Tennis is perhaps one of the only sports that requires an athlete to compete on more than four different surfaces throughout one season. Just off the top of my head, you have Plexicushion (Australian Open), Har-Tru (Green Clay, Charleston Open), Red Clay (French Open and Europe), Natural Grass (Wimbledon, England and Netherlands), Deco-Turf (US Open, Hard Court, USA) and other variations of hard court surfaces throughout the world. The impact on the body and mind in order to adjust your style of play, movement and strategy every couple of months (even weeks if you consider that the French Open is played only three weeks before Wimbledon), makes tennis one of the most demanding and interesting sports in the world.
I would like to draw your attention to clay court tennis, specifically red clay. I personally find this surface one of the best for game development because it teaches players the following:
- Adjustment: a player is required to make more adjustments with their feet as there is never a true bounce of the ball (the direction changes on each bounce)
- Patience: a player has to hit more tennis balls in each rally because their opponent can utilise the slide to retrieve
- Resilience: there is no such thing as winning a point quickly, because the speed of the ball is absorbed dramatically on impact, slowing the ball down off the bounce, giving the opposition more time to retrieve and extend the rally
- Movement: the slide is one of the most important types of movement for a tennis player to master, as it teaches a player the importance of fluidity of movement whilst transitioning from one stroke to another during a rally (notice how professional athletes are now sliding on harder surfaces as well).
These four areas are perhaps the most difficult to develop in younger players. Having said all of the above, it is important to note that clay court tennis favours a defensive style of play, due to the slower bounces and ability for players to retrieve by utilising a slide. Many players that train in Asia, Australia and the US develop offensive styles of play since they are exposed to harder surfaces much more than red clay. In contrast, players that train in Europe and South America develop strong defensive styles of play and create patterns of play due to their exposure to red clay.
I believe the best way to develop as a player is to strike the right balance between playing on slower surfaces (clay, plexicushion, synthetic grass) and faster surfaces (hard courts, deco-turf) in order to understand how to be both a defensive and offensive player. Once your body develops, you will begin to notice your strengths and weaknesses as a player and only then you can find your game style accordingly.