In times when powerful shots and great athleticism are the predominant skills on the courts, it still seems like the best tennis in the world is played on the slow clay.
As a general rule, American players don’t like it. Although Unites States is probably the biggest tennis school in the world, the lack of public and private clay courts helped to build a tradition of forming players with a game suitable for faster surfaces, mainly cement, or hard surfaces. With a few exceptions, like Jim Courier, American players choose clay courts only when they have no other option whatsoever. Andy Rodick even selected this year’s clay court season to get married!!
On the other hand, European players, especially Spanish, and South Americans, seem to love the dirt, as they usually grow up playing tennis on clay.
Besides personal preferences, clay court tennis is more demanding on the players, not only physically speaking. To be a good clay court player, one needs to have a very solid ground stroke foundation, otherwise he or she will not be able to handle the long rallies and the strategic play execution that is needed to be successful.
Winning a point on clay requires more than having a big serve or a big forehand. It requires understanding the game, the angles, and the importance of shot selection. A clay court match can be a brutal mental and physical experience.
History has shown that fast tennis surfaces have been more generous than clay to the less talented players. For instance, few people will remember that Chris Lewis, from New Zealand , was a professional tennis player, let alone the fact that he reached the Wimbledon final in 1983, falling to John McEnroe. The point is, one eventually can get away on a fast surface without solid fundaments of the game, but it is necessary to be resourceful in order to do well on clay.
Aware of that, and of the fact that its championship was becoming less attractive to people, Wimbledon even slowed down the speed of the famous grass courts at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in the recent years.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a trend towards lowering the number of clay court tournaments, mostly for commercial purposes, especially due to the expensive television airtime. Media people don’t like he fact of having to broadcast a 5 hour second round tennis match at Roladn Garros, for instance.
Some purists will say that “real” tennis is only played on clay. The fact of the matter is that clay court tennis means the game being played at its best. Wining a tournament like Rolang Garros is a brutal feat, and players who do it, automatically gain unparalleled respect from their peers.