So I been catching up on Cincinatti 2004, with Hewitt and either Roddick or Agassi looking to join him in the final.
Now I tend to watch a lot more grass court tennis than clay or hardcourt.
My theory is that because on a claycourt the surface is harder, the bounce of the tennis ball is more intense (i.e. the ball bounces higher per unit of force driven into the ground). Due to this, the play turns out to be much faster (this is borne out by observation). Therefore on a clay court, the play tends to be of a much higher pace and far more energetic than on grass.
Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but slicing the ball on a clay court seems to do much more in terms of the balls bounce afterwards than on a grass court. The only reason I can think of relates to the explanation given above.
OK, I’m tiring myself with my lack of knowledge. I wanna get up on the tennis-lingo.
What exactly are the major differences between playing tennis on a hardcourt as opposed to grass? Do the differences confer any advantages to certain style(s) of play? Do some players naturally excel in hardcourts as opposed to grass (and vice-versa)? Why is this the case (for example, I often hear commentators saying the JC Ferrero is far more intimidating an advesary on hardcourt surfaces than on grass because he plays with more finesse. Does this make sense?) ?
Except for the bounching, you’ve got it backwards. Clay causes the ball to bounce higher and lose momentum. Thus, it’s harder to hit the ball past the other guy, as he has more time to track it down. So you get very long points and slow play. The ball stays down on grass, so you get shorter points and a big edge for the server. The serve stays down, meaning it’s tougher to hit an aggressive return, so the server can get into the net quickly and end the point, bang-bang. Slicing is, if anything, more effective on grass - the ball stays low to begin with, so hitting the ball even lower causes big problems.
Hardcourts are kind of variable. Grass and clay are basically the extremes, and different types of hardcourts are at different points along the spectrum, faster than clay but at least a bit slower than grass. So they encourage different styles of play. Your prototypical clay-courter has a lot of endurance because a match between two of them will be long. You don’t play with a lot of power because you’ll punch yourself out and get exhausted, so sometimes what you’ll see between two clay-courters will be lengthy exchanges of moonballs (not a technical term, just what some people call a groundstroke with a lot of air under it that could almost be a lob). Watching this sometimes calls for No-Doz. Playing on clay has become kind of a specialty thing, since the skills that will make you successful on hardcourt and grass don’t help much on clay (note how much trouble American players typically have at the French Open). You’re right, it’s not a surface that really rewards finesse. Clay is more popular in Europe, and Europeans generally win the French. From a health standpoint, grass and clay are also both easier on your knees.
Grass really rewards big servers. Like I said, the ball stays low and a lot of its speed is preserved, so returning is difficult. There are so few grass tournaments (maybe three, even less than clay) that it has also become a specialty of sorts. Many of the top players absolutely cannot figure out how to play on it, and it drives them nuts. Ferrero has never done anything at Wimbledon, Safin (who’s a nutcase anyway) has sworn he won’t play Wimbledon anymore because he can’t win there. He’s got a big serve, is very powerful and if he could use his brain at all, he should do at least okay there. But he can’t think worth a damn, and that’s why he’ll probably never live up to his immense physical abilities.
And hardcourts fall in between. I suppose they are the best surface for guys with great service returns (like Agassi and Federer) - the ball comes up higher than grass, but you can still hit the ball back with plenty of pace and take control with the return.
A good way to look at this is to see who wins on these surfaces. Pete Sampras dominated Wimbledon, and he was a guy with a great serve-and-volley game. Ivanesevic and Krajicek (huge serves) both won there once, Philipoussis has made the finals. Federer has won there twice without an unusually powerful serve, but he’s an extraordinary shotmaker with great touch. Agassi has won all four Slams, but he’s done the best at the Australian Open (four times) and the US Open (twice), and they’re on hardcourt. Guillermo Coria is a great clay-court player, and if he hadn’t cramped up in the final he’d have won the French this year. He should win it multiple times. He’s super-quick, so he can run anything down. Ferrero is a guy who can play on all the surfaces because he’s talented and versatile. I imagine he’s got the most experience on clay. Gustavo Kuerten was another player who could win on clay (3 French Opens) and did well on other surfaces, although like Ferrero he’s never won any other Slams. At this point Ferrero probably has a better chance since Kuerten has been hurt and his best days may be behind him.
I play almost exclusively on clay now (thanks to my neighbor, who has a clay court). It is a slower surface, not a faster surface. It is also much, much easier on my knees and back (for which I am thankful).
My neighbor is in his mid-60s and has been playing since he was 5. He regularly thrashes me and I’m a pretty good player. He plays with wicked spin and he plays very, very smart (the point about not trying to punch either out is right on - it takes a lot of patience to play clay court tennis).
I’ve played on all of the court types (I prefer hardcourt and “tennis club mystery rubber” surfaces) and want to add some notes to Marley’s excellent post about ball spin…
Slicing can be both offensive or defensive, and it’s use varies by court type.
On clay, a backspin slice is very effective (offensively) on a short ball across the net to pull your opponent out of position. Defensively, it is the slowest return shot in the world, so if you’re in trouble you can slice return and have time to read a few Robert Jordan novels before the ball will come back to you.
On fast surface (grass), a slice hugs the ground and makes it difficult for your opponent to return with any power. Also, the ball holds its spin (grass is slippery) and will be more unpredictable for your opponent to control when it comes off of his strings. Still good as a defensive shot, but you can get into trouble because most grass players will be playing the net aggressively (not hanging backcourt like a clay player) and you can get yourself volleyed at the net.
As for topspin…
On clay, topspin “moons” the ball up with a high bounce off of the surface, meaning that your opponent will not be able to get a full power stroke (highest power return stroke in tennis usually has the ball about waist height) and will need to return it with a similar moonball topspin. The game then becomes a battle of consistency, rather than power and speed. Harder line drive fast strokes need to have little-to-no forward spin.
On grass, you don’t get the moonbounce effect from topspin, so swing away with full power letting your topspin bring the ball down fast and low over the net, and see the tears of despair in your opponent’s face as the ball zips out of reach.
Thanks GargoyleWB. Well said about the slicing. Often it’s sort of neither offensive nor defensive, but an attempt to prevent your opponent from getting a perfectly clean whack at the ball by making them adjust their timing a bit. In those cases it becomes kind of a ‘treading water’ shot: the player hitting it isn’t even trying to gain an advantage in the point.
Andy Roddick used to do this all the time, and it drove me nuts. He already had his insanely powerful forehand, but I’m not sure he ever hit a flat backhand. He’d just slice it back. It was like he was saying “please hit to my forehand, otherwise I can’t beat you.” He did the slice thing a few times against Agassi the other night. I wanted Agassi to win, but I didn’t know why he was doing it. People are still well-advised to hit to his backhand, he hasn’t worked on it that much.
Speaking of which, I’ve found that watching the best players at work is a great way to get ideas and improve your own game.