Tennis star Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal pulled out of the London Olympics on Thursday due to injury.

A man who played alongside the Real Madrid star at Manchester United has hailed the achievements of a man who has eclipsed a number of modern greats
Ronaldo needs Messi like Ali needed Frazier and Federer needs Nadal - Ferdinand
A man who played alongside the Real Madrid star at Manchester United has hailed the achievements of a man who has eclipsed a number of modern greats
A man who played alongside the Real Madrid star at Manchester United has hailed the achievements of a man who has eclipsed a number of modern greats
Ronaldo needs Messi like Ali needed Frazier and Federer needs Nadal - Ferdinand
A man who played alongside the Real Madrid star at Manchester United has hailed the achievements of a man who has eclipsed a number of modern greats
A man who played alongside the Real Madrid star at Manchester United has hailed the achievements of a man who has eclipsed a number of modern greats
Ronaldo needs Messi like Ali needed Frazier and Federer needs Nadal - Ferdinand
A man who played alongside the Real Madrid star at Manchester United has hailed the achievements of a man who has eclipsed a number of modern greats
Former tennis player Ilie Nastase was arrested twice in the space of six hours in his native Romania on Friday, first on suspicion of driving a car while drunk and refusing to take a breathalyzer test, and then for going through a red light on a scooter. Nastase had a level of 0.55 mg of alcohol per liter of breath, Bucharest chief police traffic officer Victor Gilceava said, far enough over the legal limit to face a maximum five-year prison sentence. Police initially stopped the 71-year-old Nastase around 4.45 a.m. while he was driving after a night out in the swanky Herestrau Park area of Bucharest. They said he was visibly drunk; he said he'd had three beers. Gilceava said officers had to block Nastase's vehicle as he failed to stop. Police declined to say who else was in the vehicle, but Romania TV reported he was with two women. Nastase, currently in divorce proceedings from his fourth wife, Brigitte, is known for loving the nightlife. The former U.S. and French Open champion, and the bad boy of tennis in the 1970s and early 1980s, refused to take a breathalyzer and officers removed him from the vehicle and handcuffed him. Ilie Nastase caused uproar when captain of the Romanian Fed Cup team last year Credit: EPA He was later released as police opened a criminal investigation against him for drunken driving and failing to take a breathalyzer test. Police stopped him again about six hours later after he allegedly went through a red light on a scooter. His driving license had been suspended after the first incident. Nastase claimed police manhandled him and threw him to the ground during his first arrest. The second time he was apprehended, he was filmed mocking police officers and accusing them of acting like the communist-era militia. Nastase got in a police car and placed a police helmet on his head during that second arrest. He was questioned for an hour and, when he left the police station, acknowledged that he probably made a mistake by refusing to take the breathalyzer test. As he left the police station, a disheveled looking Nastase fought his way through a media scrum wearing sunglasses and a blue tracksuit top. He was bundled into a car. Rebooted Rafael Nadal remains master of clay The unpleasant news didn't stop with his arrests. Later, Nastase posted a message on Facebook asking for privacy after his elder sister died Friday, an event he said "shattered" him. "In difficult times, you need support and understanding," Nastase said. Earlier, Nastase was fined 1,000 lei ($253) for being obstructive with police and his driving license was suspended for three months, but still faces charges of drunken driving and refusing a breathalyzer. Once the top-ranked player in the world, Nastase was renowned for his unpredictable and temperamental behavior on the tennis court, with his outbursts earning him the nickname "Nasty." He has retained those characteristics after retiring. Last year, Nastase was fined and banned for foul-mouthed comments and misconduct as Romania's Fed Cup captain after hurling abuse at British player Johanna Konta and the umpire during a Fed Cup match. He also made advances of a sexual nature toward Britain captain Anne Keothavong. In a separate incident, he was also found guilty by the International Tennis Federation of making "racially insensitive" remarks about the possible skin color of the then-unborn child of Serena Williams, who is married to internet entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian.
Ilie Nastase arrested twice in the space of six hours
Former tennis player Ilie Nastase was arrested twice in the space of six hours in his native Romania on Friday, first on suspicion of driving a car while drunk and refusing to take a breathalyzer test, and then for going through a red light on a scooter. Nastase had a level of 0.55 mg of alcohol per liter of breath, Bucharest chief police traffic officer Victor Gilceava said, far enough over the legal limit to face a maximum five-year prison sentence. Police initially stopped the 71-year-old Nastase around 4.45 a.m. while he was driving after a night out in the swanky Herestrau Park area of Bucharest. They said he was visibly drunk; he said he'd had three beers. Gilceava said officers had to block Nastase's vehicle as he failed to stop. Police declined to say who else was in the vehicle, but Romania TV reported he was with two women. Nastase, currently in divorce proceedings from his fourth wife, Brigitte, is known for loving the nightlife. The former U.S. and French Open champion, and the bad boy of tennis in the 1970s and early 1980s, refused to take a breathalyzer and officers removed him from the vehicle and handcuffed him. Ilie Nastase caused uproar when captain of the Romanian Fed Cup team last year Credit: EPA He was later released as police opened a criminal investigation against him for drunken driving and failing to take a breathalyzer test. Police stopped him again about six hours later after he allegedly went through a red light on a scooter. His driving license had been suspended after the first incident. Nastase claimed police manhandled him and threw him to the ground during his first arrest. The second time he was apprehended, he was filmed mocking police officers and accusing them of acting like the communist-era militia. Nastase got in a police car and placed a police helmet on his head during that second arrest. He was questioned for an hour and, when he left the police station, acknowledged that he probably made a mistake by refusing to take the breathalyzer test. As he left the police station, a disheveled looking Nastase fought his way through a media scrum wearing sunglasses and a blue tracksuit top. He was bundled into a car. Rebooted Rafael Nadal remains master of clay The unpleasant news didn't stop with his arrests. Later, Nastase posted a message on Facebook asking for privacy after his elder sister died Friday, an event he said "shattered" him. "In difficult times, you need support and understanding," Nastase said. Earlier, Nastase was fined 1,000 lei ($253) for being obstructive with police and his driving license was suspended for three months, but still faces charges of drunken driving and refusing a breathalyzer. Once the top-ranked player in the world, Nastase was renowned for his unpredictable and temperamental behavior on the tennis court, with his outbursts earning him the nickname "Nasty." He has retained those characteristics after retiring. Last year, Nastase was fined and banned for foul-mouthed comments and misconduct as Romania's Fed Cup captain after hurling abuse at British player Johanna Konta and the umpire during a Fed Cup match. He also made advances of a sexual nature toward Britain captain Anne Keothavong. In a separate incident, he was also found guilty by the International Tennis Federation of making "racially insensitive" remarks about the possible skin color of the then-unborn child of Serena Williams, who is married to internet entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian.
Former tennis player Ilie Nastase was arrested twice in the space of six hours in his native Romania on Friday, first on suspicion of driving a car while drunk and refusing to take a breathalyzer test, and then for going through a red light on a scooter. Nastase had a level of 0.55 mg of alcohol per liter of breath, Bucharest chief police traffic officer Victor Gilceava said, far enough over the legal limit to face a maximum five-year prison sentence. Police initially stopped the 71-year-old Nastase around 4.45 a.m. while he was driving after a night out in the swanky Herestrau Park area of Bucharest. They said he was visibly drunk; he said he'd had three beers. Gilceava said officers had to block Nastase's vehicle as he failed to stop. Police declined to say who else was in the vehicle, but Romania TV reported he was with two women. Nastase, currently in divorce proceedings from his fourth wife, Brigitte, is known for loving the nightlife. The former U.S. and French Open champion, and the bad boy of tennis in the 1970s and early 1980s, refused to take a breathalyzer and officers removed him from the vehicle and handcuffed him. Ilie Nastase caused uproar when captain of the Romanian Fed Cup team last year Credit: EPA He was later released as police opened a criminal investigation against him for drunken driving and failing to take a breathalyzer test. Police stopped him again about six hours later after he allegedly went through a red light on a scooter. His driving license had been suspended after the first incident. Nastase claimed police manhandled him and threw him to the ground during his first arrest. The second time he was apprehended, he was filmed mocking police officers and accusing them of acting like the communist-era militia. Nastase got in a police car and placed a police helmet on his head during that second arrest. He was questioned for an hour and, when he left the police station, acknowledged that he probably made a mistake by refusing to take the breathalyzer test. As he left the police station, a disheveled looking Nastase fought his way through a media scrum wearing sunglasses and a blue tracksuit top. He was bundled into a car. Rebooted Rafael Nadal remains master of clay The unpleasant news didn't stop with his arrests. Later, Nastase posted a message on Facebook asking for privacy after his elder sister died Friday, an event he said "shattered" him. "In difficult times, you need support and understanding," Nastase said. Earlier, Nastase was fined 1,000 lei ($253) for being obstructive with police and his driving license was suspended for three months, but still faces charges of drunken driving and refusing a breathalyzer. Once the top-ranked player in the world, Nastase was renowned for his unpredictable and temperamental behavior on the tennis court, with his outbursts earning him the nickname "Nasty." He has retained those characteristics after retiring. Last year, Nastase was fined and banned for foul-mouthed comments and misconduct as Romania's Fed Cup captain after hurling abuse at British player Johanna Konta and the umpire during a Fed Cup match. He also made advances of a sexual nature toward Britain captain Anne Keothavong. In a separate incident, he was also found guilty by the International Tennis Federation of making "racially insensitive" remarks about the possible skin color of the then-unborn child of Serena Williams, who is married to internet entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian.
Ilie Nastase arrested twice in the space of six hours
Former tennis player Ilie Nastase was arrested twice in the space of six hours in his native Romania on Friday, first on suspicion of driving a car while drunk and refusing to take a breathalyzer test, and then for going through a red light on a scooter. Nastase had a level of 0.55 mg of alcohol per liter of breath, Bucharest chief police traffic officer Victor Gilceava said, far enough over the legal limit to face a maximum five-year prison sentence. Police initially stopped the 71-year-old Nastase around 4.45 a.m. while he was driving after a night out in the swanky Herestrau Park area of Bucharest. They said he was visibly drunk; he said he'd had three beers. Gilceava said officers had to block Nastase's vehicle as he failed to stop. Police declined to say who else was in the vehicle, but Romania TV reported he was with two women. Nastase, currently in divorce proceedings from his fourth wife, Brigitte, is known for loving the nightlife. The former U.S. and French Open champion, and the bad boy of tennis in the 1970s and early 1980s, refused to take a breathalyzer and officers removed him from the vehicle and handcuffed him. Ilie Nastase caused uproar when captain of the Romanian Fed Cup team last year Credit: EPA He was later released as police opened a criminal investigation against him for drunken driving and failing to take a breathalyzer test. Police stopped him again about six hours later after he allegedly went through a red light on a scooter. His driving license had been suspended after the first incident. Nastase claimed police manhandled him and threw him to the ground during his first arrest. The second time he was apprehended, he was filmed mocking police officers and accusing them of acting like the communist-era militia. Nastase got in a police car and placed a police helmet on his head during that second arrest. He was questioned for an hour and, when he left the police station, acknowledged that he probably made a mistake by refusing to take the breathalyzer test. As he left the police station, a disheveled looking Nastase fought his way through a media scrum wearing sunglasses and a blue tracksuit top. He was bundled into a car. Rebooted Rafael Nadal remains master of clay The unpleasant news didn't stop with his arrests. Later, Nastase posted a message on Facebook asking for privacy after his elder sister died Friday, an event he said "shattered" him. "In difficult times, you need support and understanding," Nastase said. Earlier, Nastase was fined 1,000 lei ($253) for being obstructive with police and his driving license was suspended for three months, but still faces charges of drunken driving and refusing a breathalyzer. Once the top-ranked player in the world, Nastase was renowned for his unpredictable and temperamental behavior on the tennis court, with his outbursts earning him the nickname "Nasty." He has retained those characteristics after retiring. Last year, Nastase was fined and banned for foul-mouthed comments and misconduct as Romania's Fed Cup captain after hurling abuse at British player Johanna Konta and the umpire during a Fed Cup match. He also made advances of a sexual nature toward Britain captain Anne Keothavong. In a separate incident, he was also found guilty by the International Tennis Federation of making "racially insensitive" remarks about the possible skin color of the then-unborn child of Serena Williams, who is married to internet entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian.
FILE PHOTO: Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - June 11, 2017 Spain's Rafael Nadal kisses the trophy as he celebrates after winning the final Picture taken June 11, 2017. Reuters/Benoit Tessier
FILE PHOTO: French Open
FILE PHOTO: Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - June 11, 2017 Spain's Rafael Nadal kisses the trophy as he celebrates after winning the final Picture taken June 11, 2017. Reuters/Benoit Tessier
For the second year running, Petra Kvitova was the talk of Roland Garros in the build-up to the French Open. Last year, the subject was her unexpected return to tennis; now it’s the arrest of the suspected burglar who assaulted her in her own apartment 18 months ago. Speaking in the interview room on Friday, Kvitova said that it was “great news” to hear that the Czech police had finally apprehended a suspect. For her, though, the chapter won’t be closed until the case has been heard and her assailant convicted. “Of course great news for me to hear that,” said Kvitova. “It's great that they have him in custody. But probably the most, the happiest I will be is when the story will end, when everything will be done and finished. “It was a little bit of a wait for me. When that happened I wasn't really wishing anything more than just they catch him. Then, when I was focusing on the rehab, I have been telling myself that I can't really do anything. It's the police and they do what they have to do. And in the end, hopefully they did great job.” Asked whether the arrest might help to reduce her post-traumatic anxiety, Kvitova replied “Well, it's just from yesterday, right? I don't know. Of course I will always feel a little bit weird when I am somewhere in public probably alone, but on the other hand this should be a little bit better. But I don't really feel that, the relief, because it's not the end. So I'm still same as I was before.” Kvitova’s first-round win over Julia Boserup here 12 months ago was one of the most heartwarming stories of the season. It came only six months after she had suffered deep cuts to all five fingers of her racket hand. The intruder, who claimed to be reading a meter, drew a knife on her, and the surgeon who operated on her that same day assessed her chances of returning to the tour as “very low”. But Kvitova has confounded such expectations by scrapping back to No. 8 in the world rankings. She has already won four WTA titles in 2018, including the last two she played on the clay courts of Madrid and Prague. For a woman with two Wimbledon titles, and a sliding lefty serve which is at its most effective on grass, she is showing impressive versatility. Typically, though, the understated Kvitova was playing down her own prospects here on Friday. “I think there is probably bigger favorites of the Roland Garros than me,” she said. Rebooted Rafael Nadal remains master of clay Meanwhile the surprise run of Cameron Norrie at the ATP 250 event in Lyon came to an end on Friday in the semi-finals, as Norrie lost 6-1, 7-6 to the experienced Frenchman Gilles Simon. Nevertheless, Norrie’s three wins this week – which included a superb 7-6, 6-4 elimination of world No. 10 John Isner – have already carried him up 17 places to No. 85 on the rankings ladder. At the next level down, there was also good news for James Ward – a British Davis Cup stalwart now making his comeback from knee surgery – who pushed into the semi-finals of the Loughborough Challenger when Teymuraz Gabashvili retired from their match at 7-5, 5-4 down. And the Tennis Integrity Unit on Friday charged Federico Coria, the 26-year-old brother of former French Open runner-up Guillermo Coria, with failing to report two occasions in 2015 when he was offered money to lose sets or entire matches. Guillermo responded with a statement that suggested his brother had been faced with threats at the time, and thus broke the TIU code through concern over his own safety and that of his family.
Petra Kvitova: 'I will always feel a little bit weird when I am somewhere in public alone'
For the second year running, Petra Kvitova was the talk of Roland Garros in the build-up to the French Open. Last year, the subject was her unexpected return to tennis; now it’s the arrest of the suspected burglar who assaulted her in her own apartment 18 months ago. Speaking in the interview room on Friday, Kvitova said that it was “great news” to hear that the Czech police had finally apprehended a suspect. For her, though, the chapter won’t be closed until the case has been heard and her assailant convicted. “Of course great news for me to hear that,” said Kvitova. “It's great that they have him in custody. But probably the most, the happiest I will be is when the story will end, when everything will be done and finished. “It was a little bit of a wait for me. When that happened I wasn't really wishing anything more than just they catch him. Then, when I was focusing on the rehab, I have been telling myself that I can't really do anything. It's the police and they do what they have to do. And in the end, hopefully they did great job.” Asked whether the arrest might help to reduce her post-traumatic anxiety, Kvitova replied “Well, it's just from yesterday, right? I don't know. Of course I will always feel a little bit weird when I am somewhere in public probably alone, but on the other hand this should be a little bit better. But I don't really feel that, the relief, because it's not the end. So I'm still same as I was before.” Kvitova’s first-round win over Julia Boserup here 12 months ago was one of the most heartwarming stories of the season. It came only six months after she had suffered deep cuts to all five fingers of her racket hand. The intruder, who claimed to be reading a meter, drew a knife on her, and the surgeon who operated on her that same day assessed her chances of returning to the tour as “very low”. But Kvitova has confounded such expectations by scrapping back to No. 8 in the world rankings. She has already won four WTA titles in 2018, including the last two she played on the clay courts of Madrid and Prague. For a woman with two Wimbledon titles, and a sliding lefty serve which is at its most effective on grass, she is showing impressive versatility. Typically, though, the understated Kvitova was playing down her own prospects here on Friday. “I think there is probably bigger favorites of the Roland Garros than me,” she said. Rebooted Rafael Nadal remains master of clay Meanwhile the surprise run of Cameron Norrie at the ATP 250 event in Lyon came to an end on Friday in the semi-finals, as Norrie lost 6-1, 7-6 to the experienced Frenchman Gilles Simon. Nevertheless, Norrie’s three wins this week – which included a superb 7-6, 6-4 elimination of world No. 10 John Isner – have already carried him up 17 places to No. 85 on the rankings ladder. At the next level down, there was also good news for James Ward – a British Davis Cup stalwart now making his comeback from knee surgery – who pushed into the semi-finals of the Loughborough Challenger when Teymuraz Gabashvili retired from their match at 7-5, 5-4 down. And the Tennis Integrity Unit on Friday charged Federico Coria, the 26-year-old brother of former French Open runner-up Guillermo Coria, with failing to report two occasions in 2015 when he was offered money to lose sets or entire matches. Guillermo responded with a statement that suggested his brother had been faced with threats at the time, and thus broke the TIU code through concern over his own safety and that of his family.
