I'm happy to introduce the second installment of a new feature on zootennis, which will tap the professional expertise of Andy Brandi and Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
It's fitting that today's question: "How much should I train on clay?" is answered by Harold Solomon, a 1976 French Open singles finalist and one of the best clay court players of his generation.
At our Institute we have made the decision to train our students on clay as much as possible. We think that one of the reasons American juniors and professionals are lagging behind in today's game is that they are for the most part not exposed to clay from a young age. Here are five reasons we think clay training is vital to development:Do you have a question for Andy or Harold? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coaches' Q and A in the subject line. Next they will address a reader's question on how to deal with nerves when playing in national events against tougher competition.
In order to be effective on clay, a player has to develop the skill of working the point instead of going for outright winners from anywhere on the court. Since clay is one of the slower surfaces and because most clay court specialists are very adept at sliding (which enables them to get to more balls with less effort), it is necessary to learn how to maneuver opponents out of position in order to set up the opportunity to go for a high percentage winner or finish off the point at the net.
Shot Variety and Selection
Most clay court players have become very skilled in the use of heavy angled top spin balls, slice backhands, high top spin drives and drop shots. Clay court players are often more aware of hitting the ball with greater clearance over the net and not quite as close to the lines. Being effective on clay demands that a player develop patience; it is not uncommon for there to be rallies or 20 or 30 balls at the French Open before one player decides to "pull the trigger".
Playing well on clay requires a higher degree of physical fitness since rallies and matches last longer. Since players generally can't end the point with one swat of the racket they have to develop the ability to "see the court differently".
When a player begins to understand the clay court game the court begins to look like a giant chess board. Often a player is able to think one shot ahead, which means that they recognize the ramifications of the shot that they are hitting and how it will lead them into the next opportunity to get their opponent out of position.
Skills translate to other surfaces
This basic understanding of the game and the court leads to a higher level of competency on all surfaces. The ability to hit more balls consistently in the court gives the player a much higher level of self confidence especially at crucial times in matches.
Given all of the above we think that juniors should spend at a minimum 50% of their time training on clay, no matter what style of play they intend to develop for the future.
Friday, November 9, 2007