How to Play the Clay: 7 Pro Tips

July 5, 2017

Why Clay?
If you’ve never played on a clay tennis court, you’re in for a real treat. Although clay is one of the most played on surfaces in the world, red clay courts are still quite rare in North America. Clay provides better shock absorption, which is great for sore backs and stiff joints. Clay also slows down the ball when it bounces, for longer rallies and points and a more controlled and thoughtful game.

How to Play the Clay
Ready to play the clay like a pro? We caught up with Bear Mountain’s resident tennis pros, Russ and Sean Hartley, to serve up a few tips. Russ Hartley, Bear Mountain’s Tennis Director, is a two-time national champion in men’s doubles. Sean Hartley, Bear Mountain’s Lead Tennis Pro, has been a full-time pro for the past 10 years and recently won the Victoria City Open Tennis Championships in the Men’s Open Singles.

Here’s how to play the clay like you’re channeling Rafael Nadal, the “King of Clay” himself:

1. Check your Grip 
Grip is the foundation of technique. The way you grip your racket determines swing, swing path, and wrist acceleration. The use of spin is very effective on a clay court. But if your grip is all wrong, it can be difficult to achieve consistent amounts of spin. Before you try to add topspin to your groundstrokes, make sure your grip will support that technique.

2. String to Win   
The ball travels slower on a clay court, allowing you to set up and time the ball better. For more power, you’ll need a softer-strung racket. Clay sucks the moisture out of natural gut and synthetic strings, so choose polyester strings for better playability. Just be sure to string them 10 to 20 percent lower than you would synthetic strings. Drop by the Bear Mountain Pro Shop to get your gear.

3. Recover Further Back
The ball bounces differently on a clay court. Clay slows down the ball, making it more difficult to finish the point by hitting harder. You’ll also get the occasional odd bounce. This can be a fun feature of the clay, but it also challenges your reaction time. Stand further back behind the baseline, give yourself more time to adjust to any odd bounces, and get ready to grind out the point!

4. Commit to the Slide
When you play on the clay, you slide before you contact the ball. If you know how to move on it, you might even hit the ball as you’re sliding. Sliding is less jarring on the knees and is essential for recovery and efficient movement. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to slide, but it can be intimidating at first. Fully commit to the slide, and push your leading foot out in the direction you’re moving (kind of like you’re skating). Once you get comfortable, you’ll be sliding like a pro.

5. Wear Clay-Court Shoes
The outsole of a clay-court shoe is different than that of an all-court or hard-court shoe. Clay-court shoes use a herringbone (zig-zag) tread. This prevents clay from lodging into the tread of the shoe, making it easier to slide and change direction. If you plan to spend any time on the clay, proper shoes are a must. Drop by the Bear Mountain Pro Shop to grab the perfect pair.

6. Win in Comfort & Style
Like any athlete, tennis players are in it to win it. But you’re the kind of winner with team spirit. So, after you’ve crushed your competitor in a toe-to-toe match, nothing says “good game” like treating your rival to a cold one at the Master’s Lounge. Ease your aching muscles at the award-winning Sante Spa Victoria for an even better game tomorrow. Relax in the outdoor mineral pool, and let the sights and sounds of nature soothe you.

7. Get Schooled
As they say, old habits die hard. The longer you play with improper technique, the more challenging it will be to unlearn those bad habits. Luckily, a little instruction goes a long way. Learn what the pros know in Bear Mountain’s drop-in drill sessions, adult and junior group coaching, and private and semi-private coaching sessions.

Head to Bear Mountain today to stay and play the clay. Relax, admire stunning forest and mountain views, and swing, serve, and rally till your heart’s content. See you on the courts!