France’s Tennis Frustration Is the Coloration of Crimson Clay

PARIS — Probably the most outstanding function of the French Open is that this Grand Slam event takes place on the rusty crimson clay of Roland Garros, a beloved function that’s as a lot part of native tradition and custom because the bouquinistes that promote artwork and used books alongside the Seine.

And but, because it so typically is within the nation that claims Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir, the connection between France and its “terre battue” is a bit more sophisticated.

This crimson clay that comes from a small brick manufacturing facility in Oise, north of Paris, elicits a lot love.

“My favourite floor,” stated Stéphane Levy, a lifelong member of the Tennis Membership of Paris, a favourite hang-out of a number of the nation’s prime gamers, together with Gilles Simon and Corentin Moutet, the place eight of the 18 courts are comprised of the identical clay as these at Roland Garros.

“There isn’t a feeling like enjoying on it,” Levy stated. “The sliding, the clay in your physique whenever you sweat.”

However the clay has additionally change into a logo of deep frustration. A Frenchwoman has not received the singles championship this nation so treasures, the one which requires extra grit but additionally extra thought than another, since Mary Pierce in 2000. A Frenchman has not received it in 39 years, since Yannick Noah in 1983. The final of the French women and men had been eradicated from the singles tournaments on Saturday.


The reply possible has loads to do with a central contradiction within the house of crimson clay’s largest stage. Simply 11.5 p.c of the tennis courts in France are made from the normal crimson clay and most of these are in personal golf equipment. One other 16.5 p.c of courts are made from an imitation clay floor that’s much like the terre bateau however performs more durable and sooner than the softer, conventional clay.

Sustaining crimson clay in chilly, moist climate, which is frequent in France for a lot of the 12 months, is virtually unattainable, and constructing indoor complexes for them is dear. So most French tennis gamers develop up enjoying on hardcourts, not like their counterparts in Spain, the place temperate climate and crimson clay dominate the best way Rafael Nadal (who received Sunday in 5 units) and so many Spaniards earlier than him have dominated Roland Garros.

That tennis on the highest stage is contested on totally different surfaces is as regular to tennis followers as fuzzy yellow balls and grunting forehands, however it is among the nice quirks of the game. Think about for a second if the NBA performed 70 p.c of its video games on hardwood, 20 p.c on rubber and 10 p.c on rag wool carpeting. That’s primarily what skilled tennis gamers do, spending the primary three months on hardcourts, the following two on clay, roughly six weeks on grass, after which a lot of the remainder of the 12 months again on hardcourts.

Whereas the surfaces have change into extra comparable lately, every requires a novel set of expertise and produces a really totally different model of play.

Grass and clay are on the extremes, with grass being the quickest of the three surfaces.

Clay is the slowest. The ball pops off the filth and hangs within the air for a split-second longer, permitting gamers to meet up with it and prolong rallies, and forcing them to play a extra tactical model, grinding from the baseline.

Watch an hour of professional tennis on every floor. Should you reduce out on a regular basis between factors, precise tennis enjoying on clay accounts for about 13 minutes, in keeping with a number of research of vitality and energy within the sport. That’s considerably greater than on different surfaces, the place the participant returning serve is at a extra extreme drawback and might wrestle to place the ball again in play.

Onerous courts are at roughly the midway level, and require an all-around sport.

Among the many professionals, the crimson clay is each beloved and loathed.

“I do not prefer it a lot,” stated Daniil Medvedev of Russia, the world’s second ranked male participant, who struggled for years to win a match on the French Open and reached the fourth spherical on Saturday.

Nick Kyrgios of Australia has no use for the floor and skips the clay-court season altogether. Iga Swiatek of Poland, the world’s top-ranked lady, would spend her entire profession sliding round on it if she might.

Profitable on clay requires a Ph.D. in what coaches and gamers name “level development,” which is shorthand for enjoying tennis like chess, considering not solely about this subsequent shot, however three photographs down the road. Studying that to the purpose the place it’s instinctual can take years, and like most issues, the sooner one begins coaching the mind to assume that method, the higher.

“On clay, the struggle actually goes on and on,” stated Aurelio Di Zazzo, a coach on the Tennis Membership of Paris. “The longer the trouble, the extra it’s a must to use your thoughts.”

The membership, which is lower than a mile from Roland Garros, tries to hold crimson clay’s torch as greatest it might. That torch is just not low cost. Sustaining the courts requires 4 full-time workers, and new clay prices greater than $2,000 a 12 months for every courtroom. Every courtroom should be totally dug up and redone each 15 years, costing greater than $30,000 per courtroom.

Levy stated it’s value it.

“This clay is part of France,” he stated.

France’s tennis federation agrees. The group additionally actually needs a French Open singles champion. It’s scheduled to announce a brand new plan to advertise tennis on the “terre battue” in July. Perhaps that may assist.

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