How to Slide on Clay
This is the second installment of our three-video series on how to slide on clay. As the world's leading supplier of clay court surfaces, the question we get asked more than any other, from teaching pros and players alike, is about how to slide on clay. Sliding not only makes you more efficient and more consistent on clay, it makes the game more fun, so we have put together a three-part video series on how to slide on clay. Check out part 2 on our website. We hope you like it and find it instructional. Give us your feedback. Har-Tru -- Developing champions around the world.
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The Iceman Cometh… Again?
Spring is upon us and in our sport that can mean only one thing – tennis is going red. Over the next few months there will be more sliding, more top spin loops, more drop shots, fewer aces and (even) fewer volleys. Balls will leave marks on the court and play will shift a yard or two behind the baseline.
No less than Roger Federer once remarked that clay court tennis is "like a different game," and while he – and current form player, Novak Djokovic, certainly seem to have had no problems playing both varieties, the man to beat over the next two months is surely going to be the current world number one, Rafael Nadal.
Nadal's results speak for themselves. Since 2005, Nadal’s win-loss record on clay has been 177-4 (97.7%), and his overall winning percentage is the best of the Open Era, at nearly 93%. Even more spectacularly, he has won 26 of the last 30 clay court tournaments he has entered, beginning with his first victory at the Monte-Carlo Masters event six years ago. These 26 titles include no fewer than five Roland Garros crowns and 13 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events. No one has been able to consistently threaten the Spaniard’s reign, and he owns truly dominating records against his two main rivals on the surface – 10-2 against Federer and 9-0 against Djokovic. Indeed, Federer remains the only player to have defeated Nadal more than once on clay since 2005 (the only other player to have beaten him on more than one occasion ever on the surface was Gaston Gaudio, who notched up three wins before Nadal claimed his first major title).
Of course, Rafa is hardly a slouch on hard courts or grass, but has anyone ever dominated on clay so completely? There was Thomas Muster, the original "King of Clay," who won the French Open once and Monte-Carlo and Rome three times each. Then there was Guillermo Vilas, who won a record 46 titles on the surface. Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, and Gustavo Kuerten each won three times at Roland Garros and had considerable success elsewhere. None of them, however, come close to owning the sort of record that Rafael Nadal has amassed. In fact, there is only one man in the history of tennis who could possibly contend with Rafa for the title of the greatest clay court player of all time. His name, of course, is Bjorn Borg, the Iceman.
Parallels Between Borg and Nadal
There are many parallels between Borg – who owns the Open Era record of six French Open crowns – and Nadal. Curiously, the Swede was born almost exactly thirty years before the Spaniard, in June 1956. Both men won their first French Open titles while still in their teens, playing with an otherwise unique combination of relentless physicality, near-limitless concentration, and extreme top spin. Both would continue to dominate on clay for years to come, while adapting their games to the highly contrasting styles required of grass and hard court tennis, learning to stand further up in the court and improving their serves and volleys.
Exactly thirty years ago, when Bjorn Borg prepared to commence what would be his last full clay court season, he stood very much where Rafael Nadal does now. He had amassed 27 titles on clay to Nadal’s 29 and had won the same number of French Opens (five). His winning percentage on red clay over the previous five seasons was 97%, almost exactly the same as Nadal’s today (99-3 for the Swede between 1976-1980, ignoring one retirement; 127-4 for the Spaniard between 2006-2010). Borg’s record against his top clay court opponents was similarly imperious, and no one had more than two victories against him on red clay between 1974 and 1980.
Click photo: Like Borg before him, Rafa (in the rear court) is tenacious and rarely gives away a point. Look at how many quality shots Federer has to hit to
win this point.
Of course, the comparison could be taken too far. Rafa and Bjorn had very different styles, for instance – there were no fist pumps or cries of "vamos!" (or the Swedish equivalent) from Bjorn Borg’s side of the court. Beyond that, the powerful racquets and corresponding techniques of today’s players mean that clay court tennis simply does not look the same as it once did. The Iceman was the master of a style fundamentally anchored in making fewer groundstroke errors than his opponent; Nadal, on the other hand, is far more aggressive, regularly whipping his Babolat to launch decisive forehands left and right. Despite these differences though, the fact remains that both players possessed what has been a peerless combination of the skills and attributes necessary to achieve supremacy on the surface.
Looking forward to the next few months, Rafael Nadal is poised to make history, just as Bjorn Borg did thirty years ago. By matching the Swede’s benchmark record of six French Open titles, Nadal could legitimately claim (not that the humble Mallorcan would) to be his equal.
Of course, no one can predict what will happen with certainty. Few, for instance, would have guessed back then that 1981 would be Borg’s last full season, that the Swede would lose all motivation and quit at 26 before his talents or his body had failed him. It remains one of the great "what ifs" of tennis, to know how many more titles both on clay and on other surfaces the Iceman would have won had he continued until his late twenties or early thirties.
Nadal himself has been prone to numerous injury problems over the years, and many commentators have suggested that his tremendously physical approach to the game will likely bring about a premature end to his career, but his motivation seems as strong as ever.
Nadal is still younger than 71 of the top 100 players on the ATP Tour. If he can remain healthy, then in many ways, the sky is the limit. It is hard to imagine anyone consistently holding him back from the top trophies on clay during the next few seasons while he is fit.
This time next year, we could be talking about Rafa chasing Chris Evert’s all time record tally of seven French Opens. If Rafael Nadal can do what Evert did, and what Borg never did, and achieve longevity at the top of the game, then it is quite possible he will answer the enigmatic Iceman’s great "what if," and establish himself as indisputably the greatest clay court player of all time. History beckons for the young Spaniard, and like many, I see him racing to meet the challenge.
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The Two-handed Forehand Revisited
The two-handed forehand can be a lethal weapon, even at the pro level. And, there are a rising number of players on tour whose two-handed backhands are their more dependable–if not more potent–shots in their groundstroke bag. This is especially true on the women's side. Here, Dave Smith, looks at this oddity and separates fact from fiction with regard to this unique stroke. So, will the two-handed forehand go the way of the two-handed backhand and eventually dominate the sport? Probably not, and here's why.
The Underspin BackHand and the Backhand Volley
Jim Mclennan goes back to the basics here and looks at the commonalities between the underspin backhand and the backhand volley and why many two-handed backhanders have difficulty hitting these shots. Jim covers all the elements here from the positioning of the elbow, the shoulder, and the feet, to the body weight transfer and the proper use of the hands. Interestingly enough, many of these same movements apply equally to the forehand side and the serve as well.
ProStrokes 2.0 – Gilles Simon's Serve & Net Play
This 26 year old Frenchman has been on the verge of “greatness for some years. Simon is known for his speed, agility, mental strength and tennis brain. His backhand is considered his best shot and he is capable of expertly creating angles and varying his shots ,but his forehand is his attacking side. Simon is only now beginning to regain his form after a knee injury suffered at Roland Garros 2009. A stylish player, and ever dangerous, Gilles is looking for a breakout year in 2011. New this issue, Simon's serve and net play.
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