x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Clay is the chance for the shot-makers to hold court in tennis

Stamina is more important than strength and strategy is far more subtle than a big first serve.

Roland Garros and the French Open will see the climax of the clay court season.
Roland Garros and the French Open will see the climax of the clay court season.

Clay seems like such a strange and retro surface for a serious athletic event. It very much has an Old World feel to it; had the Austro-Hungarian Empire survived down to the present day, surely all their tournaments would be on clay.

We must admit that the slowest surface makes for some weird and interesting tennis.

From now until the final day of the French Open, in early June, the likes of David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro become potential world beaters, and finals pitting Pablo Andujar and Potito Starace or Nicolay Davydenko and Florian Mayer (actual 2011 title matches) should not be considered exotic or even unusual.

Meantime, players from North America, where clay courts are rare, will seem to disappear into a black hole, not to emerge until the grass season commences.

Serena Williams is among the many great players with limited success on clay. Of her 13 slam victories, only one was on the red stuff at Roland Garros.

Her thumbnail analysis of the surface: "People are going to hit more balls back. There will be long rallies. You have to hit more than one 'winner' to take a point."

What perhaps is most fun about clay is that it turns upside down many of the assumptions of the rest of the season, played on grass or hard courts.

Shot-making trumps power, stamina is more important than strength and strategy is far more subtle than a big first serve.

How quaint. The Habsburgs surely would approve.

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