With the clay season now officially underway, many of us are gearing up to bring our hard-earned skills to competitive match-play, while the best in the game prepare to do the same. But, what is it that helps players excel on clay and how can you apply this to your own game?
It predominantly comes down to one major theme, regardless of your skill: adaptability. Being able to adapt to different situations, opponents, and playing conditions can make a significant difference in your performance and overall success. Being adaptable allows you to quickly adjust the game plan when necessary; helping you to compensate for your weaknesses while exploiting those of your opponents’.
Tennis is a dynamic and rapidly changing game. You must be prepared to deal with a range of different variables, mainly: opponent, surface, and changing weather. Perhaps you start the match with a clear plan to attack the net on short balls, but you see that your opponent loves a target and you are being passed left and right. In this case, you may need to adjust your mindset and strategy.
Here are a few tips I suggest to members of the All Court Tennis Club that will help you stay adaptable during the clay court season:
Practice different styles of play
Seek out opponents you know to have a different playing style to you; set up a match and use their style of play as inspiration for adapting your own. Different opponents are just one of the many variables we experience in the game, gaining experience here will help you to develop your ability and alter playing tactics to suit different match situations.
Be open-minded and flexible
Adaptability also requires you to be open-minded and flexible in your approach. Be willing to change your game plan if it’s not working and be open to trying new tactics when others aren’t working. This can be especially challenging when you’re used to playing a certain way, but being flexible and adaptable can really pay off in the long-run.
Analyse your matches
After a match, take some time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Analyse your performance and identify areas where you could have adapted better. Use this knowledge to adiust your game plan for your next match, and practice accordingly.
Practice mental toughness
Adaptability is not just about physical skills; it’s also about mental toughness. To be adaptable, you need to be able to stay calm and focused, even in the face of uncertainty. Practice mental exercises and techniques to help you maintain focus and stay relaxed, regardless of the situation.
Most importantly, especially on clay, you need to exercise patience and build the point. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to end the point too soon. Having a mindset in which you accept the challenge of longer rallies will help you tremendously.
You will also need to expect to be more fatigued. Clay rallies are typically longer, which tends to push you out of your comfort zone physically. Prepare as best you can but if you find yourself panting, make sure you slow your breaths down to maintain relaxed muscles and reduce the build up of cortisol—the stress hormone.
Part of adaptability means that you are also remaining flexible mentally and physically within the point—staying creative and being willing to try some new shots from time to time to surprise your opponent.
Overall, if you can stay resilient and manage the longer rallies, you will likely get an edge over your opponent and be more adaptable regardless of the surface you are playing on.
Part of the joy of tennis is solving the riddles that emerge in most matches. Stay calm, focus on incremental mastery and you’re sure to find that better outcomes follow.