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A clay court is one of the four different types of tennis court. Clay courts are made of crushed shale, stone or brick. The red clay is slower than the green, or Har-Tru "American" clay. The French Open uses clay courts, making it unique among the Grand Slam tournaments.

Clay courts are more common in Continental Europe and Latin America than in the United States, Canada or Britain. In the United States, courts made of green clay, also known as "rubico", are often called "clay", but are not made of the same clay used in most European and Latin American countries. Although cheaper to construct than other types of tennis courts, the maintenance costs of clay are high as the surface must be rolled to preserve flatness. The water content must also be balanced; green courts are often sloped in order to allow water run-off.[1]


Clay courts favor the "full western grip" for more topspin. Clay courters generally play in a semi circle about 1.5 to 3 metres behind the baseline.

Clay courts are considered "slow", because the balls bounce relatively high and more slowly, making it more difficult for a player to hit an unreturnable shot. Points are usually longer as there are fewer winners. Therefore, clay courts heavily favor baseliners who are consistent and have a strong defensive game, which has allowed players such as Rafael Nadal, Björn Borg, Chris Evert, and Justine Henin to find success at the French Open.

Clay court players use topspins to throw off their opponents. Movement on gravel courts is very different from movement on any other surface. Playing on clay often involves the ability to slide into the ball during the stroke, as opposed to running and stopping like on a hard or grass court. Players who excel on clay courts but struggle to replicate the same form on fast courts are known as clay-court specialists.

Clay courts are unique in that the ball bounce leaves an impression in the ground, which can help determine whether a shot was in or out. Critics of red clay courts point to the constant need to wet them down, problems renewing the surface if it dries out, and the damage caused to clothing and footwear through stains. All clay courts, not just red clay, tend to cause a build-up of clay on the bottom of the shoes of the players, needing constant removal.

Types of clay

There are six different types of clay:

Red clay

Almost all red "clay" courts are made not of natural clay but of crushed brick that is packed to make the court. The crushed brick is then covered with a topping of other crushed particles. This type of surface does not absorb water easily and is the most common in Europe and Latin America. The French Open is played on a red clay court at Stade Roland Garros. True natural clay courts are rare because they take two to three days to dry. A good example of natural red clay can be seen at the Frick Park Clay Courts in Pittsburgh, PA, a public facility of six red clay courts that has been in continual use since 1930.[2]

Green clay

Green clay, Har-Tru or "American" clay, is similar to red clay, the differences being that it is crushed basalt rather than brick, making the surface slightly harder and faster. Green clay is packed to make the subsurface. It is then covered with a topping. These clay courts can be found in all 50 of the United States but are located primarily in the Eastern and Southern states. In parts of the gulf coast region of the Southeast, green clay courts are often referred to as "rubico". There is one WTA tournament played on green Har-Tru clay courts in 2011: the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina. Earlier there was also the MPS Group Championships in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, but that tournament ended in 2010.

Maroon clay

Maroon clay is similar to green clay. There is one ATP tournament played on maroon Har-Tru clay courts since 2008: the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships in Houston, Texas.

Yellow clay

Yellow clay is similar to red clay. The ATP Challenger Tour event Copa Sevilla in Seville, Spain is played on this surface.

Grey clay

Grey clay is made of natural grey clay from the ground. It needs to be kept moist and can turn to powder if dry. The surface is scattered with small stones to aide in sliding.

Blue clay

Former tennis pro, entrepreneur and owner of the Madrid Masters tournament Ion Ţiriac introduced a new blue clay surface for the 2012 edition of the tournament. This controversial change has been grudgingly accepted on the players' side.[3] Already in 2009, one of the outer courts had been made of the new material for the players to test it ahead of its 2012 implementation. Manuel Santana, the Open's current director, has assured that aside from the color the surface keeps the same properties as the traditional red clay. Although Ţiriac claims that his only motivation was the improvement of the viewing of the match, both for the naked eye and on television, critics have suggested that Ţiriac might have been motivated by the fact that blue happens to be the principal color of the titular sponsor of the tournament, the Spanish insurance giant Mutua Madrileña. This year's blue clay courts in Madrid were more slippery compared to traditional red clay, but it is not possible to know whether this depends on the color or on other causes (like depth, compression, thinness of the particles).[4]

Novak Djokovic announced that he won't play in Madrid next year if blue clay remains.[5]

By winning the Madrid Masters on May 13, 2012, Roger Federer and Serena Williams became the first players to win a tournament on Blue Clay.

En tout cas

A crushed brick surface was introduced by a British firm, En Tout Cas, in 1909, to address the drainage problem of the clay surface.[6] En tout cas, also known as "fast-dry", or "continental clay", court surfaces spread through Europe in the 1920's. An en tout cas court plays similarly to clay despite its considerably more granular appearance. The crushed brick surface allowed more water to run through the surface of the court drying the surface more quickly after a rain. In France, Spain and Italy "fast-dry" surfaces were generally shallower, consisting of powdered brick or red sand, making these courts appear more like natural clay surfaces.[7] In the 1930s, En-Tout-Cas courts were used for the Davis Cup, the French Open and Wimbledon.[8] In Victoria, Australia, clay-type courts are predominantly En Tout Cas.[9]


Currently, the most successful male player on clay is Rafael Nadal, winner of eight French Open men's singles titles. Since his debut in 2005, he has only ever lost once at the tournament – in 2009, when he was beaten by Swedish player Robin Söderling in the fourth round in four sets. Nadal holds the record for the longest winning streak by any male player on a single surface in the Open era: 81 clay court wins between April 2005 and May 2007. (Note: in the pre-open era Tony Wilding was unbeaten on clay from May 1910 to June 1914, 36 clay court tournaments, so his total is likely to be much higher than Nadal's).

