaces called “Classic Clay” where once the three outdoor hard courts lived. With extensive renovations to the club upcoming in the next 3-4 years, these outdoor “clay” courts will almost certainly be lost to make way for more indoor courts, so I’ll be making the most of them while they’re still here!
  2. For the equipment conscious, it’s neon Head racquet of some description. Extreme maybe ? Either way, it’s a competent all-rounder and neon colours are soooo en vogue, you know ?
  3. At least for a badminton player, for whom top-spin shots are completely unknown while slice (under-spin) shots are as intuitive as flowers to a bee.
  4. Work on your cardio in the off-season to give yourself the edge in fitness. You won’t regret it!

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