GIGI FERNANDEZ MENTAL TIP OF THE MONTH: Transitioning to Clay

by Gigi Fernandez

Putting the ball away on a slow clay court is much more difficult than on a faster surfaces. Because the ball moves slower when it bounces, players with strong groundstroke have the slight advantage of time. It is almost impossible to rush your opponent with power or “blast them off the court” so it’s best not to try.

Patience is the name of the game when playing on clay. Players have to develop more patience on their groundstroke and have to be more selective about coming to the net. Since baseliners have more time to line up their groundstrokes for a passing shot, it is important to come to the net with deep penetrating approach shots or high loopy balls.

Here are a few things to consider when transitioning to clay:

Your Tennis Shoes
Buy shoes specifically made for clay. Believe it or not it will make a huge difference! Clay court shoes have special soles which will make your movement more stable on clay. You will slip less, will be able to change direction better and you might even be able to learn to slide.

Learn to Slide
If you want to learn to slide on clay, start out by just learning to slide without a racket in your hand. Remember when you were a kid and you slid across your living room floor with sock on? Start with that. After you are good at that, then try to incorporate a slide into a shot from a self fed ball. i.e. toss a ball away from you, run to it and hit it while sliding.

Develop Topspin
If you have been thinking about adding more topspin to your strokes, this is the time do it. A simple moderate grip change might be all you need. I used to change all my grips when I played on clay. (Not the volley grip J )  Try to move your groundstroke grips slightly towards western. (Your palm more to the right on the forehand and more the left on the backhand)

Adjust to the Bounce – Take a Few Steps Back
Like it or not, the ball is going to bounce higher on clay. Although I teach players to stay as close to the baseline when playing doubles, sometime on clay it is best to move back. It is very hard to hit the ball on the rise or right off the bounce because of the irregular nature of bounces on clay. If you are having trouble with the depth or height of your opponent’s ball take a few steps back to hit your groundstroke. Don’t stay back there for long but instead try to get to the net as soon as possible so you are not pushed back.

Use the Sneak Attack
A very effective way to get to the net in doubles is by employing the sneak attack. This shot is not a lob but it clears the net by a large margin. The net players can’t poach it because its high. Your opponent at the baseline will likely have to move back to handle this ball. Because it’s slow and deep you should have plenty of time to get inside the service like for your first volley.

A Note About the Drop Shot
The drop shot can be an effective weapon on clay, however in doubles you never want to bring your opponents to the net and a drop shot is an invitation to do precisely that. So stay away from hitting drop shots unless you are playing great lobbers, in which case bringing them into the net could be a good strategy.

It often takes 6-8 shots to finish a point in doubles. Be patient, don’t force it and remember the majority of the points are going to end in an error so try to ensure that error does not come from you from trying silly low percentage shots. Stay patient and your time will come for the easy put away or your opponent will miss a shot.

Good Luck!

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