Red clay? More like orange, the courts conjure up tasty images of cheddar cheese, orange soda, luscious fruit drinks, confections. Clay courts sparkle with vibrancy. Added to this are the remarkable venues – historic, lush spots such as Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome, Madrid and, ultimately, Paris, the city of light.
Flat hitters beware. This is the surface of margin, shape and feel. For several decades, starting in the time of Bjorn Borg, the accent has been on topspin, the ball kicking up high. And in many case these days, thanks to the revolution in string technology, the ball doesn’t just go through the court, but can also jump off it, the space of the court less a rectangle and more a big circle. Still, underspin continues to play its role, be it the skidding slice or that most delicious of point-tilters, the drop shot.
No other surface so vividly demonstrates the harsh physicality of tennis. This has always been the case, but even more in recent years, as rallies have gotten longer and, most notably, players scarcely have a weakness on either side. With little space to find mercy, competitors must scamper as they never have.
The grit, the grime, the way clay flecks its way onto socks and shoes; all signs of a surface that mixes in with the sweat and labor of effort.
Delicious as clay court season is, please eat the dirt or try to mix it into any food or beverage. All the romance of the surface will dissipate quickly.