Rafael Nadal says that he never feels that rival Novak Djokovic is 'coming back from injury', saying that the Serb is always a contender for the biggest events
Djokovic is 'always there', will be RG contender - Nadal
Rafael Nadal says that he never feels that rival Novak Djokovic is 'coming back from injury', saying that the Serb is always a contender for the biggest events
Rafael Nadal says that he never feels that rival Novak Djokovic is 'coming back from injury', saying that the Serb is always a contender for the biggest events
Djokovic is 'always there', will be RG contender - Nadal
Rafael Nadal says that he never feels that rival Novak Djokovic is 'coming back from injury', saying that the Serb is always a contender for the biggest events
Rafael Nadal says that he never feels that rival Novak Djokovic is 'coming back from injury', saying that the Serb is always a contender for the biggest events
Djokovic is 'always there', will be RG contender - Nadal
Rafael Nadal says that he never feels that rival Novak Djokovic is 'coming back from injury', saying that the Serb is always a contender for the biggest events
Rafael Nadal disagreed with a journalist, saying that clay court tennis hasn't changed very much as the best players from 10 years ago are still at the top
The best players adapt; are still winning - Nadal
Rafael Nadal disagreed with a journalist, saying that clay court tennis hasn't changed very much as the best players from 10 years ago are still at the top
Rafael Nadal disagreed with a journalist, saying that clay court tennis hasn't changed very much as the best players from 10 years ago are still at the top
The best players adapt; are still winning - Nadal
Rafael Nadal disagreed with a journalist, saying that clay court tennis hasn't changed very much as the best players from 10 years ago are still at the top
Rafael Nadal disagreed with a journalist, saying that clay court tennis hasn't changed very much as the best players from 10 years ago are still at the top
The best players adapt; are still winning - Nadal
Rafael Nadal disagreed with a journalist, saying that clay court tennis hasn't changed very much as the best players from 10 years ago are still at the top
Alexander Zverev is the second seed at Roland Garros after winning the Madrid Masters and losing to Rafael Nadal in the final in Rome (AFP Photo/Filippo MONTEFORTE)
Alexander Zverev is the second seed at Roland Garros after winning the Madrid Masters and losing to Rafael Nadal in the final in Rome
Alexander Zverev is the second seed at Roland Garros after winning the Madrid Masters and losing to Rafael Nadal in the final in Rome (AFP Photo/Filippo MONTEFORTE)
Tennis - ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open - Foro Italico, Rome, Italy - May 20, 2018 Spain's Rafael Nadal in action during the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open
Tennis - ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open - Foro Italico, Rome, Italy - May 20, 2018 Spain's Rafael Nadal in action during the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Tennis - ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open - Foro Italico, Rome, Italy - May 20, 2018 Spain's Rafael Nadal in action during the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open
Tennis - ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open - Foro Italico, Rome, Italy - May 20, 2018 Spain's Rafael Nadal in action during the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Denis Shapovalov lost to Rafael Nadal in Rome the week after reaching the Madrid semi-finals (AFP Photo/Andreas SOLARO)
Denis Shapovalov lost to Rafael Nadal in Rome the week after reaching the Madrid semi-finals
Denis Shapovalov lost to Rafael Nadal in Rome the week after reaching the Madrid semi-finals (AFP Photo/Andreas SOLARO)
During an injury-plagued spell that ran from November to March, Rafael Nadal withdrew from six successive tournaments. According to the doom-mongers, his very future as a grand slam contender stood in doubt. Yet over the last six weeks, Nadal has proved that he is not just the king of clay, but the king of comebacks, too. Once Nadal’s feet had touched the red dirt in Monte Carlo, he began a winning streak that has continued all the way to Roland Garros – with the exception of a single reverse at the hands of Dominic Thiem in Madrid. His unbroken run of 50 straight sets on clay set a new world record. All of which begs two intriguing questions. Is Nadal playing better than ever? Or is the competition weaker than before? For answers, the Telegraph turned to Game Insight Group, the cutting-edge tennis statisticians based in Melbourne. And after consultation with their analysts – Graeme Spence, Stephanie Kovalchik and Machar Reid – we can confirm that, as so often, the explanation is a little bit of both. Let’s deal with the competition first. According to Elo ratings (which are different to the ATP’s rankings because they focus on who you are playing, not where or when), Nadal faced a lower standard of opponent in 2017 and 2018 than he had in previous seasons. Rafael Nadal's key numbers in Paris Much of this comes down to injuries and form slumps among tennis’s established stars, especially the ‘Big Four’. Nadal hasn’t played Andy Murray for 25 months, and faced Novak Djokovic only once last year – the lowest seasonal incidence of this high-frequency rivalry since 2006. Admittedly, the great Nadal-Federer feud enjoyed a revival. There were four meetings in 2017, all of which Federer won. But none of them was on clay, as Federer has effectively retired from that surface. Turning to Nadal’s actual performances, the hiring of coach Carlos Moya – himself a former world No 1 – at the end of 2016 proved to be a masterstroke. Moya recognised that Nadal’s power and intensity allowed him to dominate most opponents once the rally had started, but that he was less effective than many of his peers on the two most pivotal shots: the serve and the return. Moya encouraged his old friend, who is not a gambler by nature, to take more risks with his serve. Analysis of data from clay-court matches only shows how the body serve – once the safe option that Nadal used more often than not – has receded so dramatically that he now hits it only one time in 10. Meanwhile the most difficult and penetrative serve – the one which flies down the ‘T’ – has become his favourite this season, used on more than 40 per cent of points. Nadal has had great success under the guidance of Carlos Moya Credit: Getty images And what of the return? Nadal has always stood a long way back when receiving, but under Moya’s guidance he has moved even closer to the line judges. By the time the ball reaches him, it has slowed down to the point where he can take a full-blooded swing, imparting his usual heavy topspin. This is the opposite approach to the one pursued by Federer, notably in his SABR (Sneak Attack by Roger), which sees him dart forward to block the serve back almost as soon as it has bounced. Players serving to Nadal have almost a second longer to prepare for their second shot, because the ball travels perhaps 30 feet further in either direction. Even so, dealing with his deep, dipping, kicking return is still nightmarishly difficult. Especially as Nadal’s return depth has vastly improved this year, with a career-high figure of 85 per cent of balls landing beyond the service box. The ATP analyst Craig O’Shannessy has recommended bold experimentation as the best response. “Rafa backs up so far when he’s receiving serve he’s halfway to Moscow,” O’Shannessy said this week. “So an underarm serve? Why not? I’m not advocating a player continually doing it, but you need an agent of disruption. Perhaps a slow serve-and-volley, more drop shots. Do something radical.” Rafael Nadal's 15 most outrageous ever shots The challenge is all the greater because Nadal is an outlier, tactically speaking, whose game has little in common with anyone else’s. The only satisfactory way to prepare for facing Nadal is… by facing Nadal. GIG’s analysis suggests that Nadal deploys less variety of shot than either Federer or Djokovic, preferring to concentrate ruthlessly on his strengths. One particular type of angled forehand, hit short and wide with heavy spin into the right-hander’s backhand, represents around 20 per cent of his total strokes off that wing: an unusually high percentage for a single option. Historically, the figures show that Nadal’s clay-court dominance has grown throughout his career, with the exception of a two-year hiatus in 2015 and 2016. Since that period of relative uncertainty, when he admitted that “I am playing with too much nerves”, he has found his mojo again. Yet there is one chink of light for the rest of the field. Under pressure in Madrid against Thiem, Nadal reverted to old patterns on both his serve (more conservative) and his return (less depth), as he slipped to a 7-5, 6-3 defeat. This supported the theory, expressed by the ever-insightful Eurosport pundit Mats Wilander on Tuesday, that Nadal can still be knocked off his stride by the stars of the new generation. “When he plays well, Rafa is better now [than when he was younger],” said Wilander. “He and Roger, they’re on every shot. But mentally I don’t think they believe they are better players now, and I don’t think they are as confident as they were. Rafa is more aware of the young players, he is afraid of them differently than before.” If Wilander is right, then Nadal might encounter a few more anxious moments over the next fortnight. Should he slip back into old habits, and fail to apply his recent upgrades, this tournament might not be a foregone conclusion after all.
Rebooted Rafael Nadal remains master of clay - but there is a glimmer of hope for his rivals
During an injury-plagued spell that ran from November to March, Rafael Nadal withdrew from six successive tournaments. According to the doom-mongers, his very future as a grand slam contender stood in doubt. Yet over the last six weeks, Nadal has proved that he is not just the king of clay, but the king of comebacks, too. Once Nadal’s feet had touched the red dirt in Monte Carlo, he began a winning streak that has continued all the way to Roland Garros – with the exception of a single reverse at the hands of Dominic Thiem in Madrid. His unbroken run of 50 straight sets on clay set a new world record. All of which begs two intriguing questions. Is Nadal playing better than ever? Or is the competition weaker than before? For answers, the Telegraph turned to Game Insight Group, the cutting-edge tennis statisticians based in Melbourne. And after consultation with their analysts – Graeme Spence, Stephanie Kovalchik and Machar Reid – we can confirm that, as so often, the explanation is a little bit of both. Let’s deal with the competition first. According to Elo ratings (which are different to the ATP’s rankings because they focus on who you are playing, not where or when), Nadal faced a lower standard of opponent in 2017 and 2018 than he had in previous seasons. Rafael Nadal's key numbers in Paris Much of this comes down to injuries and form slumps among tennis’s established stars, especially the ‘Big Four’. Nadal hasn’t played Andy Murray for 25 months, and faced Novak Djokovic only once last year – the lowest seasonal incidence of this high-frequency rivalry since 2006. Admittedly, the great Nadal-Federer feud enjoyed a revival. There were four meetings in 2017, all of which Federer won. But none of them was on clay, as Federer has effectively retired from that surface. Turning to Nadal’s actual performances, the hiring of coach Carlos Moya – himself a former world No 1 – at the end of 2016 proved to be a masterstroke. Moya recognised that Nadal’s power and intensity allowed him to dominate most opponents once the rally had started, but that he was less effective than many of his peers on the two most pivotal shots: the serve and the return. Moya encouraged his old friend, who is not a gambler by nature, to take more risks with his serve. Analysis of data from clay-court matches only shows how the body serve – once the safe option that Nadal used more often than not – has receded so dramatically that he now hits it only one time in 10. Meanwhile the most difficult and penetrative serve – the one which flies down the ‘T’ – has become his favourite this season, used on more than 40 per cent of points. Nadal has had great success under the guidance of Carlos Moya Credit: Getty images And what of the return? Nadal has always stood a long way back when receiving, but under Moya’s guidance he has moved even closer to the line judges. By the time the ball reaches him, it has slowed down to the point where he can take a full-blooded swing, imparting his usual heavy topspin. This is the opposite approach to the one pursued by Federer, notably in his SABR (Sneak Attack by Roger), which sees him dart forward to block the serve back almost as soon as it has bounced. Players serving to Nadal have almost a second longer to prepare for their second shot, because the ball travels perhaps 30 feet further in either direction. Even so, dealing with his deep, dipping, kicking return is still nightmarishly difficult. Especially as Nadal’s return depth has vastly improved this year, with a career-high figure of 85 per cent of balls landing beyond the service box. The ATP analyst Craig O’Shannessy has recommended bold experimentation as the best response. “Rafa backs up so far when he’s receiving serve he’s halfway to Moscow,” O’Shannessy said this week. “So an underarm serve? Why not? I’m not advocating a player continually doing it, but you need an agent of disruption. Perhaps a slow serve-and-volley, more drop shots. Do something radical.” Rafael Nadal's 15 most outrageous ever shots The challenge is all the greater because Nadal is an outlier, tactically speaking, whose game has little in common with anyone else’s. The only satisfactory way to prepare for facing Nadal is… by facing Nadal. GIG’s analysis suggests that Nadal deploys less variety of shot than either Federer or Djokovic, preferring to concentrate ruthlessly on his strengths. One particular type of angled forehand, hit short and wide with heavy spin into the right-hander’s backhand, represents around 20 per cent of his total strokes off that wing: an unusually high percentage for a single option. Historically, the figures show that Nadal’s clay-court dominance has grown throughout his career, with the exception of a two-year hiatus in 2015 and 2016. Since that period of relative uncertainty, when he admitted that “I am playing with too much nerves”, he has found his mojo again. Yet there is one chink of light for the rest of the field. Under pressure in Madrid against Thiem, Nadal reverted to old patterns on both his serve (more conservative) and his return (less depth), as he slipped to a 7-5, 6-3 defeat. This supported the theory, expressed by the ever-insightful Eurosport pundit Mats Wilander on Tuesday, that Nadal can still be knocked off his stride by the stars of the new generation. “When he plays well, Rafa is better now [than when he was younger],” said Wilander. “He and Roger, they’re on every shot. But mentally I don’t think they believe they are better players now, and I don’t think they are as confident as they were. Rafa is more aware of the young players, he is afraid of them differently than before.” If Wilander is right, then Nadal might encounter a few more anxious moments over the next fortnight. Should he slip back into old habits, and fail to apply his recent upgrades, this tournament might not be a foregone conclusion after all.
During an injury-plagued spell that ran from November to March, Rafael Nadal withdrew from six successive tournaments. According to the doom-mongers, his very future as a grand slam contender stood in doubt. Yet over the last six weeks, Nadal has proved that he is not just the king of clay, but the king of comebacks, too. Once Nadal’s feet had touched the red dirt in Monte Carlo, he began a winning streak that has continued all the way to Roland Garros – with the exception of a single reverse at the hands of Dominic Thiem in Madrid. His unbroken run of 50 straight sets on clay set a new world record. All of which begs two intriguing questions. Is Nadal playing better than ever? Or is the competition weaker than before? For answers, the Telegraph turned to Game Insight Group, the cutting-edge tennis statisticians based in Melbourne. And after consultation with their analysts – Graeme Spence, Stephanie Kovalchik and Machar Reid – we can confirm that, as so often, the explanation is a little bit of both. Let’s deal with the competition first. According to Elo ratings (which are different to the ATP’s rankings because they focus on who you are playing, not where or when), Nadal faced a lower standard of opponent in 2017 and 2018 than he had in previous seasons. Rafael Nadal's key numbers in Paris Much of this comes down to injuries and form slumps among tennis’s established stars, especially the ‘Big Four’. Nadal hasn’t played Andy Murray for 25 months, and faced Novak Djokovic only once last year – the lowest seasonal incidence of this high-frequency rivalry since 2006. Admittedly, the great Nadal-Federer feud enjoyed a revival. There were four meetings in 2017, all of which Federer won. But none of them was on clay, as Federer has effectively retired from that surface. Turning to Nadal’s actual performances, the hiring of coach Carlos Moya – himself a former world No 1 – at the end of 2016 proved to be a masterstroke. Moya recognised that Nadal’s power and intensity allowed him to dominate most opponents once the rally had started, but that he was less effective than many of his peers on the two most pivotal shots: the serve and the return. Moya encouraged his old friend, who is not a gambler by nature, to take more risks with his serve. Analysis of data from clay-court matches only shows how the body serve – once the safe option that Nadal used more often than not – has receded so dramatically that he now hits it only one time in 10. Meanwhile the most difficult and penetrative serve – the one which flies down the ‘T’ – has become his favourite this season, used on more than 40 per cent of points. Nadal has had great success under the guidance of Carlos Moya Credit: Getty images And what of the return? Nadal has always stood a long way back when receiving, but under Moya’s guidance he has moved even closer to the line judges. By the time the ball reaches him, it has slowed down to the point where he can take a full-blooded swing, imparting his usual heavy topspin. This is the opposite approach to the one pursued by Federer, notably in his SABR (Sneak Attack by Roger), which sees him dart forward to block the serve back almost as soon as it has bounced. Players serving to Nadal have almost a second longer to prepare for their second shot, because the ball travels perhaps 30 feet further in either direction. Even so, dealing with his deep, dipping, kicking return is still nightmarishly difficult. Especially as Nadal’s return depth has vastly improved this year, with a career-high figure of 85 per cent of balls landing beyond the service box. The ATP analyst Craig O’Shannessy has recommended bold experimentation as the best response. “Rafa backs up so far when he’s receiving serve he’s halfway to Moscow,” O’Shannessy said this week. “So an underarm serve? Why not? I’m not advocating a player continually doing it, but you need an agent of disruption. Perhaps a slow serve-and-volley, more drop shots. Do something radical.” Rafael Nadal's 15 most outrageous ever shots The challenge is all the greater because Nadal is an outlier, tactically speaking, whose game has little in common with anyone else’s. The only satisfactory way to prepare for facing Nadal is… by facing Nadal. GIG’s analysis suggests that Nadal deploys less variety of shot than either Federer or Djokovic, preferring to concentrate ruthlessly on his strengths. One particular type of angled forehand, hit short and wide with heavy spin into the right-hander’s backhand, represents around 20 per cent of his total strokes off that wing: an unusually high percentage for a single option. Historically, the figures show that Nadal’s clay-court dominance has grown throughout his career, with the exception of a two-year hiatus in 2015 and 2016. Since that period of relative uncertainty, when he admitted that “I am playing with too much nerves”, he has found his mojo again. Yet there is one chink of light for the rest of the field. Under pressure in Madrid against Thiem, Nadal reverted to old patterns on both his serve (more conservative) and his return (less depth), as he slipped to a 7-5, 6-3 defeat. This supported the theory, expressed by the ever-insightful Eurosport pundit Mats Wilander on Tuesday, that Nadal can still be knocked off his stride by the stars of the new generation. “When he plays well, Rafa is better now [than when he was younger],” said Wilander. “He and Roger, they’re on every shot. But mentally I don’t think they believe they are better players now, and I don’t think they are as confident as they were. Rafa is more aware of the young players, he is afraid of them differently than before.” If Wilander is right, then Nadal might encounter a few more anxious moments over the next fortnight. Should he slip back into old habits, and fail to apply his recent upgrades, this tournament might not be a foregone conclusion after all.
Rebooted Rafael Nadal remains master of clay - but there is a glimmer of hope for his rivals
During an injury-plagued spell that ran from November to March, Rafael Nadal withdrew from six successive tournaments. According to the doom-mongers, his very future as a grand slam contender stood in doubt. Yet over the last six weeks, Nadal has proved that he is not just the king of clay, but the king of comebacks, too. Once Nadal’s feet had touched the red dirt in Monte Carlo, he began a winning streak that has continued all the way to Roland Garros – with the exception of a single reverse at the hands of Dominic Thiem in Madrid. His unbroken run of 50 straight sets on clay set a new world record. All of which begs two intriguing questions. Is Nadal playing better than ever? Or is the competition weaker than before? For answers, the Telegraph turned to Game Insight Group, the cutting-edge tennis statisticians based in Melbourne. And after consultation with their analysts – Graeme Spence, Stephanie Kovalchik and Machar Reid – we can confirm that, as so often, the explanation is a little bit of both. Let’s deal with the competition first. According to Elo ratings (which are different to the ATP’s rankings because they focus on who you are playing, not where or when), Nadal faced a lower standard of opponent in 2017 and 2018 than he had in previous seasons. Rafael Nadal's key numbers in Paris Much of this comes down to injuries and form slumps among tennis’s established stars, especially the ‘Big Four’. Nadal hasn’t played Andy Murray for 25 months, and faced Novak Djokovic only once last year – the lowest seasonal incidence of this high-frequency rivalry since 2006. Admittedly, the great Nadal-Federer feud enjoyed a revival. There were four meetings in 2017, all of which Federer won. But none of them was on clay, as Federer has effectively retired from that surface. Turning to Nadal’s actual performances, the hiring of coach Carlos Moya – himself a former world No 1 – at the end of 2016 proved to be a masterstroke. Moya recognised that Nadal’s power and intensity allowed him to dominate most opponents once the rally had started, but that he was less effective than many of his peers on the two most pivotal shots: the serve and the return. Moya encouraged his old friend, who is not a gambler by nature, to take more risks with his serve. Analysis of data from clay-court matches only shows how the body serve – once the safe option that Nadal used more often than not – has receded so dramatically that he now hits it only one time in 10. Meanwhile the most difficult and penetrative serve – the one which flies down the ‘T’ – has become his favourite this season, used on more than 40 per cent of points. Nadal has had great success under the guidance of Carlos Moya Credit: Getty images And what of the return? Nadal has always stood a long way back when receiving, but under Moya’s guidance he has moved even closer to the line judges. By the time the ball reaches him, it has slowed down to the point where he can take a full-blooded swing, imparting his usual heavy topspin. This is the opposite approach to the one pursued by Federer, notably in his SABR (Sneak Attack by Roger), which sees him dart forward to block the serve back almost as soon as it has bounced. Players serving to Nadal have almost a second longer to prepare for their second shot, because the ball travels perhaps 30 feet further in either direction. Even so, dealing with his deep, dipping, kicking return is still nightmarishly difficult. Especially as Nadal’s return depth has vastly improved this year, with a career-high figure of 85 per cent of balls landing beyond the service box. The ATP analyst Craig O’Shannessy has recommended bold experimentation as the best response. “Rafa backs up so far when he’s receiving serve he’s halfway to Moscow,” O’Shannessy said this week. “So an underarm serve? Why not? I’m not advocating a player continually doing it, but you need an agent of disruption. Perhaps a slow serve-and-volley, more drop shots. Do something radical.” Rafael Nadal's 15 most outrageous ever shots The challenge is all the greater because Nadal is an outlier, tactically speaking, whose game has little in common with anyone else’s. The only satisfactory way to prepare for facing Nadal is… by facing Nadal. GIG’s analysis suggests that Nadal deploys less variety of shot than either Federer or Djokovic, preferring to concentrate ruthlessly on his strengths. One particular type of angled forehand, hit short and wide with heavy spin into the right-hander’s backhand, represents around 20 per cent of his total strokes off that wing: an unusually high percentage for a single option. Historically, the figures show that Nadal’s clay-court dominance has grown throughout his career, with the exception of a two-year hiatus in 2015 and 2016. Since that period of relative uncertainty, when he admitted that “I am playing with too much nerves”, he has found his mojo again. Yet there is one chink of light for the rest of the field. Under pressure in Madrid against Thiem, Nadal reverted to old patterns on both his serve (more conservative) and his return (less depth), as he slipped to a 7-5, 6-3 defeat. This supported the theory, expressed by the ever-insightful Eurosport pundit Mats Wilander on Tuesday, that Nadal can still be knocked off his stride by the stars of the new generation. “When he plays well, Rafa is better now [than when he was younger],” said Wilander. “He and Roger, they’re on every shot. But mentally I don’t think they believe they are better players now, and I don’t think they are as confident as they were. Rafa is more aware of the young players, he is afraid of them differently than before.” If Wilander is right, then Nadal might encounter a few more anxious moments over the next fortnight. Should he slip back into old habits, and fail to apply his recent upgrades, this tournament might not be a foregone conclusion after all.
