French Open 2016: Two Clay Court Lessons I Failed to Learn

Given today’s soggy weather, I will journey into my own modest past playing USTA junior events on har-tru/green clay.  I remember two losses that could have gone the other direction had I been less stubborn on court.

Lesson from Match One – Vary Service Speeds and Placements

In the early round of an event, I drew an opponent who was roughly my equal.  My footwork on clay was never as solid as it was on hard courts (still true today).  I recall being the more powerful player and better volleyer, but my opponent was more consistent.  I had one big advantage in that I was winning a lot of free points on my serve or getting easy volleys off of a big serve.  So in my own teenage mind, I just thought keep throwing pace at him off of the serve and win.  As the match went on, I kept going for the same speed serves in two basic spots (up the T and out wide).  He eventually started getting a lot more serves back and making some of those volleys tougher with better returns.  I lost two close sets.  When we shook hands, he told me, “I’d hate to face your serve on a hard court.” His comment was the only reason I really remember the match at all.  A hard court would likely would have helped me, but by giving my opponent the same 2 looks on every first serve, I set the stage for a loss.  If a weapon becomes predictable, it had better be a weapon an opponent has no possible answer for because otherwise its relative value will shrink.  I had a good kick serve.  I could slice my serve.  I could serve the body.  I failed to do any of those things.

Lesson from Match Two – Have My Equipment Ready

 I remember this match because I had faced the same player at a hard court junior tournament a few weeks earlier.  That match was a close 3 set loss.  I felt I could avenge that result even though I was never a fan of playing on green clay.  In a similar manner to our earlier match, we split the first two sets.  I had won the 2nd set and felt I had figured him out to some extent.  I had two racquets, but one was strung in a manner that I really liked.  The other was overdue for a string job, but I so rarely broke strings I was holding out until after the tournament to get both strung the same way.  Well, I broke a string in the 3rd set and my level of play dropped.  Some of the drop was probably psychological, but I also just felt like my other racquet was dead.  Well, I lost a close 3rd set.  The crazy thing about this is I was pretty meticulous with my equipment.  I had my towel, water, extra pair of socks, and hat with me at all times.  I just took a risk on my back-up racquet that I normally would never have taken.

These seem like simple lessons.  However, if one is coaching a junior player, it may be worth finding a way to remind a teenager of the simple aspects of the sport because taking care of those can prevent some complex situations from arising on court.

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1 Comment

  1. I grew up playing on a lot of HarTru and definitely found that taking something off the serve while kicking it to the weaker (general backhand) wing allowed me to play my serve and volley style with little drop-off in efficacy. But when I moved to Europe it didn’t translate as well to the terre battue–not sure if it was just that the courts weren’t sufficiently watered, but I found the kick to be less biting, meaning a lot more returns were coming back at my feet (or whizzing past me). The footwork (sliding into the strike) isn’t identical but similar enough, so my HarTru youth helped me to not look totally like a baby giraffe on a hockey rink at least.

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