The most successful female player on clay in recent years has been Serena Williams, who won her second French Open title and enjoyed a 28-match winning streak on the surface in 2013, and having only lost once on the surface since 2010 (she missed the entire 2011 clay court season due to injury).[10][11] It has been argued though that she should have achieved more success at the French Open; very specifically, in 2008, she entered the tournament as the warm favourite and was the only former champion remaining in the draw,[12][13] however she lost in the third round to Katarina Srebotnik,[14] thus opening up the draw for Ana Ivanovic, the would-be quarter-final opponent of Williams, to eventually capture the title,[15] whilst in 2012, she again entered the tournament as the favourite, only to be upset in the first round by Virginie Razzano, this defeat ultimately allowing Maria Sharapova (Williams' potential quarter-final opponent) to complete her Career Grand Slam.[16]

Other successful clay court players include Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Justine Henin, Guillermo Vilas, Björn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, and Gustavo Kuerten.

Henin is tied with Helen Wills Moody among women for most consecutive sets won at Roland Garros, at 40 consecutive sets (from 2005–2010).

Justine Henin and Monica Seles both hold the record for the number of consecutive French Open titles won at 3 (1990-1992 for Seles and 2005-2007 for Henin), although Seles was prevented from participating in the 1993 French Open due to her stabbing incident and Henin did not participate in the 2008 French Open due to her sudden retirement mere weeks before the tournament.

Chris Evert holds the record for longest winning streak on clay for either gender in the Open era: from August 1973 to May 12, 1979, she won 125 consecutive clay court matches. (Note: in the pre-open era, between 1919 and 1926, Suzanne Lenglen played about 250 singles matches on clay, winning all of them in straight sets)

Thomas Muster is also considered a successful clay court player. Although he only won the French Open once, 40 out of his 44 career singles titles were won on clay.

Guillermo Vilas holds the record for most titles won on clay in the Open era, with 46 trophies, only one French Open. It is thought that Jaroslav Drobný won around 90 Clay court titles in the pre-open era. Tony Wilding also was a prolific winner on Clay. He won 77 clay titles.

Clay-court specialist

A clay-court specialist is a tennis player who excels on clay courts, but does not perform to the same standard on hard courts, grass courts, or other surfaces. The term is most frequently applied to professional players on the ATP or WTA tours rather than to average players.

Due in part to advances in racquet technology, today's clay-court specialists are also known for employing long, winding groundstrokes that generate heavy topspin, strokes which are less effective when the surface is faster and the balls don't bounce as high. Clay-court specialists tend to slide more effectively on clay than other players. Many of them are also very adept at hitting the drop shot, which can be effective because rallies on clay courts often leave players pushed far beyond the baseline. Additionally, the slow, long rallies require a great degree of mental focus and physical stamina from the players.

The definition of "clay-court specialist" has varied, with some placing players such as Thomas Muster, Sergi Bruguera, Gustavo Kuerten, and Juan Carlos Ferrero in that category, even though these players have won tournaments (including Masters Series events) on other surfaces. However, since these players won major titles only at the French Open, they are sometimes labeled as such. Other players, such as Sergi Bruguera, Albert Costa and Gastón Gaudio were French Open champions who won all or very nearly all of their career titles on clay. Among female players, there have been very few whose best results were confined exclusively to clay. Virginia Ruzici, Anastasia Myskina, Iva Majoli, Sue Barker, Ana Ivanovic, Francesca Schiavone and Li Na are the only female players to have won major titles at only the French Open since the beginning of the tennis open era in 1968. Only Ivanovic and Li (twice) have made Grand Slam finals on other surfaces (losing to Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka at the 2008, 2011 and 2013 Australian Opens respectively, which employs plexicushion). In the first two cases, those two players won the French Open in the same year.

Sara Errani made her only Grand Slam singles final appearance to date at the 2012 French Open, where she was defeated by Maria Sharapova.[17]

In recent years clay courters have attempted to play better on other surfaces[18] with some success. Ferrero reached the US Open Final in 2003,[19] the same year he won the French Open, and has also won hardcourt tournaments.[20] Nadal was considered a clay court specialist until he reached five Wimbledon finals on grass, won the Australian Open on hardcourt in 2009, won the Olympic singles gold medal on hardcourt in 2008, completed his career Grand Slam at the 2010 US Open, and won six Masters titles on hardcourts, in addition to his record-breaking eight French Open titles, winning streak of 81 consecutive matches on clay, and undefeated record on hard courts in 2013.[21]

Professional tournaments played on clay

Grand Slam (red)

ATP World Tour Masters 1000 (red)

ATP World Tour 500 Series (red)

ATP World Tour 250 Series (red)

ATP World Tour 250 Series (maroon)

WTA (green)

WTA (red)

See also

Tennis portal


  • Tennis Science
  • St Mary's Tennis Club. A good example of a typical English Clay Court club (with photos)
  • Oakmont Tennis Club: Red Clay Tennis Club in Allentown, PA (with photos)
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