Tough challenge: Alexander Dolgopolov faces Rafael Nadal in the first round in Paris (AFP Photo/TIZIANA FABI)
Tough challenge: Alexander Dolgopolov faces Rafael Nadal in the first round in Paris
Tough challenge: Alexander Dolgopolov faces Rafael Nadal in the first round in Paris (AFP Photo/TIZIANA FABI)
For a second year running, the women’s field at the French Open remains wide open. Jelena Ostapenko came out of nowhere to win last year’s Roland Garros, but what are the chances of another unknown and unseeded player taking Paris by storm? We look back on the last 10 years of the major, to find out if we can glean any information as to who win capture the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen this fortnight and boldly make our outright prediction for the title from the evidence gathered. We will look at age, ranking, country and form over the past decade to ascertain who is primed to win the second grand slam of the year. Age At 20 years and two days old when she won in Paris, Ostapenko became the youngest first-time grand slam champion since 2004 when Svetlana Kuznetsova won the US Open at 19 years, two months. In contrast, 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone was the second oldest first-time grand slam winner at 29 years, 11 months and 14 days. In the last 10 years, only one player has won the title in Paris being 30 or older, unsurprisingly that of Serena Williams. Serena was 31 at the time of her second French Open in 2013, 11 years after her first. And was 33 when she became only the third player - male or female - to win 20 major singles titles in 2015. Maria Sharapova, who heads into this year’s major in good touch, was 25 and 27 at the time of her triumphs in 2012 and 2014. Average age of Paris winner: 25 years 8 months Francesca Schiavone was 29 years old when she won Roland Garros in 2010 Credit: AFP Ranking The previously unheralded Ostapenko was the first unseeded woman to win at Roland Garros since 1933 when her fearless style of play shocked Simona Halep and the rest of the tennis world in last year’s final. Previously to Ostapenko’s success, the lowest seeded player to win in Paris over the last 10 years was the 17th ranked Schiavone. French Open women's winners of last 10 years Serena Williams’ two titles came when she was top seed, while both Sharapova in 2012 and Ana Ivanovic in 2008 were second seeds for their successes. Lucky number seven lived up to his name for Sharapova when she won her second Roland Garros and for Kuznetsova back in 2009. Average age of ranking: Nine. Although if you take out Ostapenko’s ranking the mean would be five. Left/right hander While left-hander Rafael Nadal dominates the Roland Garros clay in the men’s draw, you have to go as far back as 1992 for the last leftie to win the women’s title. Not since Monica Seles’ blockbuster 6-2, 3-6, 10-8 win over Steffi Graf has a left-hander enjoyed success on the red stuff. It means lefties Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Ekaterina Makarova, Lucie Safarova and Kristyna Pliskova are all statistically unlikely to stop the wave of dominance from the right-handers. Petra Kvitova would become the first left-hander to win the French Open since 1992 if she wins the 2018 edition Credit: Getty Images Country With Ostapenko our point of reference again, the French Open in recent years has produced champions for the first time in their homeland’s history. Not only does Latvia now have a grand slam champion to their name, but Schiavone was the first Italian woman to win a single’s major and Lia Na the first Asian and Chinese grand slam champion back in 2011. Of the current top 20 players, only three countries are yet to boast a women’s major winner. They are Ukraine, Holland and Slovakia. Form It’s always preferable to have a decent run of form behind you heading into a slam. For all bar one of the last 10 champions in Paris, they have all reached at least the semi-finals of one clay-court warm-up event. Schiavone had been in patchy form on the red stuff before her 2010 victory. The Italian was a first-round loser in Stuttgart, went one round further in Rome and reached the fourth of the Madrid Open. Ostapenko won the Charleston Open last spring, while solid runs in Rome assisted Garbine Muguruza, Li Na and Kuznetsova’s charges in Paris. While Sharapova won two warm-up tournaments in Rome and Stuttgart in 2012, Serena Williams went one better the following year to win a hat-trick of titles and then wasn’t fatigued in Paris as she clinched a then 16th grand slam by dropping just one set and 28 games. 2018 Clay court season | Who has won what? Prediction With all of the above categories considered, our pick for this year’s French Open is, drum roll please…Elina Svitolina. At just 23-years-old, she is slightly younger than the average winner of the last 10 years, although four past champions have been the same age as the right-hander (of course) or younger. A world ranking of four puts Svitolina slightly higher up the chain than the average winner, but taking Ostapenko’s lowly ranking out of the equation, puts her right in the mix. Born in Odessa, the Ukraine has not yet produced a women’s champion since it’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Another box that could be potentially ticked. Elina Svitolina is our tip to win this year's French Open Credit: Getty Images Svitolina, finally, heads to Paris on the back of winning the Italian Open last weekend – her third WTA title of the year. While she has yet to move beyond the quarter-finals of a major, reaching the last eight in Paris twice in the last three years, she has achieved great things at Roland Garros before having won the girls' title as a 15-year-old. Watch this space...
How to pick a French Open women’s champion - including our bold prediction
For a second year running, the women’s field at the French Open remains wide open. Jelena Ostapenko came out of nowhere to win last year’s Roland Garros, but what are the chances of another unknown and unseeded player taking Paris by storm? We look back on the last 10 years of the major, to find out if we can glean any information as to who win capture the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen this fortnight and boldly make our outright prediction for the title from the evidence gathered. We will look at age, ranking, country and form over the past decade to ascertain who is primed to win the second grand slam of the year. Age At 20 years and two days old when she won in Paris, Ostapenko became the youngest first-time grand slam champion since 2004 when Svetlana Kuznetsova won the US Open at 19 years, two months. In contrast, 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone was the second oldest first-time grand slam winner at 29 years, 11 months and 14 days. In the last 10 years, only one player has won the title in Paris being 30 or older, unsurprisingly that of Serena Williams. Serena was 31 at the time of her second French Open in 2013, 11 years after her first. And was 33 when she became only the third player - male or female - to win 20 major singles titles in 2015. Maria Sharapova, who heads into this year’s major in good touch, was 25 and 27 at the time of her triumphs in 2012 and 2014. Average age of Paris winner: 25 years 8 months Francesca Schiavone was 29 years old when she won Roland Garros in 2010 Credit: AFP Ranking The previously unheralded Ostapenko was the first unseeded woman to win at Roland Garros since 1933 when her fearless style of play shocked Simona Halep and the rest of the tennis world in last year’s final. Previously to Ostapenko’s success, the lowest seeded player to win in Paris over the last 10 years was the 17th ranked Schiavone. French Open women's winners of last 10 years Serena Williams’ two titles came when she was top seed, while both Sharapova in 2012 and Ana Ivanovic in 2008 were second seeds for their successes. Lucky number seven lived up to his name for Sharapova when she won her second Roland Garros and for Kuznetsova back in 2009. Average age of ranking: Nine. Although if you take out Ostapenko’s ranking the mean would be five. Left/right hander While left-hander Rafael Nadal dominates the Roland Garros clay in the men’s draw, you have to go as far back as 1992 for the last leftie to win the women’s title. Not since Monica Seles’ blockbuster 6-2, 3-6, 10-8 win over Steffi Graf has a left-hander enjoyed success on the red stuff. It means lefties Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Ekaterina Makarova, Lucie Safarova and Kristyna Pliskova are all statistically unlikely to stop the wave of dominance from the right-handers. Petra Kvitova would become the first left-hander to win the French Open since 1992 if she wins the 2018 edition Credit: Getty Images Country With Ostapenko our point of reference again, the French Open in recent years has produced champions for the first time in their homeland’s history. Not only does Latvia now have a grand slam champion to their name, but Schiavone was the first Italian woman to win a single’s major and Lia Na the first Asian and Chinese grand slam champion back in 2011. Of the current top 20 players, only three countries are yet to boast a women’s major winner. They are Ukraine, Holland and Slovakia. Form It’s always preferable to have a decent run of form behind you heading into a slam. For all bar one of the last 10 champions in Paris, they have all reached at least the semi-finals of one clay-court warm-up event. Schiavone had been in patchy form on the red stuff before her 2010 victory. The Italian was a first-round loser in Stuttgart, went one round further in Rome and reached the fourth of the Madrid Open. Ostapenko won the Charleston Open last spring, while solid runs in Rome assisted Garbine Muguruza, Li Na and Kuznetsova’s charges in Paris. While Sharapova won two warm-up tournaments in Rome and Stuttgart in 2012, Serena Williams went one better the following year to win a hat-trick of titles and then wasn’t fatigued in Paris as she clinched a then 16th grand slam by dropping just one set and 28 games. 2018 Clay court season | Who has won what? Prediction With all of the above categories considered, our pick for this year’s French Open is, drum roll please…Elina Svitolina. At just 23-years-old, she is slightly younger than the average winner of the last 10 years, although four past champions have been the same age as the right-hander (of course) or younger. A world ranking of four puts Svitolina slightly higher up the chain than the average winner, but taking Ostapenko’s lowly ranking out of the equation, puts her right in the mix. Born in Odessa, the Ukraine has not yet produced a women’s champion since it’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Another box that could be potentially ticked. Elina Svitolina is our tip to win this year's French Open Credit: Getty Images Svitolina, finally, heads to Paris on the back of winning the Italian Open last weekend – her third WTA title of the year. While she has yet to move beyond the quarter-finals of a major, reaching the last eight in Paris twice in the last three years, she has achieved great things at Roland Garros before having won the girls' title as a 15-year-old. Watch this space...
For a second year running, the women’s field at the French Open remains wide open. Jelena Ostapenko came out of nowhere to win last year’s Roland Garros, but what are the chances of another unknown and unseeded player taking Paris by storm? We look back on the last 10 years of the major, to find out if we can glean any information as to who win capture the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen this fortnight and boldly make our outright prediction for the title from the evidence gathered. We will look at age, ranking, country and form over the past decade to ascertain who is primed to win the second grand slam of the year. Age At 20 years and two days old when she won in Paris, Ostapenko became the youngest first-time grand slam champion since 2004 when Svetlana Kuznetsova won the US Open at 19 years, two months. In contrast, 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone was the second oldest first-time grand slam winner at 29 years, 11 months and 14 days. In the last 10 years, only one player has won the title in Paris being 30 or older, unsurprisingly that of Serena Williams. Serena was 31 at the time of her second French Open in 2013, 11 years after her first. And was 33 when she became only the third player - male or female - to win 20 major singles titles in 2015. Maria Sharapova, who heads into this year’s major in good touch, was 25 and 27 at the time of her triumphs in 2012 and 2014. Average age of Paris winner: 25 years 8 months Francesca Schiavone was 29 years old when she won Roland Garros in 2010 Credit: AFP Ranking The previously unheralded Ostapenko was the first unseeded woman to win at Roland Garros since 1933 when her fearless style of play shocked Simona Halep and the rest of the tennis world in last year’s final. Previously to Ostapenko’s success, the lowest seeded player to win in Paris over the last 10 years was the 17th ranked Schiavone. French Open women's winners of last 10 years Serena Williams’ two titles came when she was top seed, while both Sharapova in 2012 and Ana Ivanovic in 2008 were second seeds for their successes. Lucky number seven lived up to his name for Sharapova when she won her second Roland Garros and for Kuznetsova back in 2009. Average age of ranking: Nine. Although if you take out Ostapenko’s ranking the mean would be five. Left/right hander While left-hander Rafael Nadal dominates the Roland Garros clay in the men’s draw, you have to go as far back as 1992 for the last leftie to win the women’s title. Not since Monica Seles’ blockbuster 6-2, 3-6, 10-8 win over Steffi Graf has a left-hander enjoyed success on the red stuff. It means lefties Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Ekaterina Makarova, Lucie Safarova and Kristyna Pliskova are all statistically unlikely to stop the wave of dominance from the right-handers. Petra Kvitova would become the first left-hander to win the French Open since 1992 if she wins the 2018 edition Credit: Getty Images Country With Ostapenko our point of reference again, the French Open in recent years has produced champions for the first time in their homeland’s history. Not only does Latvia now have a grand slam champion to their name, but Schiavone was the first Italian woman to win a single’s major and Lia Na the first Asian and Chinese grand slam champion back in 2011. Of the current top 20 players, only three countries are yet to boast a women’s major winner. They are Ukraine, Holland and Slovakia. Form It’s always preferable to have a decent run of form behind you heading into a slam. For all bar one of the last 10 champions in Paris, they have all reached at least the semi-finals of one clay-court warm-up event. Schiavone had been in patchy form on the red stuff before her 2010 victory. The Italian was a first-round loser in Stuttgart, went one round further in Rome and reached the fourth of the Madrid Open. Ostapenko won the Charleston Open last spring, while solid runs in Rome assisted Garbine Muguruza, Li Na and Kuznetsova’s charges in Paris. While Sharapova won two warm-up tournaments in Rome and Stuttgart in 2012, Serena Williams went one better the following year to win a hat-trick of titles and then wasn’t fatigued in Paris as she clinched a then 16th grand slam by dropping just one set and 28 games. 2018 Clay court season | Who has won what? Prediction With all of the above categories considered, our pick for this year’s French Open is, drum roll please…Elina Svitolina. At just 23-years-old, she is slightly younger than the average winner of the last 10 years, although four past champions have been the same age as the right-hander (of course) or younger. A world ranking of four puts Svitolina slightly higher up the chain than the average winner, but taking Ostapenko’s lowly ranking out of the equation, puts her right in the mix. Born in Odessa, the Ukraine has not yet produced a women’s champion since it’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Another box that could be potentially ticked. Elina Svitolina is our tip to win this year's French Open Credit: Getty Images Svitolina, finally, heads to Paris on the back of winning the Italian Open last weekend – her third WTA title of the year. While she has yet to move beyond the quarter-finals of a major, reaching the last eight in Paris twice in the last three years, she has achieved great things at Roland Garros before having won the girls' title as a 15-year-old. Watch this space...
How to pick a French Open women’s champion - including our bold prediction
For a second year running, the women’s field at the French Open remains wide open. Jelena Ostapenko came out of nowhere to win last year’s Roland Garros, but what are the chances of another unknown and unseeded player taking Paris by storm? We look back on the last 10 years of the major, to find out if we can glean any information as to who win capture the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen this fortnight and boldly make our outright prediction for the title from the evidence gathered. We will look at age, ranking, country and form over the past decade to ascertain who is primed to win the second grand slam of the year. Age At 20 years and two days old when she won in Paris, Ostapenko became the youngest first-time grand slam champion since 2004 when Svetlana Kuznetsova won the US Open at 19 years, two months. In contrast, 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone was the second oldest first-time grand slam winner at 29 years, 11 months and 14 days. In the last 10 years, only one player has won the title in Paris being 30 or older, unsurprisingly that of Serena Williams. Serena was 31 at the time of her second French Open in 2013, 11 years after her first. And was 33 when she became only the third player - male or female - to win 20 major singles titles in 2015. Maria Sharapova, who heads into this year’s major in good touch, was 25 and 27 at the time of her triumphs in 2012 and 2014. Average age of Paris winner: 25 years 8 months Francesca Schiavone was 29 years old when she won Roland Garros in 2010 Credit: AFP Ranking The previously unheralded Ostapenko was the first unseeded woman to win at Roland Garros since 1933 when her fearless style of play shocked Simona Halep and the rest of the tennis world in last year’s final. Previously to Ostapenko’s success, the lowest seeded player to win in Paris over the last 10 years was the 17th ranked Schiavone. French Open women's winners of last 10 years Serena Williams’ two titles came when she was top seed, while both Sharapova in 2012 and Ana Ivanovic in 2008 were second seeds for their successes. Lucky number seven lived up to his name for Sharapova when she won her second Roland Garros and for Kuznetsova back in 2009. Average age of ranking: Nine. Although if you take out Ostapenko’s ranking the mean would be five. Left/right hander While left-hander Rafael Nadal dominates the Roland Garros clay in the men’s draw, you have to go as far back as 1992 for the last leftie to win the women’s title. Not since Monica Seles’ blockbuster 6-2, 3-6, 10-8 win over Steffi Graf has a left-hander enjoyed success on the red stuff. It means lefties Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Ekaterina Makarova, Lucie Safarova and Kristyna Pliskova are all statistically unlikely to stop the wave of dominance from the right-handers. Petra Kvitova would become the first left-hander to win the French Open since 1992 if she wins the 2018 edition Credit: Getty Images Country With Ostapenko our point of reference again, the French Open in recent years has produced champions for the first time in their homeland’s history. Not only does Latvia now have a grand slam champion to their name, but Schiavone was the first Italian woman to win a single’s major and Lia Na the first Asian and Chinese grand slam champion back in 2011. Of the current top 20 players, only three countries are yet to boast a women’s major winner. They are Ukraine, Holland and Slovakia. Form It’s always preferable to have a decent run of form behind you heading into a slam. For all bar one of the last 10 champions in Paris, they have all reached at least the semi-finals of one clay-court warm-up event. Schiavone had been in patchy form on the red stuff before her 2010 victory. The Italian was a first-round loser in Stuttgart, went one round further in Rome and reached the fourth of the Madrid Open. Ostapenko won the Charleston Open last spring, while solid runs in Rome assisted Garbine Muguruza, Li Na and Kuznetsova’s charges in Paris. While Sharapova won two warm-up tournaments in Rome and Stuttgart in 2012, Serena Williams went one better the following year to win a hat-trick of titles and then wasn’t fatigued in Paris as she clinched a then 16th grand slam by dropping just one set and 28 games. 2018 Clay court season | Who has won what? Prediction With all of the above categories considered, our pick for this year’s French Open is, drum roll please…Elina Svitolina. At just 23-years-old, she is slightly younger than the average winner of the last 10 years, although four past champions have been the same age as the right-hander (of course) or younger. A world ranking of four puts Svitolina slightly higher up the chain than the average winner, but taking Ostapenko’s lowly ranking out of the equation, puts her right in the mix. Born in Odessa, the Ukraine has not yet produced a women’s champion since it’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Another box that could be potentially ticked. Elina Svitolina is our tip to win this year's French Open Credit: Getty Images Svitolina, finally, heads to Paris on the back of winning the Italian Open last weekend – her third WTA title of the year. While she has yet to move beyond the quarter-finals of a major, reaching the last eight in Paris twice in the last three years, she has achieved great things at Roland Garros before having won the girls' title as a 15-year-old. Watch this space...
