With the tennis clay court season now in full swing and Roland Garros just a month away, it's about time you got used to the red stuff.
While many a Brit might admit to being a little unfamiliar with the slidey surface, according to the LTA, there are nearly 600 clay tennis courts around the UK, meaning that you're probably closer to learning to play like Rafa than you thought!
In fact, with our Rafa Nadal Academy association, you can play at Rafa's home courts (including plenty of clay ones) with a big price reduction. Play tennis at the Rafa Nadal Academy.
So, if you're asked to play on a clay tennis court by your local tennis league opponent, what tips should you take into your match?
The clay tennis surface is the very best for sliding, and there's a pretty simple reason for it... you get to the ball quicker. The pros make it look easy, but there's a real skill involved in staying up-right, sliding and being able to hit a good return. Rallies tend to last longer on clay because the surface is slower, allowing for fewer big winners. So conserving energy in the longer points is a great way to gain the upper hand.
2. Bang your shoes out!
It might seem trivial, but using your racket to hit the clay from the bottom of your shoes is actually quite important. Tennis shoes were designed with grooves underneath, to enable better grip. Clay sticking to the bottom will not only slow you down but will also reduce your balance on court.
3. Stay awake, you need to play more shots
With the slower court and longer rallies, it's often the more consistent players who succeed on clay. You'll notice that the big hitters such as Pete Sampras often found clay their toughest surface. The 14-time, singles grand slam champion never won at the French Open; Sampras relied on his serve, a shot which becomes less vital on clay because balls kick up more, and flat, hard serves lose some of their pace. More shots are returnable, so you'll need to stay focussed longer in each point!
4. Hit topspin
On clay, topspin shots kick up more than on any other surface. Rafa is so successful on this surface because his almost full western grip gives him huge net height on shots, meaning that his opponents often have to hit returns from shoulder height. Using the clay to its fullest in this way means you can force your opponent into errors.
5. Slice returns
While mid-rally, topspin is the perfect shot to play on your local clay tennis court, however, slicing returns of serve is also highly effective. The slice will dig into the court which can counter your opponent's topspin. The likes of Rafa often find that with the ball so low, they are unable to generate as much topspin, neutralising their favourite shots.