With the clay season upon us, I thought it would be interesting to post a couple of contrasting views on the surface from two different professionals, two of tennischick's favourite players. Without further ado, from Issue 66 of ACE:
Why I love clay
by Juan Carlos Ferrero
1. Because I can run all day on clay.
Sometimes I win on clay because I can run longer and harder than my opponents. Not always, though. I am not a machine. My nickname is 'Mosquito' because I love running very fast around the court and because I'm pretty thin. Other players said my legs were so fast I was like a mosquito. I'm in good shape physically and can run longer than some of the bigger players. But if it's a five set match... you never know. It's difficult to be that good during the fifth set.
2. Because clay kills the power of the big servers like Rusedski and Sampras.
Clay makes big serves easier to get back. When returning, you can stand further back if you want because the ball sits up. On a hard court that's more difficult. But with Rusedski, even on clay, you don't have much time.
3. Because clay is slow.
It's easier for me bcause the clay slow the ball down. I have more time to see it and I can prepare for the shots better and hit the ball harder.
4. Because clay is more forgiving.
Clay is soft and it's easier on my knees and ankles. After five sets on clay my body doesn't feel nearly as bad as after five sets on a hard court.
5. Because little players like me (Juan Carlos only weighs 160 lbs) can beat bigger players on clay.
I'm not as big as some of the guys like Safin, Haas, Agassi and Federer. On clay it's sometimes an advantage if you're not carrying so much weight. But of course the bigger players have more power... especially on hard courts.
6. Because I can slide on clay.
It's a great feeling when I slide into a shot on clay. It means I can get ready for the next shot more quickly. Sliding all depends on the player. There are some players who slide on clay and others who don't.
7. Because marks on clay mean you can see exactly where the ball landed.
It's better on clay because when there is an argument over a line call you can see if the ball is out. Also, the umpire can come down off his chair if he has to. Close line calls on hard courts are more frustrating. Imagine you're in the fifth set on a tiebreak [on a hard court] and a ball is out and the umpire makes a mistake. That's hard to deal with.
8. Because clay court tennis is more interesting for spectators.
The points are much longer. I think it is definitely more beautiful to see a clay court match. It is more athletic.
9. Because you can hit good drop shots.
Short shots are easy for me to do on any surface. But they are easiest on a clay court and hardest on a grass court. Sometimes, when the point is very long, it can be a very good time to hit a drop shot.
10. You can still play when it's raining.
If there is light rain you can continue to play on clay. You won't slip if it's not too wet.
Why I hate clay
by Greg Rusedski
1. Because it takes the edge off my serve.
I don't get as many cheap points, and I have to work more. But I think that's what's happening with all surfaces now, more or less. You have to use the kick serve and the slice serve. You have to change the position of where you stand, and you have to use all sorts of varieties you normally wouldn't. On clay you are not going to go out and serve 10 or 15 aces. You might serve just three or four.
2. Because it's hard work.
The ball never seems to stop going. You can often have 100-ball rallies. But it doesn't mean more potential for injuries. Clay is the least punishing surface for the joints and the body. But if you are an attacking kind of a player, as I am, you have to be pinpoint sharp if you don't want to be forced to hit thousands and thousands of balls.
3. Because clay causes tactical difficulties.
The clay court player is given more time to build the rally. This means you need to find exactly the right balance of when to come in and when to stay back. Last year the balls were very slow during the clay court season (which made the tactical choice more difficult still). This year they are supposed to be quicker, so it could be a little bit more interesting.
4. Because everything gets filthy.
Clay just gets into everything. You get it into your hair, and on your legs, shoes and socks. You get dirty all over, like you've gone to a mud bath in a spa! Your clothes get real dirty. Fortunately the tournaments do the cleaning for us!
5. Because there are just too many minor tournaments on clay.
The French play on the clay far too much. There are just too many tournaments on the surface. They should have the same number of grass court tournaments as clay court tournaments. Then I'm sure I'd be back in the top ten tomorrow!
6. Because clay changes your movements.
Clay is good for your groundstrokes and improves your game from the back. And I think I showed in Ecuador that I can use that positively [Greg scored one of Great Britain's greatest Davis Cup successes by beating Nicolas Lapentti on clay in Guayaquil last autumn]. But you also have to learn to slide into the shot and to move quite differently from when you are playing on hard courts or grass.
7. Because you have to change your mindset completely.
Mentally, clay is very different. You have to realise that, even if you are winning an easy match, on clay it will still take you an hour and a half or two hours to do it. Your mind has to be changed totally. You have to change from serving and volleying to mixing it up a hell of a lot. You have to be prepared, if necessary, to build the point longer and longer and longer.
8. Because there are so many good players on clay.
There are thousands of players who are specialists on this red stuff. Many of the best clay court players have improved on hard courts, but clay is where they really play. And they play from February basically through until August... all on clay!
9. Because they make bricks from clay.
(This is Greg's retort to the "grass is for cows" remark first used by Sweden's Jan-Erik Lundqvist in the 1960s. He may well have been serious. But for Greg it's mostly a gag.)
10. Because I can't win on clay.
I think it's pretty clear that I'm not - and maybe Tim's not - going to win anything on clay. So I have planned to take four of five weeks off during the clay court season this year, even if it means missing some of the clay court Masters Series events. By the end of March I was already beginning to prepare for Wimbledon. After all that's only being realistic... isn't it?
It'll be interesting to see how these two handle the clay court season this year, bearing in mind they'll both be unseeded. Thoughts?