The first slam of the year came to an end with Roger Federer winning his 18th Grand Slam. The Swiss Maestro defeated his arch-rival Rafa Nadal in a thrilling encounter of 5-sets. Nadal, a 14-time slam winner himself announced his return to the top of his game in the perfect fashion. The Spaniard has won the Roland Garros nine times. Hence, he is widely regarded by his alias, ‘King of Clay.’
Rafa Nadal’s dominance on clay is second to none. Clay courts were what helped him get to the zenith of his career. Now with the Australian Open was done, the world now awaits the second slam of the year, Roland Garros. The slam held at Paris is the only Slam to be played on clay courts. So what makes clay courts unique and special?
At the tail of the 19th century, William Renshaw was giving some tennis lessons to few of his students on a grass court. But due to the intense heat, the grass burnt and lost its shine. In order to maintain the integrity of the surface, Renshaw took some red powder and scattered a thin layer of it on the grass. This red powder he took by grinding the remains of a clay pot. This led to the birth of clay courts.
- The base of a clay court is made by removing all the roots of trees, peat, muck, etc. and are then bored till 4 feet. This is to ensure that the clay court is not overflowed by surface water. A geotextile membrane is laid on this surface which basically acts as a filter and avoids any residue particles from disturbing the base.
- The second layer is the most crucial element in the construction of clay courts as it supports the future clay court. A base stone of brick jelly is laid down and compacte evenly till a height of 4-6 inches. This layer is also responsible for keeping the drainage consistent.
- In order to keep the surface moist, stone screening is done by crushed red gravel. This third layer helps the water rise to the surface by capillary action. The total height of this strata ranges between 2-3 inches.
- The final two layers are made by compacting crushed limestone followed by brick dust at the top. This final layer of clay is 1.5-2.5 inches in height.
3) Materials used:
Red brick dust: 1-2 mm
Crushed white limestone: 6-7 cm
Clinker (coal residue): 7-8 cm
Crushed Gravel: 30 cm
4) Types of Clay Courts:
• American Red Clay Courts
These are the most commonly used clay courts due to their ability to not absorb water easily. These courts are mainly found in Europe and Latin America. This red clay is the same type that is used in French Open. A subcategory of red clay is En tout cas where the top layer is more coarse and thereby allows an improved drainage and faster drying of the court in case rain stops play.
• Har-tru courts
The eastern and southern parts of the United States use green clay courts. Also known as rubico, these courts are more famously known as Har-tru courts. Instead of the conventional red brick, the green clay is made by crushing metabasalt. These courts made by crushed metabasalt are faster than the red clay courts. These courts are given a sloped angulation so that the water runs off quickly.
• Clay-tech courts
Clay courts usually require a lot of maintenance. In order to overcome this, ClayTech courts are used. Commonly found in residential areas, these courts combine the sliding feature of clay and the easy maintenance of hard courts. These courts can be made on an already existing hard court. A thin mat is laid down on the asphalt which will be the recipient of the clay. The clay used is Har-tru in majority of the cases. The polypropylene membrane on the top surface of ClayTech courts increase their durability.
• Hydro courts
Most clay courts need one or two rounds of water sprinkled across the court before playing. To curb down the time of sprinkling water, Hydro clay courts have been developed. 5 inches below the top layer, an irrigation system is constructed which detects the moisture level below the surface and automatically releases water in the pipelines below the surface. The entire system is regulated externally by a control box. This clay court is always ready to be played on as it provides the players with optimal moisture conditions on clay.
Playing on a clay court is a lot different than playing on a hard court. Balls bounce relatively higher and undergo a lot of topspin. Rallies are usually longer due to the slower surface. Clay courts also give the player to provision to slide on the court which much more ease.
6) Notable tournaments
Volvo Cars Open
Monte Carlo Masters
Women’s Stuttgart Open
Clay courts have helped tennis players in expanding their range of shots and style of play. This is due to the unique surface characteristics of the clay court. The first clay court tournament of the 2017 season kicks off at the Ecuador Open starting from 6th February.