For a second year running, the women’s field at the French Open remains wide open. Jelena Ostapenko came out of nowhere to win last year’s Roland Garros, but what are the chances of another unknown and unseeded player taking Paris by storm? We look back on the last 10 years of the major, to find out if we can glean any information as to who win capture the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen this fortnight and boldly make our outright prediction for the title from the evidence gathered. We will look at age, ranking, country and form over the past decade to ascertain who is primed to win the second grand slam of the year. Age At 20 years and two days old when she won in Paris, Ostapenko became the youngest first-time grand slam champion since 2004 when Svetlana Kuznetsova won the US Open at 19 years, two months. In contrast, 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone was the second oldest first-time grand slam winner at 29 years, 11 months and 14 days. In the last 10 years, only one player has won the title in Paris being 30 or older, unsurprisingly that of Serena Williams. Serena was 31 at the time of her second French Open in 2013, 11 years after her first. And was 33 when she became only the third player - male or female - to win 20 major singles titles in 2015. Maria Sharapova, who heads into this year’s major in good touch, was 25 and 27 at the time of her triumphs in 2012 and 2014. Average age of Paris winner: 25 years 8 months Francesca Schiavone was 29 years old when she won Roland Garros in 2010 Credit: AFP Ranking The previously unheralded Ostapenko was the first unseeded woman to win at Roland Garros since 1933 when her fearless style of play shocked Simona Halep and the rest of the tennis world in last year’s final. Previously to Ostapenko’s success, the lowest seeded player to win in Paris over the last 10 years was the 17th ranked Schiavone. French Open women's winners of last 10 years Serena Williams’ two titles came when she was top seed, while both Sharapova in 2012 and Ana Ivanovic in 2008 were second seeds for their successes. Lucky number seven lived up to his name for Sharapova when she won her second Roland Garros and for Kuznetsova back in 2009. Average age of ranking: Nine. Although if you take out Ostapenko’s ranking the mean would be five. Left/right hander While left-hander Rafael Nadal dominates the Roland Garros clay in the men’s draw, you have to go as far back as 1992 for the last leftie to win the women’s title. Not since Monica Seles’ blockbuster 6-2, 3-6, 10-8 win over Steffi Graf has a left-hander enjoyed success on the red stuff. It means lefties Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Ekaterina Makarova, Lucie Safarova and Kristyna Pliskova are all statistically unlikely to stop the wave of dominance from the right-handers. Petra Kvitova would become the first left-hander to win the French Open since 1992 if she wins the 2018 edition Credit: Getty Images Country With Ostapenko our point of reference again, the French Open in recent years has produced champions for the first time in their homeland’s history. Not only does Latvia now have a grand slam champion to their name, but Schiavone was the first Italian woman to win a single’s major and Lia Na the first Asian and Chinese grand slam champion back in 2011. Of the current top 20 players, only three countries are yet to boast a women’s major winner. They are Ukraine, Holland and Slovakia. Form It’s always preferable to have a decent run of form behind you heading into a slam. For all bar one of the last 10 champions in Paris, they have all reached at least the semi-finals of one clay-court warm-up event. Schiavone had been in patchy form on the red stuff before her 2010 victory. The Italian was a first-round loser in Stuttgart, went one round further in Rome and reached the fourth of the Madrid Open. Ostapenko won the Charleston Open last spring, while solid runs in Rome assisted Garbine Muguruza, Li Na and Kuznetsova’s charges in Paris. While Sharapova won two warm-up tournaments in Rome and Stuttgart in 2012, Serena Williams went one better the following year to win a hat-trick of titles and then wasn’t fatigued in Paris as she clinched a then 16th grand slam by dropping just one set and 28 games. 2018 Clay court season | Who has won what? Prediction With all of the above categories considered, our pick for this year’s French Open is, drum roll please…Elina Svitolina. At just 23-years-old, she is slightly younger than the average winner of the last 10 years, although four past champions have been the same age as the right-hander (of course) or younger. A world ranking of four puts Svitolina slightly higher up the chain than the average winner, but taking Ostapenko’s lowly ranking out of the equation, puts her right in the mix. Born in Odessa, the Ukraine has not yet produced a women’s champion since it’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Another box that could be potentially ticked. Elina Svitolina is our tip to win this year's French Open Credit: Getty Images Svitolina, finally, heads to Paris on the back of winning the Italian Open last weekend – her third WTA title of the year. While she has yet to move beyond the quarter-finals of a major, reaching the last eight in Paris twice in the last three years, she has achieved great things at Roland Garros before having won the girls' title as a 15-year-old. Watch this space...
How to pick a French Open women’s champion - including our bold prediction
For a second year running, the women’s field at the French Open remains wide open. Jelena Ostapenko came out of nowhere to win last year’s Roland Garros, but what are the chances of another unknown and unseeded player taking Paris by storm? We look back on the last 10 years of the major, to find out if we can glean any information as to who win capture the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen this fortnight and boldly make our outright prediction for the title from the evidence gathered. We will look at age, ranking, country and form over the past decade to ascertain who is primed to win the second grand slam of the year. Age At 20 years and two days old when she won in Paris, Ostapenko became the youngest first-time grand slam champion since 2004 when Svetlana Kuznetsova won the US Open at 19 years, two months. In contrast, 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone was the second oldest first-time grand slam winner at 29 years, 11 months and 14 days. In the last 10 years, only one player has won the title in Paris being 30 or older, unsurprisingly that of Serena Williams. Serena was 31 at the time of her second French Open in 2013, 11 years after her first. And was 33 when she became only the third player - male or female - to win 20 major singles titles in 2015. Maria Sharapova, who heads into this year’s major in good touch, was 25 and 27 at the time of her triumphs in 2012 and 2014. Average age of Paris winner: 25 years 8 months Francesca Schiavone was 29 years old when she won Roland Garros in 2010 Credit: AFP Ranking The previously unheralded Ostapenko was the first unseeded woman to win at Roland Garros since 1933 when her fearless style of play shocked Simona Halep and the rest of the tennis world in last year’s final. Previously to Ostapenko’s success, the lowest seeded player to win in Paris over the last 10 years was the 17th ranked Schiavone. French Open women's winners of last 10 years Serena Williams’ two titles came when she was top seed, while both Sharapova in 2012 and Ana Ivanovic in 2008 were second seeds for their successes. Lucky number seven lived up to his name for Sharapova when she won her second Roland Garros and for Kuznetsova back in 2009. Average age of ranking: Nine. Although if you take out Ostapenko’s ranking the mean would be five. Left/right hander While left-hander Rafael Nadal dominates the Roland Garros clay in the men’s draw, you have to go as far back as 1992 for the last leftie to win the women’s title. Not since Monica Seles’ blockbuster 6-2, 3-6, 10-8 win over Steffi Graf has a left-hander enjoyed success on the red stuff. It means lefties Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Ekaterina Makarova, Lucie Safarova and Kristyna Pliskova are all statistically unlikely to stop the wave of dominance from the right-handers. Petra Kvitova would become the first left-hander to win the French Open since 1992 if she wins the 2018 edition Credit: Getty Images Country With Ostapenko our point of reference again, the French Open in recent years has produced champions for the first time in their homeland’s history. Not only does Latvia now have a grand slam champion to their name, but Schiavone was the first Italian woman to win a single’s major and Lia Na the first Asian and Chinese grand slam champion back in 2011. Of the current top 20 players, only three countries are yet to boast a women’s major winner. They are Ukraine, Holland and Slovakia. Form It’s always preferable to have a decent run of form behind you heading into a slam. For all bar one of the last 10 champions in Paris, they have all reached at least the semi-finals of one clay-court warm-up event. Schiavone had been in patchy form on the red stuff before her 2010 victory. The Italian was a first-round loser in Stuttgart, went one round further in Rome and reached the fourth of the Madrid Open. Ostapenko won the Charleston Open last spring, while solid runs in Rome assisted Garbine Muguruza, Li Na and Kuznetsova’s charges in Paris. While Sharapova won two warm-up tournaments in Rome and Stuttgart in 2012, Serena Williams went one better the following year to win a hat-trick of titles and then wasn’t fatigued in Paris as she clinched a then 16th grand slam by dropping just one set and 28 games. 2018 Clay court season | Who has won what? Prediction With all of the above categories considered, our pick for this year’s French Open is, drum roll please…Elina Svitolina. At just 23-years-old, she is slightly younger than the average winner of the last 10 years, although four past champions have been the same age as the right-hander (of course) or younger. A world ranking of four puts Svitolina slightly higher up the chain than the average winner, but taking Ostapenko’s lowly ranking out of the equation, puts her right in the mix. Born in Odessa, the Ukraine has not yet produced a women’s champion since it’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Another box that could be potentially ticked. Elina Svitolina is our tip to win this year's French Open Credit: Getty Images Svitolina, finally, heads to Paris on the back of winning the Italian Open last weekend – her third WTA title of the year. While she has yet to move beyond the quarter-finals of a major, reaching the last eight in Paris twice in the last three years, she has achieved great things at Roland Garros before having won the girls' title as a 15-year-old. Watch this space...
For a second year running, the women’s field at the French Open remains wide open. Jelena Ostapenko came out of nowhere to win last year’s Roland Garros, but what are the chances of another unknown and unseeded player taking Paris by storm? We look back on the last 10 years of the major, to find out if we can glean any information as to who win capture the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen this fortnight and boldly make our outright prediction for the title from the evidence gathered. We will look at age, ranking, country and form over the past decade to ascertain who is primed to win the second grand slam of the year. Age At 20 years and two days old when she won in Paris, Ostapenko became the youngest first-time grand slam champion since 2004 when Svetlana Kuznetsova won the US Open at 19 years, two months. In contrast, 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone was the second oldest first-time grand slam winner at 29 years, 11 months and 14 days. In the last 10 years, only one player has won the title in Paris being 30 or older, unsurprisingly that of Serena Williams. Serena was 31 at the time of her second French Open in 2013, 11 years after her first. And was 33 when she became only the third player - male or female - to win 20 major singles titles in 2015. Maria Sharapova, who heads into this year’s major in good touch, was 25 and 27 at the time of her triumphs in 2012 and 2014. Average age of Paris winner: 25 years 8 months Francesca Schiavone was 29 years old when she won Roland Garros in 2010 Credit: AFP Ranking The previously unheralded Ostapenko was the first unseeded woman to win at Roland Garros since 1933 when her fearless style of play shocked Simona Halep and the rest of the tennis world in last year’s final. Previously to Ostapenko’s success, the lowest seeded player to win in Paris over the last 10 years was the 17th ranked Schiavone. French Open women's winners of last 10 years Serena Williams’ two titles came when she was top seed, while both Sharapova in 2012 and Ana Ivanovic in 2008 were second seeds for their successes. Lucky number seven lived up to his name for Sharapova when she won her second Roland Garros and for Kuznetsova back in 2009. Average age of ranking: Nine. Although if you take out Ostapenko’s ranking the mean would be five. Left/right hander While left-hander Rafael Nadal dominates the Roland Garros clay in the men’s draw, you have to go as far back as 1992 for the last leftie to win the women’s title. Not since Monica Seles’ blockbuster 6-2, 3-6, 10-8 win over Steffi Graf has a left-hander enjoyed success on the red stuff. It means lefties Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Ekaterina Makarova, Lucie Safarova and Kristyna Pliskova are all statistically unlikely to stop the wave of dominance from the right-handers. Petra Kvitova would become the first left-hander to win the French Open since 1992 if she wins the 2018 edition Credit: Getty Images Country With Ostapenko our point of reference again, the French Open in recent years has produced champions for the first time in their homeland’s history. Not only does Latvia now have a grand slam champion to their name, but Schiavone was the first Italian woman to win a single’s major and Lia Na the first Asian and Chinese grand slam champion back in 2011. Of the current top 20 players, only three countries are yet to boast a women’s major winner. They are Ukraine, Holland and Slovakia. Form It’s always preferable to have a decent run of form behind you heading into a slam. For all bar one of the last 10 champions in Paris, they have all reached at least the semi-finals of one clay-court warm-up event. Schiavone had been in patchy form on the red stuff before her 2010 victory. The Italian was a first-round loser in Stuttgart, went one round further in Rome and reached the fourth of the Madrid Open. Ostapenko won the Charleston Open last spring, while solid runs in Rome assisted Garbine Muguruza, Li Na and Kuznetsova’s charges in Paris. While Sharapova won two warm-up tournaments in Rome and Stuttgart in 2012, Serena Williams went one better the following year to win a hat-trick of titles and then wasn’t fatigued in Paris as she clinched a then 16th grand slam by dropping just one set and 28 games. 2018 Clay court season | Who has won what? Prediction With all of the above categories considered, our pick for this year’s French Open is, drum roll please…Elina Svitolina. At just 23-years-old, she is slightly younger than the average winner of the last 10 years, although four past champions have been the same age as the right-hander (of course) or younger. A world ranking of four puts Svitolina slightly higher up the chain than the average winner, but taking Ostapenko’s lowly ranking out of the equation, puts her right in the mix. Born in Odessa, the Ukraine has not yet produced a women’s champion since it’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Another box that could be potentially ticked. Elina Svitolina is our tip to win this year's French Open Credit: Getty Images Svitolina, finally, heads to Paris on the back of winning the Italian Open last weekend – her third WTA title of the year. While she has yet to move beyond the quarter-finals of a major, reaching the last eight in Paris twice in the last three years, she has achieved great things at Roland Garros before having won the girls' title as a 15-year-old. Watch this space...
How to pick a French Open women’s champion - including our bold prediction
For a second year running, the women’s field at the French Open remains wide open. Jelena Ostapenko came out of nowhere to win last year’s Roland Garros, but what are the chances of another unknown and unseeded player taking Paris by storm? We look back on the last 10 years of the major, to find out if we can glean any information as to who win capture the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen this fortnight and boldly make our outright prediction for the title from the evidence gathered. We will look at age, ranking, country and form over the past decade to ascertain who is primed to win the second grand slam of the year. Age At 20 years and two days old when she won in Paris, Ostapenko became the youngest first-time grand slam champion since 2004 when Svetlana Kuznetsova won the US Open at 19 years, two months. In contrast, 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone was the second oldest first-time grand slam winner at 29 years, 11 months and 14 days. In the last 10 years, only one player has won the title in Paris being 30 or older, unsurprisingly that of Serena Williams. Serena was 31 at the time of her second French Open in 2013, 11 years after her first. And was 33 when she became only the third player - male or female - to win 20 major singles titles in 2015. Maria Sharapova, who heads into this year’s major in good touch, was 25 and 27 at the time of her triumphs in 2012 and 2014. Average age of Paris winner: 25 years 8 months Francesca Schiavone was 29 years old when she won Roland Garros in 2010 Credit: AFP Ranking The previously unheralded Ostapenko was the first unseeded woman to win at Roland Garros since 1933 when her fearless style of play shocked Simona Halep and the rest of the tennis world in last year’s final. Previously to Ostapenko’s success, the lowest seeded player to win in Paris over the last 10 years was the 17th ranked Schiavone. French Open women's winners of last 10 years Serena Williams’ two titles came when she was top seed, while both Sharapova in 2012 and Ana Ivanovic in 2008 were second seeds for their successes. Lucky number seven lived up to his name for Sharapova when she won her second Roland Garros and for Kuznetsova back in 2009. Average age of ranking: Nine. Although if you take out Ostapenko’s ranking the mean would be five. Left/right hander While left-hander Rafael Nadal dominates the Roland Garros clay in the men’s draw, you have to go as far back as 1992 for the last leftie to win the women’s title. Not since Monica Seles’ blockbuster 6-2, 3-6, 10-8 win over Steffi Graf has a left-hander enjoyed success on the red stuff. It means lefties Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Ekaterina Makarova, Lucie Safarova and Kristyna Pliskova are all statistically unlikely to stop the wave of dominance from the right-handers. Petra Kvitova would become the first left-hander to win the French Open since 1992 if she wins the 2018 edition Credit: Getty Images Country With Ostapenko our point of reference again, the French Open in recent years has produced champions for the first time in their homeland’s history. Not only does Latvia now have a grand slam champion to their name, but Schiavone was the first Italian woman to win a single’s major and Lia Na the first Asian and Chinese grand slam champion back in 2011. Of the current top 20 players, only three countries are yet to boast a women’s major winner. They are Ukraine, Holland and Slovakia. Form It’s always preferable to have a decent run of form behind you heading into a slam. For all bar one of the last 10 champions in Paris, they have all reached at least the semi-finals of one clay-court warm-up event. Schiavone had been in patchy form on the red stuff before her 2010 victory. The Italian was a first-round loser in Stuttgart, went one round further in Rome and reached the fourth of the Madrid Open. Ostapenko won the Charleston Open last spring, while solid runs in Rome assisted Garbine Muguruza, Li Na and Kuznetsova’s charges in Paris. While Sharapova won two warm-up tournaments in Rome and Stuttgart in 2012, Serena Williams went one better the following year to win a hat-trick of titles and then wasn’t fatigued in Paris as she clinched a then 16th grand slam by dropping just one set and 28 games. 2018 Clay court season | Who has won what? Prediction With all of the above categories considered, our pick for this year’s French Open is, drum roll please…Elina Svitolina. At just 23-years-old, she is slightly younger than the average winner of the last 10 years, although four past champions have been the same age as the right-hander (of course) or younger. A world ranking of four puts Svitolina slightly higher up the chain than the average winner, but taking Ostapenko’s lowly ranking out of the equation, puts her right in the mix. Born in Odessa, the Ukraine has not yet produced a women’s champion since it’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Another box that could be potentially ticked. Elina Svitolina is our tip to win this year's French Open Credit: Getty Images Svitolina, finally, heads to Paris on the back of winning the Italian Open last weekend – her third WTA title of the year. While she has yet to move beyond the quarter-finals of a major, reaching the last eight in Paris twice in the last three years, she has achieved great things at Roland Garros before having won the girls' title as a 15-year-old. Watch this space...
