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The Clay Court Season

By Frankie the Fan

The European clay court season is underway and this is my favorite time of year. It wasn’t that way when I was over there doing it in my first year there in 1985, that was not the most pleasant time of my tennis career. The courts are an entirely different animal from hard courts or grass. They water the courts to give the local players an advantage, and the Americans that go over to Europe for the first time are in for a huge awakening.

If you are playing on fast courts, you are used to hitting winners and putting the ball away. On slow red clay, you really have two choices, either you can be more consistent than the other guy and just wait for him to make mistakes (this is what the young Spanish players do), or you can use a 1-2 Punch. The 1-2 punch as I like to call it; you need to get the guy sliding in one direction as you hit the ball the other way. For instance, if you rip a forehand wide and make him hit short, your next shot should be slice backhand to his backhand.

All the American players, until they figure out the game, are trying to put the ball away in one shot, but you really can’t do that on clay most of the time. Most of the time you really must use one shot to set up the next shot. It’s an acquired talent, but in the long run it makes you a better player. You need to think a bit more and be more patient and cut down on your unforced errors and the most important thing you need to do is try not to lose your mind when a guy that you know that you would kill on hard court is killing you on slow red clay. That’s the hardest part for most guys on their first year on tour.

I remember my second year over on the ATP there I was practicing and playing very well and a guy from my college team, Mark Wilder, was watching me play. I was one of the better players over there in Spain in the satellite, and he was learning from me. When I was in school I couldn’t touch the guy, he was much better than me, but that was on hard courts, yet on red clay he was learning about footwork, patience and sliding and balance from me. His travel partner from University of Alabama, Andy Solis, was one of the best players in college tennis but he was getting his ass kicked over there, and my friend wasn’t doing much better. It really is a different world.

This week we are in Houston and Morocco as we get ready for the Monte Carlo Masters next week. Yesterday we placed a bet at my favorite sportsbook on Tommie Hass +1.5 sets over Jack Sock. Sock is good on soft courts, but we knew Haas with his experience would push the young American. And we were right and we were paid. Today’s play is Bellucci +160 over Sam Querry, we wish the odds were better, but the American, unless he serves out of his mind will lose this match today. Take care guys.

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