What is a clay court made of? On Sunday, the French Open - the world’s most famous clay-court tennis event - gets under way in Paris. And yet despite the tournament being synonymous with clay, there is no actual clay in the courts at Roland Garros. This is typical of pretty much all red clay courts. Instead of clay, the top layer of the French Open courts is a tiny smattering - one to two millimetres - of ground red brick. It is this that gives the courts their traditional brown-ish hue. Beneath that are four additional layers, starting with six to seven centimetres of crushed white limestone; then seven to eight centimetres of coal residue - known as clinker; then 30 centimetres of crushed gravel; and finally a base level of 35 centimetres of stones. The ground red brick dates back to the 19th century and is actually a British invention. To compensate for grass courts in the south of France drying out, the British player William Renshaw came up with the clever idea of applying a layer of red crushed brick over the grass, which he made by grinding down clay pots from a nearby town. The make-up of a Roland Garros clay court Credit: telegraph What’s the effect of this? The French Open is known for having a less frantic pace of play than the other three grand slams. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the ball bounces more slowly on clay than on other surfaces. This happens because the ground brick layer of the court is rough, and so creates more friction than rubberised hard courts or grass. This has the effect of dragging the ball back slightly and it losing more pace on contact. On a smoother surface like grass for instance, there is less friction and so the ball meets less resistance on contact. The second main reason for clay courts playing relatively slowly is that the ball bounces higher than on other surfaces, giving players more time to retrieve the ball and extend the rally. The hardness of the limestone layer gets the ball bouncing high on a clay court Credit: AFP The higher bounce is a result of the hardness of the court, with the limestone layer just below the ground brick actually harder than grass and hard-court bases. Because the brick layer is so thin (just 1-2 millimeters thick) it is this limestone layer that the ball is effectively bouncing off. And limestone is extremely hard; it has been used as a building material for centuries, and is the key ingredient in cement. How does this affect the tennis? If the grass-court tennis of Wimbledon can resemble a pinball machine, clay-court tennis is more like a game of chess. The slower courts make for a less serve-dominated spectacle and a more methodical style of play, typically with longer rallies. Since the start of 2017 - according to stats from the ATP World Tour - men’s matches at the French Open have contained on average just 7.2 aces per match. This is way down on the 11.7 average at Wimbledon, and the 11.3 average at the hard-court grand slams (the US Open and Australian Open). Consequently there are more breaks of serve at Roland Garros, with 12.4 per cent of games going against the server at the French Open compared with just 8 per cent at Wimbledon and 11.4 per cent at the hard-court slams. Aces per men's match | Since start of 2017 Percentage of games going against the server | Since start of 2017 Fewer aces and not as many short points make for more drawn-out matches - with those at Roland Garros 10 minutes longer on average than those at Wimbledon (146 minutes compared with 136 minutes). Over a tournament the longer, more intense rallies test a player’s physical and mental conditioning. British journeyman Marcus Willis told Telegraph Sport: “Physically you have to move harder to get around a clay court. It's extremely tough on your legs, and on your lungs. “But it’s the groin that takes the most punishment because you’re sliding and it’s very tough on the legs.” Britain’s No 5 Jay Clarke added: “Clay is tiring from a cardio perspective because rallies are longer and you cover a lot more distance in the points with all the angles and drop shots. “You start a bit further back to receive serve and the rallies are longer so your run more.” What then are the key skills needed to master the clay? When teaching youngsters to play on clay for the first time, there are four main areas that the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) focuses on. Martin Weston, the LTA's National and Regional Pathway Manager, leads Britain’s junior training camps and explains: “The number one thing we teach the youngsters is the importance of footwork. On day one we tell them that footwork is paramount because the surface is loose under their feet so it feels different and uncomfortable. “If you don’t have a stable platform to hit from it’s very difficult to manoeuvre and control the ball. “Only once you've mastered the basic footwork can you attempt the slide, which is one of the key ingredients of playing on a clay court. “Allied to footwork is learning to move backwards. Because of the hardness of the courts, players are hitting the ball with a lot of topspin to get the ball as high as possible. Learning to slide is key to mastering the clay Credit: Getty Images “That means you have to move back and that’s something you won’t do on a hard court or indoor court where it’s more about moving laterally. “Hitting the ball with more ‘flight’ as we call it is also key. This really means hitting the ball higher over the net and keeping your opponent off the court because the ball will slow down once it hits the dust of the clay. It will dig in and kick up and if you don’t push your opponent wide and deep then the ball sits up and you’re in real trouble. “So you have to think really carefully about the trajectory you hit to make sure the ball is kicking up off the court to an awkward height for your opponent. “Finally, the nature of clay-court tennis means you absolutely must have patience. We do a lot of repetition work because you have to learn to build the rally on clay, and pick your moments to attack more clinically to compensate for the fact that the court slows the ball down and favours the defender.” What sort of player does best on clay? There are broadly two types of clay master: 1. The power hitter As the courts are slower, it takes phenomenal power to get the ball away from your opponent. On other surfaces, especially grass, the speed of the court will do a lot more of the work for you. Rafael Nadal is the greatest there has ever been at generating sufficient power on a clay court to consistently overwhelm his opponents from the baseline. He is also able to get so much topspin on his forehand that his opponents are trying to hit the ball at around shoulder height. This brutal mix of velocity and spin has made him far and away the best clay-courter of all time, and he is going for a record 11th French Open title at this year's tournament. David Ferrer is very tough to beat on clay Credit: Getty Images 2. The 'dirt rat' The alternative to bludgeoning the ball is to focus your game on defending effectively and driving your opponents to distraction. The slower pace of the courts makes this tactic more effective than on quicker courts. Spain’s David Ferrer is one of many clay-court natives to have made a career of this. Andre Agassi disparagingly described players like these as 'dirt rats' in his autobiography. Sounds fun. Where can I play in the UK? Ah, so here's the bad news. Public clay courts in the UK are about as rare as Jose Mourinho praising the opposition. According to LTA stats, there are around 230 public clay-courts in the UK. That number goes up to around 1,380 courts when courts belonging to clubs are taken into account. UK park courts | Percentage make-up of the different surfaces With clay-courts so scarce in the UK it’s perhaps unsurprising that Britain has produced just one French Open singles champion since Open Era tennis began in 1968 - Sue Barker in 1976. French Open champions tend to come from those places where players were brought up on clay, with Spain and South America particular hotbeds. So, for the next couple of weeks most Brits will have to content themselves with watching rather than playing clay-court tennis. Don't worry though - blink and you probably won't miss it.
What makes clay courts so different and difficult to master? French Open mysteries explained
What is a clay court made of? On Sunday, the French Open - the world’s most famous clay-court tennis event - gets under way in Paris. And yet despite the tournament being synonymous with clay, there is no actual clay in the courts at Roland Garros. This is typical of pretty much all red clay courts. Instead of clay, the top layer of the French Open courts is a tiny smattering - one to two millimetres - of ground red brick. It is this that gives the courts their traditional brown-ish hue. Beneath that are four additional layers, starting with six to seven centimetres of crushed white limestone; then seven to eight centimetres of coal residue - known as clinker; then 30 centimetres of crushed gravel; and finally a base level of 35 centimetres of stones. The ground red brick dates back to the 19th century and is actually a British invention. To compensate for grass courts in the south of France drying out, the British player William Renshaw came up with the clever idea of applying a layer of red crushed brick over the grass, which he made by grinding down clay pots from a nearby town. The make-up of a Roland Garros clay court Credit: telegraph What’s the effect of this? The French Open is known for having a less frantic pace of play than the other three grand slams. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the ball bounces more slowly on clay than on other surfaces. This happens because the ground brick layer of the court is rough, and so creates more friction than rubberised hard courts or grass. This has the effect of dragging the ball back slightly and it losing more pace on contact. On a smoother surface like grass for instance, there is less friction and so the ball meets less resistance on contact. The second main reason for clay courts playing relatively slowly is that the ball bounces higher than on other surfaces, giving players more time to retrieve the ball and extend the rally. The hardness of the limestone layer gets the ball bouncing high on a clay court Credit: AFP The higher bounce is a result of the hardness of the court, with the limestone layer just below the ground brick actually harder than grass and hard-court bases. Because the brick layer is so thin (just 1-2 millimeters thick) it is this limestone layer that the ball is effectively bouncing off. And limestone is extremely hard; it has been used as a building material for centuries, and is the key ingredient in cement. How does this affect the tennis? If the grass-court tennis of Wimbledon can resemble a pinball machine, clay-court tennis is more like a game of chess. The slower courts make for a less serve-dominated spectacle and a more methodical style of play, typically with longer rallies. Since the start of 2017 - according to stats from the ATP World Tour - men’s matches at the French Open have contained on average just 7.2 aces per match. This is way down on the 11.7 average at Wimbledon, and the 11.3 average at the hard-court grand slams (the US Open and Australian Open). Consequently there are more breaks of serve at Roland Garros, with 12.4 per cent of games going against the server at the French Open compared with just 8 per cent at Wimbledon and 11.4 per cent at the hard-court slams. Aces per men's match | Since start of 2017 Percentage of games going against the server | Since start of 2017 Fewer aces and not as many short points make for more drawn-out matches - with those at Roland Garros 10 minutes longer on average than those at Wimbledon (146 minutes compared with 136 minutes). Over a tournament the longer, more intense rallies test a player’s physical and mental conditioning. British journeyman Marcus Willis told Telegraph Sport: “Physically you have to move harder to get around a clay court. It's extremely tough on your legs, and on your lungs. “But it’s the groin that takes the most punishment because you’re sliding and it’s very tough on the legs.” Britain’s No 5 Jay Clarke added: “Clay is tiring from a cardio perspective because rallies are longer and you cover a lot more distance in the points with all the angles and drop shots. “You start a bit further back to receive serve and the rallies are longer so your run more.” What then are the key skills needed to master the clay? When teaching youngsters to play on clay for the first time, there are four main areas that the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) focuses on. Martin Weston, the LTA's National and Regional Pathway Manager, leads Britain’s junior training camps and explains: “The number one thing we teach the youngsters is the importance of footwork. On day one we tell them that footwork is paramount because the surface is loose under their feet so it feels different and uncomfortable. “If you don’t have a stable platform to hit from it’s very difficult to manoeuvre and control the ball. “Only once you've mastered the basic footwork can you attempt the slide, which is one of the key ingredients of playing on a clay court. “Allied to footwork is learning to move backwards. Because of the hardness of the courts, players are hitting the ball with a lot of topspin to get the ball as high as possible. Learning to slide is key to mastering the clay Credit: Getty Images “That means you have to move back and that’s something you won’t do on a hard court or indoor court where it’s more about moving laterally. “Hitting the ball with more ‘flight’ as we call it is also key. This really means hitting the ball higher over the net and keeping your opponent off the court because the ball will slow down once it hits the dust of the clay. It will dig in and kick up and if you don’t push your opponent wide and deep then the ball sits up and you’re in real trouble. “So you have to think really carefully about the trajectory you hit to make sure the ball is kicking up off the court to an awkward height for your opponent. “Finally, the nature of clay-court tennis means you absolutely must have patience. We do a lot of repetition work because you have to learn to build the rally on clay, and pick your moments to attack more clinically to compensate for the fact that the court slows the ball down and favours the defender.” What sort of player does best on clay? There are broadly two types of clay master: 1. The power hitter As the courts are slower, it takes phenomenal power to get the ball away from your opponent. On other surfaces, especially grass, the speed of the court will do a lot more of the work for you. Rafael Nadal is the greatest there has ever been at generating sufficient power on a clay court to consistently overwhelm his opponents from the baseline. He is also able to get so much topspin on his forehand that his opponents are trying to hit the ball at around shoulder height. This brutal mix of velocity and spin has made him far and away the best clay-courter of all time, and he is going for a record 11th French Open title at this year's tournament. David Ferrer is very tough to beat on clay Credit: Getty Images 2. The 'dirt rat' The alternative to bludgeoning the ball is to focus your game on defending effectively and driving your opponents to distraction. The slower pace of the courts makes this tactic more effective than on quicker courts. Spain’s David Ferrer is one of many clay-court natives to have made a career of this. Andre Agassi disparagingly described players like these as 'dirt rats' in his autobiography. Sounds fun. Where can I play in the UK? Ah, so here's the bad news. Public clay courts in the UK are about as rare as Jose Mourinho praising the opposition. According to LTA stats, there are around 230 public clay-courts in the UK. That number goes up to around 1,380 courts when courts belonging to clubs are taken into account. UK park courts | Percentage make-up of the different surfaces With clay-courts so scarce in the UK it’s perhaps unsurprising that Britain has produced just one French Open singles champion since Open Era tennis began in 1968 - Sue Barker in 1976. French Open champions tend to come from those places where players were brought up on clay, with Spain and South America particular hotbeds. So, for the next couple of weeks most Brits will have to content themselves with watching rather than playing clay-court tennis. Don't worry though - blink and you probably won't miss it.
What is a clay court made of? On Sunday, the French Open - the world’s most famous clay-court tennis event - gets under way in Paris. And yet despite the tournament being synonymous with clay, there is no actual clay in the courts at Roland Garros. This is typical of pretty much all red clay courts. Instead of clay, the top layer of the French Open courts is a tiny smattering - one to two millimetres - of ground red brick. It is this that gives the courts their traditional brown-ish hue. Beneath that are four additional layers, starting with six to seven centimetres of crushed white limestone; then seven to eight centimetres of coal residue - known as clinker; then 30 centimetres of crushed gravel; and finally a base level of 35 centimetres of stones. The ground red brick dates back to the 19th century and is actually a British invention. To compensate for grass courts in the south of France drying out, the British player William Renshaw came up with the clever idea of applying a layer of red crushed brick over the grass, which he made by grinding down clay pots from a nearby town. The make-up of the French Open clay courts What’s the effect of this? The French Open is known for having a less frantic pace of play than the other three grand slams. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the ball bounces more slowly on clay than on other surfaces. This happens because the ground brick layer of the court is rough, and so creates more friction than rubberised hard courts or grass. This has the effect of dragging the ball back slightly and it losing more pace on contact. On a smoother surface like grass for instance, there is less friction and so the ball meets less resistance on contact. The second main reason for clay courts playing relatively slowly is that the ball bounces higher than on other surfaces, giving players more time to retrieve the ball and extend the rally. The hardness of the limestone layer gets the ball bouncing high on a clay court Credit: AFP The higher bounce is a result of the hardness of the court, with the limestone layer just below the ground brick actually harder than grass and hard-court bases. Because the brick layer is so thin (just 1-2 millimeters thick) it is this limestone layer that the ball is effectively bouncing off. And limestone is extremely hard; it has been used as a building material for centuries, and is the key ingredient in cement. How does this affect the tennis? If the grass-court tennis of Wimbledon can resemble a pinball machine, clay-court tennis is more like a game of chess. The slower courts make for a less serve-dominated spectacle and a more methodical style of play, typically with longer rallies. Since the start of 2017 - according to stats from the ATP World Tour - men’s matches at the French Open have contained on average just 7.2 aces per match. This is way down on the 11.7 average at Wimbledon, and the 11.3 average at the hard-court grand slams (the US Open and Australian Open). Consequently there are more breaks of serve at Roland Garros, with 12.4 per cent of games going against the server at the French Open compared with just 8 per cent at Wimbledon and 11.4 per cent at the hard-court slams. Aces per men's match | Since start of 2017 Percentage of games going against the server | Since start of 2017 Fewer aces and not as many short points make for more drawn-out matches - with those at Roland Garros 10 minutes longer on average than those at Wimbledon (146 minutes compared with 136 minutes). Over a tournament the longer, more intense rallies test a player’s physical and mental conditioning. British journeyman Marcus Willis told Telegraph Sport: “Physically you have to move harder to get around a clay court. It's extremely tough on your legs, and on your lungs. “But it’s the groin that takes the most punishment because you’re sliding and it’s very tough on the legs.” Britain’s No 5 Jay Clarke added: “Clay is tiring from a cardio perspective because rallies are longer and you cover a lot more distance in the points with all the angles and drop shots. “You start a bit further back to receive serve and the rallies are longer so your run more.” What then are the key skills needed to master the clay? When teaching youngsters to play on clay for the first time, there are four main areas that the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) focuses on. Martin Weston, the LTA's National and Regional Pathway Manager, leads Britain’s junior training camps and explains: “The number one thing we teach the youngsters is the importance of footwork. On day one we tell them that footwork is paramount because the surface is loose under their feet so it feels different and uncomfortable. “If you don’t have a stable platform to hit from it’s very difficult to manoeuvre and control the ball. “Only once you've mastered the basic footwork can you attempt the slide, which is one of the key ingredients of playing on a clay court. “Allied to footwork is learning to move backwards. Because of the hardness of the courts, players are hitting the ball with a lot of topspin to get the ball as high as possible. Learning to slide is key to mastering the clay Credit: Getty Images “That means you have to move back and that’s something you won’t do on a hard court or indoor court where it’s more about moving laterally. “Hitting the ball with more ‘flight’ as we call it is also key. This really means hitting the ball higher over the net and keeping your opponent off the court because the ball will slow down once it hits the dust of the clay. It will dig in and kick up and if you don’t push your opponent wide and deep then the ball sits up and you’re in real trouble. “So you have to think really carefully about the trajectory you hit to make sure the ball is kicking up off the court to an awkward height for your opponent. “Finally, the nature of clay-court tennis means you absolutely must have patience. We do a lot of repetition work because you have to learn to build the rally on clay, and pick your moments to attack more clinically to compensate for the fact that the court slows the ball down and favours the defender.” What sort of player does best on clay? There are broadly two types of clay master: 1. The power hitter As the courts are slower, it takes phenomenal power to get the ball away from your opponent. On other surfaces, especially grass, the speed of the court will do a lot more of the work for you. Rafael Nadal is the greatest there has ever been at generating sufficient power on a clay court to consistently overwhelm his opponents from the baseline. He is also able to get so much topspin on his forehand that his opponents are trying to hit the ball at around shoulder height. This brutal mix of velocity and spin has made him far and away the best clay-courter of all time, and he is going for a record 11th French Open title at this year's tournament. David Ferrer is very tough to beat on clay Credit: Getty Images 2. The 'dirt rat' The alternative to bludgeoning the ball is to focus your game on defending effectively and driving your opponents to distraction. The slower pace of the courts makes this tactic more effective than on quicker courts. Spain’s David Ferrer is one of many clay-court natives to have made a career of this. Andre Agassi disparagingly described players like these as 'dirt rats' in his autobiography. Sounds fun. Where can I play in the UK? Ah, so here's the bad news. Public clay courts in the UK are about as rare as Jose Mourinho praising the opposition. According to LTA stats, there are around 230 public clay-courts in the UK. That number goes up to around 1,380 courts when courts belonging to clubs are taken into account. UK park courts | Percentage make-up of the different surfaces With clay-courts so scarce in the UK it’s perhaps unsurprising that Britain has produced just one French Open singles champion since Open Era tennis began in 1968 - Sue Barker in 1976. French Open champions tend to come from those places where players were brought up on clay, with Spain and South America particular hotbeds. So, for the next couple of weeks most Brits will have to content themselves with watching rather than playing clay-court tennis. Don't worry though - blink and you probably won't miss it.
What makes clay courts so different and difficult to master? French Open mysteries explained
What is a clay court made of? On Sunday, the French Open - the world’s most famous clay-court tennis event - gets under way in Paris. And yet despite the tournament being synonymous with clay, there is no actual clay in the courts at Roland Garros. This is typical of pretty much all red clay courts. Instead of clay, the top layer of the French Open courts is a tiny smattering - one to two millimetres - of ground red brick. It is this that gives the courts their traditional brown-ish hue. Beneath that are four additional layers, starting with six to seven centimetres of crushed white limestone; then seven to eight centimetres of coal residue - known as clinker; then 30 centimetres of crushed gravel; and finally a base level of 35 centimetres of stones. The ground red brick dates back to the 19th century and is actually a British invention. To compensate for grass courts in the south of France drying out, the British player William Renshaw came up with the clever idea of applying a layer of red crushed brick over the grass, which he made by grinding down clay pots from a nearby town. The make-up of the French Open clay courts What’s the effect of this? The French Open is known for having a less frantic pace of play than the other three grand slams. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the ball bounces more slowly on clay than on other surfaces. This happens because the ground brick layer of the court is rough, and so creates more friction than rubberised hard courts or grass. This has the effect of dragging the ball back slightly and it losing more pace on contact. On a smoother surface like grass for instance, there is less friction and so the ball meets less resistance on contact. The second main reason for clay courts playing relatively slowly is that the ball bounces higher than on other surfaces, giving players more time to retrieve the ball and extend the rally. The hardness of the limestone layer gets the ball bouncing high on a clay court Credit: AFP The higher bounce is a result of the hardness of the court, with the limestone layer just below the ground brick actually harder than grass and hard-court bases. Because the brick layer is so thin (just 1-2 millimeters thick) it is this limestone layer that the ball is effectively bouncing off. And limestone is extremely hard; it has been used as a building material for centuries, and is the key ingredient in cement. How does this affect the tennis? If the grass-court tennis of Wimbledon can resemble a pinball machine, clay-court tennis is more like a game of chess. The slower courts make for a less serve-dominated spectacle and a more methodical style of play, typically with longer rallies. Since the start of 2017 - according to stats from the ATP World Tour - men’s matches at the French Open have contained on average just 7.2 aces per match. This is way down on the 11.7 average at Wimbledon, and the 11.3 average at the hard-court grand slams (the US Open and Australian Open). Consequently there are more breaks of serve at Roland Garros, with 12.4 per cent of games going against the server at the French Open compared with just 8 per cent at Wimbledon and 11.4 per cent at the hard-court slams. Aces per men's match | Since start of 2017 Percentage of games going against the server | Since start of 2017 Fewer aces and not as many short points make for more drawn-out matches - with those at Roland Garros 10 minutes longer on average than those at Wimbledon (146 minutes compared with 136 minutes). Over a tournament the longer, more intense rallies test a player’s physical and mental conditioning. British journeyman Marcus Willis told Telegraph Sport: “Physically you have to move harder to get around a clay court. It's extremely tough on your legs, and on your lungs. “But it’s the groin that takes the most punishment because you’re sliding and it’s very tough on the legs.” Britain’s No 5 Jay Clarke added: “Clay is tiring from a cardio perspective because rallies are longer and you cover a lot more distance in the points with all the angles and drop shots. “You start a bit further back to receive serve and the rallies are longer so your run more.” What then are the key skills needed to master the clay? When teaching youngsters to play on clay for the first time, there are four main areas that the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) focuses on. Martin Weston, the LTA's National and Regional Pathway Manager, leads Britain’s junior training camps and explains: “The number one thing we teach the youngsters is the importance of footwork. On day one we tell them that footwork is paramount because the surface is loose under their feet so it feels different and uncomfortable. “If you don’t have a stable platform to hit from it’s very difficult to manoeuvre and control the ball. “Only once you've mastered the basic footwork can you attempt the slide, which is one of the key ingredients of playing on a clay court. “Allied to footwork is learning to move backwards. Because of the hardness of the courts, players are hitting the ball with a lot of topspin to get the ball as high as possible. Learning to slide is key to mastering the clay Credit: Getty Images “That means you have to move back and that’s something you won’t do on a hard court or indoor court where it’s more about moving laterally. “Hitting the ball with more ‘flight’ as we call it is also key. This really means hitting the ball higher over the net and keeping your opponent off the court because the ball will slow down once it hits the dust of the clay. It will dig in and kick up and if you don’t push your opponent wide and deep then the ball sits up and you’re in real trouble. “So you have to think really carefully about the trajectory you hit to make sure the ball is kicking up off the court to an awkward height for your opponent. “Finally, the nature of clay-court tennis means you absolutely must have patience. We do a lot of repetition work because you have to learn to build the rally on clay, and pick your moments to attack more clinically to compensate for the fact that the court slows the ball down and favours the defender.” What sort of player does best on clay? There are broadly two types of clay master: 1. The power hitter As the courts are slower, it takes phenomenal power to get the ball away from your opponent. On other surfaces, especially grass, the speed of the court will do a lot more of the work for you. Rafael Nadal is the greatest there has ever been at generating sufficient power on a clay court to consistently overwhelm his opponents from the baseline. He is also able to get so much topspin on his forehand that his opponents are trying to hit the ball at around shoulder height. This brutal mix of velocity and spin has made him far and away the best clay-courter of all time, and he is going for a record 11th French Open title at this year's tournament. David Ferrer is very tough to beat on clay Credit: Getty Images 2. The 'dirt rat' The alternative to bludgeoning the ball is to focus your game on defending effectively and driving your opponents to distraction. The slower pace of the courts makes this tactic more effective than on quicker courts. Spain’s David Ferrer is one of many clay-court natives to have made a career of this. Andre Agassi disparagingly described players like these as 'dirt rats' in his autobiography. Sounds fun. Where can I play in the UK? Ah, so here's the bad news. Public clay courts in the UK are about as rare as Jose Mourinho praising the opposition. According to LTA stats, there are around 230 public clay-courts in the UK. That number goes up to around 1,380 courts when courts belonging to clubs are taken into account. UK park courts | Percentage make-up of the different surfaces With clay-courts so scarce in the UK it’s perhaps unsurprising that Britain has produced just one French Open singles champion since Open Era tennis began in 1968 - Sue Barker in 1976. French Open champions tend to come from those places where players were brought up on clay, with Spain and South America particular hotbeds. So, for the next couple of weeks most Brits will have to content themselves with watching rather than playing clay-court tennis. Don't worry though - blink and you probably won't miss it.
What is a clay court made of? On Sunday, the French Open - the world’s most famous clay-court tennis event - gets under way in Paris. And yet despite the tournament being synonymous with clay, there is no actual clay in the courts at Roland Garros. This is typical of pretty much all red clay courts. Instead of clay, the top layer of the French Open courts is a tiny smattering - one to two millimetres - of ground red brick. It is this that gives the courts their traditional brown-ish hue. Beneath that are four additional layers, starting with six to seven centimetres of crushed white limestone; then seven to eight centimetres of coal residue - known as clinker; then 30 centimetres of crushed gravel; and finally a base level of 35 centimetres of stones. The ground red brick dates back to the 19th century and is actually a British invention. To compensate for grass courts in the south of France drying out, the British player William Renshaw came up with the clever idea of applying a layer of red crushed brick over the grass, which he made by grinding down clay pots from a nearby town. The make-up of a Roland Garros clay court Credit: telegraph What’s the effect of this? The French Open is known for having a less frantic pace of play than the other three grand slams. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the ball bounces more slowly on clay than on other surfaces. This happens because the ground brick layer of the court is rough, and so creates more friction than rubberised hard courts or grass. This has the effect of dragging the ball back slightly and it losing more pace on contact. On a smoother surface like grass for instance, there is less friction and so the ball meets less resistance on contact. The second main reason for clay courts playing relatively slowly is that the ball bounces higher than on other surfaces, giving players more time to retrieve the ball and extend the rally. The hardness of the limestone layer gets the ball bouncing high on a clay court Credit: AFP The higher bounce is a result of the hardness of the court, with the limestone layer just below the ground brick actually harder than grass and hard-court bases. Because the brick layer is so thin (just 1-2 millimeters thick) it is this limestone layer that the ball is effectively bouncing off. And limestone is extremely hard; it has been used as a building material for centuries, and is the key ingredient in cement. How does this affect the tennis? If the grass-court tennis of Wimbledon can resemble a pinball machine, clay-court tennis is more like a game of chess. The slower courts make for a less serve-dominated spectacle and a more methodical style of play, typically with longer rallies. Since the start of 2017 - according to stats from the ATP World Tour - men’s matches at the French Open have contained on average just 7.2 aces per match. This is way down on the 11.7 average at Wimbledon, and the 11.3 average at the hard-court grand slams (the US Open and Australian Open). Consequently there are more breaks of serve at Roland Garros, with 12.4 per cent of games going against the server at the French Open compared with just 8 per cent at Wimbledon and 11.4 per cent at the hard-court slams. Aces per men's match | Since start of 2017 Percentage of games going against the server | Since start of 2017 Fewer aces and not as many short points make for more drawn-out matches - with those at Roland Garros 10 minutes longer on average than those at Wimbledon (146 minutes compared with 136 minutes). Over a tournament the longer, more intense rallies test a player’s physical and mental conditioning. British journeyman Marcus Willis told Telegraph Sport: “Physically you have to move harder to get around a clay court. It's extremely tough on your legs, and on your lungs. “But it’s the groin that takes the most punishment because you’re sliding and it’s very tough on the legs.” Britain’s No 5 Jay Clarke added: “Clay is tiring from a cardio perspective because rallies are longer and you cover a lot more distance in the points with all the angles and drop shots. “You start a bit further back to receive serve and the rallies are longer so your run more.” What then are the key skills needed to master the clay? When teaching youngsters to play on clay for the first time, there are four main areas that the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) focuses on. Martin Weston, the LTA's National and Regional Pathway Manager, leads Britain’s junior training camps and explains: “The number one thing we teach the youngsters is the importance of footwork. On day one we tell them that footwork is paramount because the surface is loose under their feet so it feels different and uncomfortable. “If you don’t have a stable platform to hit from it’s very difficult to manoeuvre and control the ball. “Only once you've mastered the basic footwork can you attempt the slide, which is one of the key ingredients of playing on a clay court. “Allied to footwork is learning to move backwards. Because of the hardness of the courts, players are hitting the ball with a lot of topspin to get the ball as high as possible. Learning to slide is key to mastering the clay Credit: Getty Images “That means you have to move back and that’s something you won’t do on a hard court or indoor court where it’s more about moving laterally. “Hitting the ball with more ‘flight’ as we call it is also key. This really means hitting the ball higher over the net and keeping your opponent off the court because the ball will slow down once it hits the dust of the clay. It will dig in and kick up and if you don’t push your opponent wide and deep then the ball sits up and you’re in real trouble. “So you have to think really carefully about the trajectory you hit to make sure the ball is kicking up off the court to an awkward height for your opponent. “Finally, the nature of clay-court tennis means you absolutely must have patience. We do a lot of repetition work because you have to learn to build the rally on clay, and pick your moments to attack more clinically to compensate for the fact that the court slows the ball down and favours the defender.” What sort of player does best on clay? There are broadly two types of clay master: 1. The power hitter As the courts are slower, it takes phenomenal power to get the ball away from your opponent. On other surfaces, especially grass, the speed of the court will do a lot more of the work for you. Rafael Nadal is the greatest there has ever been at generating sufficient power on a clay court to consistently overwhelm his opponents from the baseline. He is also able to get so much topspin on his forehand that his opponents are trying to hit the ball at around shoulder height. This brutal mix of velocity and spin has made him far and away the best clay-courter of all time, and he is going for a record 11th French Open title at this year's tournament. David Ferrer is very tough to beat on clay Credit: Getty Images 2. The 'dirt rat' The alternative to bludgeoning the ball is to focus your game on defending effectively and driving your opponents to distraction. The slower pace of the courts makes this tactic more effective than on quicker courts. Spain’s David Ferrer is one of many clay-court natives to have made a career of this. Andre Agassi disparagingly described players like these as 'dirt rats' in his autobiography. Sounds fun. Where can I play in the UK? Ah, so here's the bad news. Public clay courts in the UK are about as rare as Jose Mourinho praising the opposition. According to LTA stats, there are around 230 public clay-courts in the UK. That number goes up to around 1,380 courts when courts belonging to clubs are taken into account. UK park courts | Percentage make-up of the different surfaces With clay-courts so scarce in the UK it’s perhaps unsurprising that Britain has produced just one French Open singles champion since Open Era tennis began in 1968 - Sue Barker in 1976. French Open champions tend to come from those places where players were brought up on clay, with Spain and South America particular hotbeds. So, for the next couple of weeks most Brits will have to content themselves with watching rather than playing clay-court tennis. Don't worry though - blink and you probably won't miss it.
What makes clay courts so different and difficult to master? French Open mysteries explained
What is a clay court made of? On Sunday, the French Open - the world’s most famous clay-court tennis event - gets under way in Paris. And yet despite the tournament being synonymous with clay, there is no actual clay in the courts at Roland Garros. This is typical of pretty much all red clay courts. Instead of clay, the top layer of the French Open courts is a tiny smattering - one to two millimetres - of ground red brick. It is this that gives the courts their traditional brown-ish hue. Beneath that are four additional layers, starting with six to seven centimetres of crushed white limestone; then seven to eight centimetres of coal residue - known as clinker; then 30 centimetres of crushed gravel; and finally a base level of 35 centimetres of stones. The ground red brick dates back to the 19th century and is actually a British invention. To compensate for grass courts in the south of France drying out, the British player William Renshaw came up with the clever idea of applying a layer of red crushed brick over the grass, which he made by grinding down clay pots from a nearby town. The make-up of a Roland Garros clay court Credit: telegraph What’s the effect of this? The French Open is known for having a less frantic pace of play than the other three grand slams. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the ball bounces more slowly on clay than on other surfaces. This happens because the ground brick layer of the court is rough, and so creates more friction than rubberised hard courts or grass. This has the effect of dragging the ball back slightly and it losing more pace on contact. On a smoother surface like grass for instance, there is less friction and so the ball meets less resistance on contact. The second main reason for clay courts playing relatively slowly is that the ball bounces higher than on other surfaces, giving players more time to retrieve the ball and extend the rally. The hardness of the limestone layer gets the ball bouncing high on a clay court Credit: AFP The higher bounce is a result of the hardness of the court, with the limestone layer just below the ground brick actually harder than grass and hard-court bases. Because the brick layer is so thin (just 1-2 millimeters thick) it is this limestone layer that the ball is effectively bouncing off. And limestone is extremely hard; it has been used as a building material for centuries, and is the key ingredient in cement. How does this affect the tennis? If the grass-court tennis of Wimbledon can resemble a pinball machine, clay-court tennis is more like a game of chess. The slower courts make for a less serve-dominated spectacle and a more methodical style of play, typically with longer rallies. Since the start of 2017 - according to stats from the ATP World Tour - men’s matches at the French Open have contained on average just 7.2 aces per match. This is way down on the 11.7 average at Wimbledon, and the 11.3 average at the hard-court grand slams (the US Open and Australian Open). Consequently there are more breaks of serve at Roland Garros, with 12.4 per cent of games going against the server at the French Open compared with just 8 per cent at Wimbledon and 11.4 per cent at the hard-court slams. Aces per men's match | Since start of 2017 Percentage of games going against the server | Since start of 2017 Fewer aces and not as many short points make for more drawn-out matches - with those at Roland Garros 10 minutes longer on average than those at Wimbledon (146 minutes compared with 136 minutes). Over a tournament the longer, more intense rallies test a player’s physical and mental conditioning. British journeyman Marcus Willis told Telegraph Sport: “Physically you have to move harder to get around a clay court. It's extremely tough on your legs, and on your lungs. “But it’s the groin that takes the most punishment because you’re sliding and it’s very tough on the legs.” Britain’s No 5 Jay Clarke added: “Clay is tiring from a cardio perspective because rallies are longer and you cover a lot more distance in the points with all the angles and drop shots. “You start a bit further back to receive serve and the rallies are longer so your run more.” What then are the key skills needed to master the clay? When teaching youngsters to play on clay for the first time, there are four main areas that the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) focuses on. Martin Weston, the LTA's National and Regional Pathway Manager, leads Britain’s junior training camps and explains: “The number one thing we teach the youngsters is the importance of footwork. On day one we tell them that footwork is paramount because the surface is loose under their feet so it feels different and uncomfortable. “If you don’t have a stable platform to hit from it’s very difficult to manoeuvre and control the ball. “Only once you've mastered the basic footwork can you attempt the slide, which is one of the key ingredients of playing on a clay court. “Allied to footwork is learning to move backwards. Because of the hardness of the courts, players are hitting the ball with a lot of topspin to get the ball as high as possible. Learning to slide is key to mastering the clay Credit: Getty Images “That means you have to move back and that’s something you won’t do on a hard court or indoor court where it’s more about moving laterally. “Hitting the ball with more ‘flight’ as we call it is also key. This really means hitting the ball higher over the net and keeping your opponent off the court because the ball will slow down once it hits the dust of the clay. It will dig in and kick up and if you don’t push your opponent wide and deep then the ball sits up and you’re in real trouble. “So you have to think really carefully about the trajectory you hit to make sure the ball is kicking up off the court to an awkward height for your opponent. “Finally, the nature of clay-court tennis means you absolutely must have patience. We do a lot of repetition work because you have to learn to build the rally on clay, and pick your moments to attack more clinically to compensate for the fact that the court slows the ball down and favours the defender.” What sort of player does best on clay? There are broadly two types of clay master: 1. The power hitter As the courts are slower, it takes phenomenal power to get the ball away from your opponent. On other surfaces, especially grass, the speed of the court will do a lot more of the work for you. Rafael Nadal is the greatest there has ever been at generating sufficient power on a clay court to consistently overwhelm his opponents from the baseline. He is also able to get so much topspin on his forehand that his opponents are trying to hit the ball at around shoulder height. This brutal mix of velocity and spin has made him far and away the best clay-courter of all time, and he is going for a record 11th French Open title at this year's tournament. David Ferrer is very tough to beat on clay Credit: Getty Images 2. The 'dirt rat' The alternative to bludgeoning the ball is to focus your game on defending effectively and driving your opponents to distraction. The slower pace of the courts makes this tactic more effective than on quicker courts. Spain’s David Ferrer is one of many clay-court natives to have made a career of this. Andre Agassi disparagingly described players like these as 'dirt rats' in his autobiography. Sounds fun. Where can I play in the UK? Ah, so here's the bad news. Public clay courts in the UK are about as rare as Jose Mourinho praising the opposition. According to LTA stats, there are around 230 public clay-courts in the UK. That number goes up to around 1,380 courts when courts belonging to clubs are taken into account. UK park courts | Percentage make-up of the different surfaces With clay-courts so scarce in the UK it’s perhaps unsurprising that Britain has produced just one French Open singles champion since Open Era tennis began in 1968 - Sue Barker in 1976. French Open champions tend to come from those places where players were brought up on clay, with Spain and South America particular hotbeds. So, for the next couple of weeks most Brits will have to content themselves with watching rather than playing clay-court tennis. Don't worry though - blink and you probably won't miss it.
What is a clay court made of? On Sunday, the French Open - the world’s most famous clay-court tennis event - gets under way in Paris. And yet despite the tournament being synonymous with clay, there is no actual clay in the courts at Roland Garros. This is typical of pretty much all red clay courts. Instead of clay, the top layer of the French Open courts is a tiny smattering - one to two millimetres - of ground red brick. It is this that gives the courts their traditional brown-ish hue. Beneath that are four additional layers, starting with six to seven centimetres of crushed white limestone; then seven to eight centimetres of coal residue - known as clinker; then 30 centimetres of crushed gravel; and finally a base level of 35 centimetres of stones. The ground red brick dates back to the 19th century and is actually a British invention. To compensate for grass courts in the south of France drying out, the British player William Renshaw came up with the clever idea of applying a layer of red crushed brick over the grass, which he made by grinding down clay pots from a nearby town. The make-up of the French Open clay courts What’s the effect of this? The French Open is known for having a less frantic pace of play than the other three grand slams. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the ball bounces more slowly on clay than on other surfaces. This happens because the ground brick layer of the court is rough, and so creates more friction than rubberised hard courts or grass. This has the effect of dragging the ball back slightly and it losing more pace on contact. On a smoother surface like grass for instance, there is less friction and so the ball meets less resistance on contact. The second main reason for clay courts playing relatively slowly is that the ball bounces higher than on other surfaces, giving players more time to retrieve the ball and extend the rally. The hardness of the limestone layer gets the ball bouncing high on a clay court Credit: AFP The higher bounce is a result of the hardness of the court, with the limestone layer just below the ground brick actually harder than grass and hard-court bases. Because the brick layer is so thin (just 1-2 millimeters thick) it is this limestone layer that the ball is effectively bouncing off. And limestone is extremely hard; it has been used as a building material for centuries, and is the key ingredient in cement. How does this affect the tennis? If the grass-court tennis of Wimbledon can resemble a pinball machine, clay-court tennis is more like a game of chess. The slower courts make for a less serve-dominated spectacle and a more methodical style of play, typically with longer rallies. Since the start of 2017 - according to stats from the ATP World Tour - men’s matches at the French Open have contained on average just 7.2 aces per match. This is way down on the 11.7 average at Wimbledon, and the 11.3 average at the hard-court grand slams (the US Open and Australian Open). Consequently there are more breaks of serve at Roland Garros, with 12.4 per cent of games going against the server at the French Open compared with just 8 per cent at Wimbledon and 11.4 per cent at the hard-court slams. Aces per men's match | Since start of 2017 Percentage of games going against the server | Since start of 2017 Fewer aces and not as many short points make for more drawn-out matches - with those at Roland Garros 10 minutes longer on average than those at Wimbledon (146 minutes compared with 136 minutes). Over a tournament the longer, more intense rallies test a player’s physical and mental conditioning. British journeyman Marcus Willis told Telegraph Sport: “Physically you have to move harder to get around a clay court. It's extremely tough on your legs, and on your lungs. “But it’s the groin that takes the most punishment because you’re sliding and it’s very tough on the legs.” Britain’s No 5 Jay Clarke added: “Clay is tiring from a cardio perspective because rallies are longer and you cover a lot more distance in the points with all the angles and drop shots. “You start a bit further back to receive serve and the rallies are longer so your run more.” What then are the key skills needed to master the clay? When teaching youngsters to play on clay for the first time, there are four main areas that the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) focuses on. Martin Weston, the LTA's National and Regional Pathway Manager, leads Britain’s junior training camps and explains: “The number one thing we teach the youngsters is the importance of footwork. On day one we tell them that footwork is paramount because the surface is loose under their feet so it feels different and uncomfortable. “If you don’t have a stable platform to hit from it’s very difficult to manoeuvre and control the ball. “Only once you've mastered the basic footwork can you attempt the slide, which is one of the key ingredients of playing on a clay court. “Allied to footwork is learning to move backwards. Because of the hardness of the courts, players are hitting the ball with a lot of topspin to get the ball as high as possible. Learning to slide is key to mastering the clay Credit: Getty Images “That means you have to move back and that’s something you won’t do on a hard court or indoor court where it’s more about moving laterally. “Hitting the ball with more ‘flight’ as we call it is also key. This really means hitting the ball higher over the net and keeping your opponent off the court because the ball will slow down once it hits the dust of the clay. It will dig in and kick up and if you don’t push your opponent wide and deep then the ball sits up and you’re in real trouble. “So you have to think really carefully about the trajectory you hit to make sure the ball is kicking up off the court to an awkward height for your opponent. “Finally, the nature of clay-court tennis means you absolutely must have patience. We do a lot of repetition work because you have to learn to build the rally on clay, and pick your moments to attack more clinically to compensate for the fact that the court slows the ball down and favours the defender.” What sort of player does best on clay? There are broadly two types of clay master: 1. The power hitter As the courts are slower, it takes phenomenal power to get the ball away from your opponent. On other surfaces, especially grass, the speed of the court will do a lot more of the work for you. Rafael Nadal is the greatest there has ever been at generating sufficient power on a clay court to consistently overwhelm his opponents from the baseline. He is also able to get so much topspin on his forehand that his opponents are trying to hit the ball at around shoulder height. This brutal mix of velocity and spin has made him far and away the best clay-courter of all time, and he is going for a record 11th French Open title at this year's tournament. David Ferrer is very tough to beat on clay Credit: Getty Images 2. The 'dirt rat' The alternative to bludgeoning the ball is to focus your game on defending effectively and driving your opponents to distraction. The slower pace of the courts makes this tactic more effective than on quicker courts. Spain’s David Ferrer is one of many clay-court natives to have made a career of this. Andre Agassi disparagingly described players like these as 'dirt rats' in his autobiography. Sounds fun. Where can I play in the UK? Ah, so here's the bad news. Public clay courts in the UK are about as rare as Jose Mourinho praising the opposition. According to LTA stats, there are around 230 public clay-courts in the UK. That number goes up to around 1,380 courts when courts belonging to clubs are taken into account. UK park courts | Percentage make-up of the different surfaces With clay-courts so scarce in the UK it’s perhaps unsurprising that Britain has produced just one French Open singles champion since Open Era tennis began in 1968 - Sue Barker in 1976. French Open champions tend to come from those places where players were brought up on clay, with Spain and South America particular hotbeds. So, for the next couple of weeks most Brits will have to content themselves with watching rather than playing clay-court tennis. Don't worry though - blink and you probably won't miss it.
What makes clay courts so different and difficult to master? French Open mysteries explained
What is a clay court made of? On Sunday, the French Open - the world’s most famous clay-court tennis event - gets under way in Paris. And yet despite the tournament being synonymous with clay, there is no actual clay in the courts at Roland Garros. This is typical of pretty much all red clay courts. Instead of clay, the top layer of the French Open courts is a tiny smattering - one to two millimetres - of ground red brick. It is this that gives the courts their traditional brown-ish hue. Beneath that are four additional layers, starting with six to seven centimetres of crushed white limestone; then seven to eight centimetres of coal residue - known as clinker; then 30 centimetres of crushed gravel; and finally a base level of 35 centimetres of stones. The ground red brick dates back to the 19th century and is actually a British invention. To compensate for grass courts in the south of France drying out, the British player William Renshaw came up with the clever idea of applying a layer of red crushed brick over the grass, which he made by grinding down clay pots from a nearby town. The make-up of the French Open clay courts What’s the effect of this? The French Open is known for having a less frantic pace of play than the other three grand slams. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the ball bounces more slowly on clay than on other surfaces. This happens because the ground brick layer of the court is rough, and so creates more friction than rubberised hard courts or grass. This has the effect of dragging the ball back slightly and it losing more pace on contact. On a smoother surface like grass for instance, there is less friction and so the ball meets less resistance on contact. The second main reason for clay courts playing relatively slowly is that the ball bounces higher than on other surfaces, giving players more time to retrieve the ball and extend the rally. The hardness of the limestone layer gets the ball bouncing high on a clay court Credit: AFP The higher bounce is a result of the hardness of the court, with the limestone layer just below the ground brick actually harder than grass and hard-court bases. Because the brick layer is so thin (just 1-2 millimeters thick) it is this limestone layer that the ball is effectively bouncing off. And limestone is extremely hard; it has been used as a building material for centuries, and is the key ingredient in cement. How does this affect the tennis? If the grass-court tennis of Wimbledon can resemble a pinball machine, clay-court tennis is more like a game of chess. The slower courts make for a less serve-dominated spectacle and a more methodical style of play, typically with longer rallies. Since the start of 2017 - according to stats from the ATP World Tour - men’s matches at the French Open have contained on average just 7.2 aces per match. This is way down on the 11.7 average at Wimbledon, and the 11.3 average at the hard-court grand slams (the US Open and Australian Open). Consequently there are more breaks of serve at Roland Garros, with 12.4 per cent of games going against the server at the French Open compared with just 8 per cent at Wimbledon and 11.4 per cent at the hard-court slams. Aces per men's match | Since start of 2017 Percentage of games going against the server | Since start of 2017 Fewer aces and not as many short points make for more drawn-out matches - with those at Roland Garros 10 minutes longer on average than those at Wimbledon (146 minutes compared with 136 minutes). Over a tournament the longer, more intense rallies test a player’s physical and mental conditioning. British journeyman Marcus Willis told Telegraph Sport: “Physically you have to move harder to get around a clay court. It's extremely tough on your legs, and on your lungs. “But it’s the groin that takes the most punishment because you’re sliding and it’s very tough on the legs.” Britain’s No 5 Jay Clarke added: “Clay is tiring from a cardio perspective because rallies are longer and you cover a lot more distance in the points with all the angles and drop shots. “You start a bit further back to receive serve and the rallies are longer so your run more.” What then are the key skills needed to master the clay? When teaching youngsters to play on clay for the first time, there are four main areas that the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) focuses on. Martin Weston, the LTA's National and Regional Pathway Manager, leads Britain’s junior training camps and explains: “The number one thing we teach the youngsters is the importance of footwork. On day one we tell them that footwork is paramount because the surface is loose under their feet so it feels different and uncomfortable. “If you don’t have a stable platform to hit from it’s very difficult to manoeuvre and control the ball. “Only once you've mastered the basic footwork can you attempt the slide, which is one of the key ingredients of playing on a clay court. “Allied to footwork is learning to move backwards. Because of the hardness of the courts, players are hitting the ball with a lot of topspin to get the ball as high as possible. Learning to slide is key to mastering the clay Credit: Getty Images “That means you have to move back and that’s something you won’t do on a hard court or indoor court where it’s more about moving laterally. “Hitting the ball with more ‘flight’ as we call it is also key. This really means hitting the ball higher over the net and keeping your opponent off the court because the ball will slow down once it hits the dust of the clay. It will dig in and kick up and if you don’t push your opponent wide and deep then the ball sits up and you’re in real trouble. “So you have to think really carefully about the trajectory you hit to make sure the ball is kicking up off the court to an awkward height for your opponent. “Finally, the nature of clay-court tennis means you absolutely must have patience. We do a lot of repetition work because you have to learn to build the rally on clay, and pick your moments to attack more clinically to compensate for the fact that the court slows the ball down and favours the defender.” What sort of player does best on clay? There are broadly two types of clay master: 1. The power hitter As the courts are slower, it takes phenomenal power to get the ball away from your opponent. On other surfaces, especially grass, the speed of the court will do a lot more of the work for you. Rafael Nadal is the greatest there has ever been at generating sufficient power on a clay court to consistently overwhelm his opponents from the baseline. He is also able to get so much topspin on his forehand that his opponents are trying to hit the ball at around shoulder height. This brutal mix of velocity and spin has made him far and away the best clay-courter of all time, and he is going for a record 11th French Open title at this year's tournament. David Ferrer is very tough to beat on clay Credit: Getty Images 2. The 'dirt rat' The alternative to bludgeoning the ball is to focus your game on defending effectively and driving your opponents to distraction. The slower pace of the courts makes this tactic more effective than on quicker courts. Spain’s David Ferrer is one of many clay-court natives to have made a career of this. Andre Agassi disparagingly described players like these as 'dirt rats' in his autobiography. Sounds fun. Where can I play in the UK? Ah, so here's the bad news. Public clay courts in the UK are about as rare as Jose Mourinho praising the opposition. According to LTA stats, there are around 230 public clay-courts in the UK. That number goes up to around 1,380 courts when courts belonging to clubs are taken into account. UK park courts | Percentage make-up of the different surfaces With clay-courts so scarce in the UK it’s perhaps unsurprising that Britain has produced just one French Open singles champion since Open Era tennis began in 1968 - Sue Barker in 1976. French Open champions tend to come from those places where players were brought up on clay, with Spain and South America particular hotbeds. So, for the next couple of weeks most Brits will have to content themselves with watching rather than playing clay-court tennis. Don't worry though - blink and you probably won't miss it.
What is a clay court made of? On Sunday, the French Open - the world’s most famous clay-court tennis event - gets under way in Paris. And yet despite the tournament being synonymous with clay, there is no actual clay in the courts at Roland Garros. This is typical of pretty much all red clay courts. Instead of clay, the top layer of the French Open courts is a tiny smattering - one to two millimetres - of ground red brick. It is this that gives the courts their traditional brown-ish hue. Beneath that are four additional layers, starting with six to seven centimetres of crushed white limestone; then seven to eight centimetres of coal residue - known as clinker; then 30 centimetres of crushed gravel; and finally a base level of 35 centimetres of stones. The ground red brick dates back to the 19th century and is actually a British invention. To compensate for grass courts in the south of France drying out, the British player William Renshaw came up with the clever idea of applying a layer of red crushed brick over the grass, which he made by grinding down clay pots from a nearby town. The make-up of the French Open clay courts What’s the effect of this? The French Open is known for having a less frantic pace of play than the other three grand slams. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the ball bounces more slowly on clay than on other surfaces. This happens because the ground brick layer of the court is rough, and so creates more friction than rubberised hard courts or grass. This has the effect of dragging the ball back slightly and it losing more pace on contact. On a smoother surface like grass for instance, there is less friction and so the ball meets less resistance on contact. The second main reason for clay courts playing relatively slowly is that the ball bounces higher than on other surfaces, giving players more time to retrieve the ball and extend the rally. The hardness of the limestone layer gets the ball bouncing high on a clay court Credit: AFP The higher bounce is a result of the hardness of the court, with the limestone layer just below the ground brick actually harder than grass and hard-court bases. Because the brick layer is so thin (just 1-2 millimeters thick) it is this limestone layer that the ball is effectively bouncing off. And limestone is extremely hard; it has been used as a building material for centuries, and is the key ingredient in cement. How does this affect the tennis? If the grass-court tennis of Wimbledon can resemble a pinball machine, clay-court tennis is more like a game of chess. The slower courts make for a less serve-dominated spectacle and a more methodical style of play, typically with longer rallies. Since the start of 2017 - according to stats from the ATP World Tour - men’s matches at the French Open have contained on average just 7.2 aces per match. This is way down on the 11.7 average at Wimbledon, and the 11.3 average at the hard-court grand slams (the US Open and Australian Open). Consequently there are more breaks of serve at Roland Garros, with 12.4 per cent of games going against the server at the French Open compared with just 8 per cent at Wimbledon and 11.4 per cent at the hard-court slams. Aces per men's match | Since start of 2017 Percentage of games going against the server | Since start of 2017 Fewer aces and not as many short points make for more drawn-out matches - with those at Roland Garros 10 minutes longer on average than those at Wimbledon (146 minutes compared with 136 minutes). Over a tournament the longer, more intense rallies test a player’s physical and mental conditioning. British journeyman Marcus Willis told Telegraph Sport: “Physically you have to move harder to get around a clay court. It's extremely tough on your legs, and on your lungs. “But it’s the groin that takes the most punishment because you’re sliding and it’s very tough on the legs.” Britain’s No 5 Jay Clarke added: “Clay is tiring from a cardio perspective because rallies are longer and you cover a lot more distance in the points with all the angles and drop shots. “You start a bit further back to receive serve and the rallies are longer so your run more.” What then are the key skills needed to master the clay? When teaching youngsters to play on clay for the first time, there are four main areas that the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) focuses on. Martin Weston, the LTA's National and Regional Pathway Manager, leads Britain’s junior training camps and explains: “The number one thing we teach the youngsters is the importance of footwork. On day one we tell them that footwork is paramount because the surface is loose under their feet so it feels different and uncomfortable. “If you don’t have a stable platform to hit from it’s very difficult to manoeuvre and control the ball. “Only once you've mastered the basic footwork can you attempt the slide, which is one of the key ingredients of playing on a clay court. “Allied to footwork is learning to move backwards. Because of the hardness of the courts, players are hitting the ball with a lot of topspin to get the ball as high as possible. Learning to slide is key to mastering the clay Credit: Getty Images “That means you have to move back and that’s something you won’t do on a hard court or indoor court where it’s more about moving laterally. “Hitting the ball with more ‘flight’ as we call it is also key. This really means hitting the ball higher over the net and keeping your opponent off the court because the ball will slow down once it hits the dust of the clay. It will dig in and kick up and if you don’t push your opponent wide and deep then the ball sits up and you’re in real trouble. “So you have to think really carefully about the trajectory you hit to make sure the ball is kicking up off the court to an awkward height for your opponent. “Finally, the nature of clay-court tennis means you absolutely must have patience. We do a lot of repetition work because you have to learn to build the rally on clay, and pick your moments to attack more clinically to compensate for the fact that the court slows the ball down and favours the defender.” What sort of player does best on clay? There are broadly two types of clay master: 1. The power hitter As the courts are slower, it takes phenomenal power to get the ball away from your opponent. On other surfaces, especially grass, the speed of the court will do a lot more of the work for you. Rafael Nadal is the greatest there has ever been at generating sufficient power on a clay court to consistently overwhelm his opponents from the baseline. He is also able to get so much topspin on his forehand that his opponents are trying to hit the ball at around shoulder height. This brutal mix of velocity and spin has made him far and away the best clay-courter of all time, and he is going for a record 11th French Open title at this year's tournament. David Ferrer is very tough to beat on clay Credit: Getty Images 2. The 'dirt rat' The alternative to bludgeoning the ball is to focus your game on defending effectively and driving your opponents to distraction. The slower pace of the courts makes this tactic more effective than on quicker courts. Spain’s David Ferrer is one of many clay-court natives to have made a career of this. Andre Agassi disparagingly described players like these as 'dirt rats' in his autobiography. Sounds fun. Where can I play in the UK? Ah, so here's the bad news. Public clay courts in the UK are about as rare as Jose Mourinho praising the opposition. According to LTA stats, there are around 230 public clay-courts in the UK. That number goes up to around 1,380 courts when courts belonging to clubs are taken into account. UK park courts | Percentage make-up of the different surfaces With clay-courts so scarce in the UK it’s perhaps unsurprising that Britain has produced just one French Open singles champion since Open Era tennis began in 1968 - Sue Barker in 1976. French Open champions tend to come from those places where players were brought up on clay, with Spain and South America particular hotbeds. So, for the next couple of weeks most Brits will have to content themselves with watching rather than playing clay-court tennis. Don't worry though - blink and you probably won't miss it.
What makes clay courts so different and difficult to master? French Open mysteries explained
What is a clay court made of? On Sunday, the French Open - the world’s most famous clay-court tennis event - gets under way in Paris. And yet despite the tournament being synonymous with clay, there is no actual clay in the courts at Roland Garros. This is typical of pretty much all red clay courts. Instead of clay, the top layer of the French Open courts is a tiny smattering - one to two millimetres - of ground red brick. It is this that gives the courts their traditional brown-ish hue. Beneath that are four additional layers, starting with six to seven centimetres of crushed white limestone; then seven to eight centimetres of coal residue - known as clinker; then 30 centimetres of crushed gravel; and finally a base level of 35 centimetres of stones. The ground red brick dates back to the 19th century and is actually a British invention. To compensate for grass courts in the south of France drying out, the British player William Renshaw came up with the clever idea of applying a layer of red crushed brick over the grass, which he made by grinding down clay pots from a nearby town. The make-up of the French Open clay courts What’s the effect of this? The French Open is known for having a less frantic pace of play than the other three grand slams. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the ball bounces more slowly on clay than on other surfaces. This happens because the ground brick layer of the court is rough, and so creates more friction than rubberised hard courts or grass. This has the effect of dragging the ball back slightly and it losing more pace on contact. On a smoother surface like grass for instance, there is less friction and so the ball meets less resistance on contact. The second main reason for clay courts playing relatively slowly is that the ball bounces higher than on other surfaces, giving players more time to retrieve the ball and extend the rally. The hardness of the limestone layer gets the ball bouncing high on a clay court Credit: AFP The higher bounce is a result of the hardness of the court, with the limestone layer just below the ground brick actually harder than grass and hard-court bases. Because the brick layer is so thin (just 1-2 millimeters thick) it is this limestone layer that the ball is effectively bouncing off. And limestone is extremely hard; it has been used as a building material for centuries, and is the key ingredient in cement. How does this affect the tennis? If the grass-court tennis of Wimbledon can resemble a pinball machine, clay-court tennis is more like a game of chess. The slower courts make for a less serve-dominated spectacle and a more methodical style of play, typically with longer rallies. Since the start of 2017 - according to stats from the ATP World Tour - men’s matches at the French Open have contained on average just 7.2 aces per match. This is way down on the 11.7 average at Wimbledon, and the 11.3 average at the hard-court grand slams (the US Open and Australian Open). Consequently there are more breaks of serve at Roland Garros, with 12.4 per cent of games going against the server at the French Open compared with just 8 per cent at Wimbledon and 11.4 per cent at the hard-court slams. Aces per men's match | Since start of 2017 Percentage of games going against the server | Since start of 2017 Fewer aces and not as many short points make for more drawn-out matches - with those at Roland Garros 10 minutes longer on average than those at Wimbledon (146 minutes compared with 136 minutes). Over a tournament the longer, more intense rallies test a player’s physical and mental conditioning. British journeyman Marcus Willis told Telegraph Sport: “Physically you have to move harder to get around a clay court. It's extremely tough on your legs, and on your lungs. “But it’s the groin that takes the most punishment because you’re sliding and it’s very tough on the legs.” Britain’s No 5 Jay Clarke added: “Clay is tiring from a cardio perspective because rallies are longer and you cover a lot more distance in the points with all the angles and drop shots. “You start a bit further back to receive serve and the rallies are longer so your run more.” What then are the key skills needed to master the clay? When teaching youngsters to play on clay for the first time, there are four main areas that the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) focuses on. Martin Weston, the LTA's National and Regional Pathway Manager, leads Britain’s junior training camps and explains: “The number one thing we teach the youngsters is the importance of footwork. On day one we tell them that footwork is paramount because the surface is loose under their feet so it feels different and uncomfortable. “If you don’t have a stable platform to hit from it’s very difficult to manoeuvre and control the ball. “Only once you've mastered the basic footwork can you attempt the slide, which is one of the key ingredients of playing on a clay court. “Allied to footwork is learning to move backwards. Because of the hardness of the courts, players are hitting the ball with a lot of topspin to get the ball as high as possible. Learning to slide is key to mastering the clay Credit: Getty Images “That means you have to move back and that’s something you won’t do on a hard court or indoor court where it’s more about moving laterally. “Hitting the ball with more ‘flight’ as we call it is also key. This really means hitting the ball higher over the net and keeping your opponent off the court because the ball will slow down once it hits the dust of the clay. It will dig in and kick up and if you don’t push your opponent wide and deep then the ball sits up and you’re in real trouble. “So you have to think really carefully about the trajectory you hit to make sure the ball is kicking up off the court to an awkward height for your opponent. “Finally, the nature of clay-court tennis means you absolutely must have patience. We do a lot of repetition work because you have to learn to build the rally on clay, and pick your moments to attack more clinically to compensate for the fact that the court slows the ball down and favours the defender.” What sort of player does best on clay? There are broadly two types of clay master: 1. The power hitter As the courts are slower, it takes phenomenal power to get the ball away from your opponent. On other surfaces, especially grass, the speed of the court will do a lot more of the work for you. Rafael Nadal is the greatest there has ever been at generating sufficient power on a clay court to consistently overwhelm his opponents from the baseline. He is also able to get so much topspin on his forehand that his opponents are trying to hit the ball at around shoulder height. This brutal mix of velocity and spin has made him far and away the best clay-courter of all time, and he is going for a record 11th French Open title at this year's tournament. David Ferrer is very tough to beat on clay Credit: Getty Images 2. The 'dirt rat' The alternative to bludgeoning the ball is to focus your game on defending effectively and driving your opponents to distraction. The slower pace of the courts makes this tactic more effective than on quicker courts. Spain’s David Ferrer is one of many clay-court natives to have made a career of this. Andre Agassi disparagingly described players like these as 'dirt rats' in his autobiography. Sounds fun. Where can I play in the UK? Ah, so here's the bad news. Public clay courts in the UK are about as rare as Jose Mourinho praising the opposition. According to LTA stats, there are around 230 public clay-courts in the UK. That number goes up to around 1,380 courts when courts belonging to clubs are taken into account. UK park courts | Percentage make-up of the different surfaces With clay-courts so scarce in the UK it’s perhaps unsurprising that Britain has produced just one French Open singles champion since Open Era tennis began in 1968 - Sue Barker in 1976. French Open champions tend to come from those places where players were brought up on clay, with Spain and South America particular hotbeds. So, for the next couple of weeks most Brits will have to content themselves with watching rather than playing clay-court tennis. Don't worry though - blink and you probably won't miss it.
What is a clay court made of? On Sunday, the French Open - the world’s most famous clay-court tennis event - gets under way in Paris. And yet despite the tournament being synonymous with clay, there is no actual clay in the courts at Roland Garros. This is typical of pretty much all red clay courts. Instead of clay, the top layer of the French Open courts is a tiny smattering - one to two millimetres - of ground red brick. It is this that gives the courts their traditional brown-ish hue. Beneath that are four additional layers, starting with six to seven centimetres of crushed white limestone; then seven to eight centimetres of coal residue - known as clinker; then 30 centimetres of crushed gravel; and finally a base level of 35 centimetres of stones. The ground red brick dates back to the 19th century and is actually a British invention. To compensate for grass courts in the south of France drying out, the British player William Renshaw came up with the clever idea of applying a layer of red crushed brick over the grass, which he made by grinding down clay pots from a nearby town. The make-up of the French Open clay courts What’s the effect of this? The French Open is known for having a less frantic pace of play than the other three grand slams. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the ball bounces more slowly on clay than on other surfaces. This happens because the ground brick layer of the court is rough, and so creates more friction than rubberised hard courts or grass. This has the effect of dragging the ball back slightly and it losing more pace on contact. On a smoother surface like grass for instance, there is less friction and so the ball meets less resistance on contact. The second main reason for clay courts playing relatively slowly is that the ball bounces higher than on other surfaces, giving players more time to retrieve the ball and extend the rally. The hardness of the limestone layer gets the ball bouncing high on a clay court Credit: AFP The higher bounce is a result of the hardness of the court, with the limestone layer just below the ground brick actually harder than grass and hard-court bases. Because the brick layer is so thin (just 1-2 millimeters thick) it is this limestone layer that the ball is effectively bouncing off. And limestone is extremely hard; it has been used as a building material for centuries, and is the key ingredient in cement. How does this affect the tennis? If the grass-court tennis of Wimbledon can resemble a pinball machine, clay-court tennis is more like a game of chess. The slower courts make for a less serve-dominated spectacle and a more methodical style of play, typically with longer rallies. Since the start of 2017 - according to stats from the ATP World Tour - men’s matches at the French Open have contained on average just 7.2 aces per match. This is way down on the 11.7 average at Wimbledon, and the 11.3 average at the hard-court grand slams (the US Open and Australian Open). Consequently there are more breaks of serve at Roland Garros, with 12.4 per cent of games going against the server at the French Open compared with just 8 per cent at Wimbledon and 11.4 per cent at the hard-court slams. Aces per men's match | Since start of 2017 Percentage of games going against the server | Since start of 2017 Fewer aces and not as many short points make for more drawn-out matches - with those at Roland Garros 10 minutes longer on average than those at Wimbledon (146 minutes compared with 136 minutes). Over a tournament the longer, more intense rallies test a player’s physical and mental conditioning. British journeyman Marcus Willis told Telegraph Sport: “Physically you have to move harder to get around a clay court. It's extremely tough on your legs, and on your lungs. “But it’s the groin that takes the most punishment because you’re sliding and it’s very tough on the legs.” Britain’s No 5 Jay Clarke added: “Clay is tiring from a cardio perspective because rallies are longer and you cover a lot more distance in the points with all the angles and drop shots. “You start a bit further back to receive serve and the rallies are longer so your run more.” What then are the key skills needed to master the clay? When teaching youngsters to play on clay for the first time, there are four main areas that the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) focuses on. Martin Weston, the LTA's National and Regional Pathway Manager, leads Britain’s junior training camps and explains: “The number one thing we teach the youngsters is the importance of footwork. On day one we tell them that footwork is paramount because the surface is loose under their feet so it feels different and uncomfortable. “If you don’t have a stable platform to hit from it’s very difficult to manoeuvre and control the ball. “Only once you've mastered the basic footwork can you attempt the slide, which is one of the key ingredients of playing on a clay court. “Allied to footwork is learning to move backwards. Because of the hardness of the courts, players are hitting the ball with a lot of topspin to get the ball as high as possible. Learning to slide is key to mastering the clay Credit: Getty Images “That means you have to move back and that’s something you won’t do on a hard court or indoor court where it’s more about moving laterally. “Hitting the ball with more ‘flight’ as we call it is also key. This really means hitting the ball higher over the net and keeping your opponent off the court because the ball will slow down once it hits the dust of the clay. It will dig in and kick up and if you don’t push your opponent wide and deep then the ball sits up and you’re in real trouble. “So you have to think really carefully about the trajectory you hit to make sure the ball is kicking up off the court to an awkward height for your opponent. “Finally, the nature of clay-court tennis means you absolutely must have patience. We do a lot of repetition work because you have to learn to build the rally on clay, and pick your moments to attack more clinically to compensate for the fact that the court slows the ball down and favours the defender.” What sort of player does best on clay? There are broadly two types of clay master: 1. The power hitter As the courts are slower, it takes phenomenal power to get the ball away from your opponent. On other surfaces, especially grass, the speed of the court will do a lot more of the work for you. Rafael Nadal is the greatest there has ever been at generating sufficient power on a clay court to consistently overwhelm his opponents from the baseline. He is also able to get so much topspin on his forehand that his opponents are trying to hit the ball at around shoulder height. This brutal mix of velocity and spin has made him far and away the best clay-courter of all time, and he is going for a record 11th French Open title at this year's tournament. David Ferrer is very tough to beat on clay Credit: Getty Images 2. The 'dirt rat' The alternative to bludgeoning the ball is to focus your game on defending effectively and driving your opponents to distraction. The slower pace of the courts makes this tactic more effective than on quicker courts. Spain’s David Ferrer is one of many clay-court natives to have made a career of this. Andre Agassi disparagingly described players like these as 'dirt rats' in his autobiography. Sounds fun. Where can I play in the UK? Ah, so here's the bad news. Public clay courts in the UK are about as rare as Jose Mourinho praising the opposition. According to LTA stats, there are around 230 public clay-courts in the UK. That number goes up to around 1,380 courts when courts belonging to clubs are taken into account. UK park courts | Percentage make-up of the different surfaces With clay-courts so scarce in the UK it’s perhaps unsurprising that Britain has produced just one French Open singles champion since Open Era tennis began in 1968 - Sue Barker in 1976. French Open champions tend to come from those places where players were brought up on clay, with Spain and South America particular hotbeds. So, for the next couple of weeks most Brits will have to content themselves with watching rather than playing clay-court tennis. Don't worry though - blink and you probably won't miss it.
What makes clay courts so different and difficult to master? French Open mysteries explained
What is a clay court made of? On Sunday, the French Open - the world’s most famous clay-court tennis event - gets under way in Paris. And yet despite the tournament being synonymous with clay, there is no actual clay in the courts at Roland Garros. This is typical of pretty much all red clay courts. Instead of clay, the top layer of the French Open courts is a tiny smattering - one to two millimetres - of ground red brick. It is this that gives the courts their traditional brown-ish hue. Beneath that are four additional layers, starting with six to seven centimetres of crushed white limestone; then seven to eight centimetres of coal residue - known as clinker; then 30 centimetres of crushed gravel; and finally a base level of 35 centimetres of stones. The ground red brick dates back to the 19th century and is actually a British invention. To compensate for grass courts in the south of France drying out, the British player William Renshaw came up with the clever idea of applying a layer of red crushed brick over the grass, which he made by grinding down clay pots from a nearby town. The make-up of the French Open clay courts What’s the effect of this? The French Open is known for having a less frantic pace of play than the other three grand slams. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the ball bounces more slowly on clay than on other surfaces. This happens because the ground brick layer of the court is rough, and so creates more friction than rubberised hard courts or grass. This has the effect of dragging the ball back slightly and it losing more pace on contact. On a smoother surface like grass for instance, there is less friction and so the ball meets less resistance on contact. The second main reason for clay courts playing relatively slowly is that the ball bounces higher than on other surfaces, giving players more time to retrieve the ball and extend the rally. The hardness of the limestone layer gets the ball bouncing high on a clay court Credit: AFP The higher bounce is a result of the hardness of the court, with the limestone layer just below the ground brick actually harder than grass and hard-court bases. Because the brick layer is so thin (just 1-2 millimeters thick) it is this limestone layer that the ball is effectively bouncing off. And limestone is extremely hard; it has been used as a building material for centuries, and is the key ingredient in cement. How does this affect the tennis? If the grass-court tennis of Wimbledon can resemble a pinball machine, clay-court tennis is more like a game of chess. The slower courts make for a less serve-dominated spectacle and a more methodical style of play, typically with longer rallies. Since the start of 2017 - according to stats from the ATP World Tour - men’s matches at the French Open have contained on average just 7.2 aces per match. This is way down on the 11.7 average at Wimbledon, and the 11.3 average at the hard-court grand slams (the US Open and Australian Open). Consequently there are more breaks of serve at Roland Garros, with 12.4 per cent of games going against the server at the French Open compared with just 8 per cent at Wimbledon and 11.4 per cent at the hard-court slams. Aces per men's match | Since start of 2017 Percentage of games going against the server | Since start of 2017 Fewer aces and not as many short points make for more drawn-out matches - with those at Roland Garros 10 minutes longer on average than those at Wimbledon (146 minutes compared with 136 minutes). Over a tournament the longer, more intense rallies test a player’s physical and mental conditioning. British journeyman Marcus Willis told Telegraph Sport: “Physically you have to move harder to get around a clay court. It's extremely tough on your legs, and on your lungs. “But it’s the groin that takes the most punishment because you’re sliding and it’s very tough on the legs.” Britain’s No 5 Jay Clarke added: “Clay is tiring from a cardio perspective because rallies are longer and you cover a lot more distance in the points with all the angles and drop shots. “You start a bit further back to receive serve and the rallies are longer so your run more.” What then are the key skills needed to master the clay? When teaching youngsters to play on clay for the first time, there are four main areas that the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) focuses on. Martin Weston, the LTA's National and Regional Pathway Manager, leads Britain’s junior training camps and explains: “The number one thing we teach the youngsters is the importance of footwork. On day one we tell them that footwork is paramount because the surface is loose under their feet so it feels different and uncomfortable. “If you don’t have a stable platform to hit from it’s very difficult to manoeuvre and control the ball. “Only once you've mastered the basic footwork can you attempt the slide, which is one of the key ingredients of playing on a clay court. “Allied to footwork is learning to move backwards. Because of the hardness of the courts, players are hitting the ball with a lot of topspin to get the ball as high as possible. Learning to slide is key to mastering the clay Credit: Getty Images “That means you have to move back and that’s something you won’t do on a hard court or indoor court where it’s more about moving laterally. “Hitting the ball with more ‘flight’ as we call it is also key. This really means hitting the ball higher over the net and keeping your opponent off the court because the ball will slow down once it hits the dust of the clay. It will dig in and kick up and if you don’t push your opponent wide and deep then the ball sits up and you’re in real trouble. “So you have to think really carefully about the trajectory you hit to make sure the ball is kicking up off the court to an awkward height for your opponent. “Finally, the nature of clay-court tennis means you absolutely must have patience. We do a lot of repetition work because you have to learn to build the rally on clay, and pick your moments to attack more clinically to compensate for the fact that the court slows the ball down and favours the defender.” What sort of player does best on clay? There are broadly two types of clay master: 1. The power hitter As the courts are slower, it takes phenomenal power to get the ball away from your opponent. On other surfaces, especially grass, the speed of the court will do a lot more of the work for you. Rafael Nadal is the greatest there has ever been at generating sufficient power on a clay court to consistently overwhelm his opponents from the baseline. He is also able to get so much topspin on his forehand that his opponents are trying to hit the ball at around shoulder height. This brutal mix of velocity and spin has made him far and away the best clay-courter of all time, and he is going for a record 11th French Open title at this year's tournament. David Ferrer is very tough to beat on clay Credit: Getty Images 2. The 'dirt rat' The alternative to bludgeoning the ball is to focus your game on defending effectively and driving your opponents to distraction. The slower pace of the courts makes this tactic more effective than on quicker courts. Spain’s David Ferrer is one of many clay-court natives to have made a career of this. Andre Agassi disparagingly described players like these as 'dirt rats' in his autobiography. Sounds fun. Where can I play in the UK? Ah, so here's the bad news. Public clay courts in the UK are about as rare as Jose Mourinho praising the opposition. According to LTA stats, there are around 230 public clay-courts in the UK. That number goes up to around 1,380 courts when courts belonging to clubs are taken into account. UK park courts | Percentage make-up of the different surfaces With clay-courts so scarce in the UK it’s perhaps unsurprising that Britain has produced just one French Open singles champion since Open Era tennis began in 1968 - Sue Barker in 1976. French Open champions tend to come from those places where players were brought up on clay, with Spain and South America particular hotbeds. So, for the next couple of weeks most Brits will have to content themselves with watching rather than playing clay-court tennis. Don't worry though - blink and you probably won't miss it.
FILE PHOTO: Tennis - ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open - Foro Italico, Rome, Italy - May 20, 2018 Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open
FILE PHOTO: Tennis - ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open - Foro Italico, Rome, Italy - May 20, 2018 Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
FILE PHOTO: Tennis - ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open - Foro Italico, Rome, Italy - May 20, 2018 Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open
FILE PHOTO: Tennis - ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open - Foro Italico, Rome, Italy - May 20, 2018 Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Power-packed: Rafael Nadal in practice at Roland Garros on Friday (AFP Photo/Thomas SAMSON)
Power-packed: Rafael Nadal in practice at Roland Garros on Friday
Power-packed: Rafael Nadal in practice at Roland Garros on Friday (AFP Photo/Thomas SAMSON)
Rafael Nadal says he's as motivated as ever as he prepares to chase an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.
Nadal relishing Roland Garros return
Rafael Nadal says he's as motivated as ever as he prepares to chase an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.
Rafael Nadal says he's as motivated as ever as he prepares to chase an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.
Nadal relishing Roland Garros return
Rafael Nadal says he's as motivated as ever as he prepares to chase an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.
Rafael Nadal says he's as motivated as ever as he prepares to chase an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.
Nadal relishing Roland Garros return
Rafael Nadal says he's as motivated as ever as he prepares to chase an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.
British No. 3 Cameron Norrie had won only four tour-level matches heading into this week’s ATP 250 event in Lyon, but on Thursday he took out world No. 10 John Isner to move into the semi-finals. This was probably the best win of Norrie’s career, even if the Lyon tournament is not televised on the BBC like his victory over 21st-ranked Roberto Bautista Agut during February’s Davis Cup tie against Spain. Remarkably, both results came on clay – a surface that Norrie has barely played on. Even if Norrie loses to the experienced Frenchman Gilles Simon in today’s semi-final, he is still projected to climb 17 places to No 85 in the world when the next set of rankings are published. "I'm so stoked with my performance today," said Norrie, who shares a background in American college tennis with Isner. "He was a big idol of mine. It's crazy to be competing against guys like that now." Norrie also learned that he will face Peter Gojowczyk, the hardest man to spell in the top 100, in his first match at Roland Garros early next week. The French Open draw was held on Thursday night and threw up winnable opening rounds for all four British players. Kyle Edmund will face young Australian Alex De Minaur, while Johanna Konta plays Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan – a woman she thrashed in Rome last year – and Heather Watson drew the big-serving Frenchwoman Oceane Dodin. The draw has only strengthened Rafael Nadal’s chances of lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires for an 11th time, as most of his leading threats – Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic – landed in the opposite half. Meanwhile three-time champion Serena Williams, who did not receive a seeding despite heavy pressure from her admirers, will start against No. 70 Kristyna Pliskova. Should she reach the second week, Williams could face old foe Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.
Britain's Cameron Norrie defeats John Isner to reach Lyon semi-finals
British No. 3 Cameron Norrie had won only four tour-level matches heading into this week’s ATP 250 event in Lyon, but on Thursday he took out world No. 10 John Isner to move into the semi-finals. This was probably the best win of Norrie’s career, even if the Lyon tournament is not televised on the BBC like his victory over 21st-ranked Roberto Bautista Agut during February’s Davis Cup tie against Spain. Remarkably, both results came on clay – a surface that Norrie has barely played on. Even if Norrie loses to the experienced Frenchman Gilles Simon in today’s semi-final, he is still projected to climb 17 places to No 85 in the world when the next set of rankings are published. "I'm so stoked with my performance today," said Norrie, who shares a background in American college tennis with Isner. "He was a big idol of mine. It's crazy to be competing against guys like that now." Norrie also learned that he will face Peter Gojowczyk, the hardest man to spell in the top 100, in his first match at Roland Garros early next week. The French Open draw was held on Thursday night and threw up winnable opening rounds for all four British players. Kyle Edmund will face young Australian Alex De Minaur, while Johanna Konta plays Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan – a woman she thrashed in Rome last year – and Heather Watson drew the big-serving Frenchwoman Oceane Dodin. The draw has only strengthened Rafael Nadal’s chances of lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires for an 11th time, as most of his leading threats – Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic – landed in the opposite half. Meanwhile three-time champion Serena Williams, who did not receive a seeding despite heavy pressure from her admirers, will start against No. 70 Kristyna Pliskova. Should she reach the second week, Williams could face old foe Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.
FILE - In this June 11, 2017, file photo, Spain's Rafael Nadal holds the trophy as he celebrates winning his 10th French Open title, after defeating Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka in three sets, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1, in the men's final match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris, France. Even as his 32nd birthday approaches, Nadal is as dominant a figure as anyone ever has been on a particular tennis surface. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
Serena could face Sharapova in 4th round at French Open
FILE - In this June 11, 2017, file photo, Spain's Rafael Nadal holds the trophy as he celebrates winning his 10th French Open title, after defeating Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka in three sets, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1, in the men's final match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris, France. Even as his 32nd birthday approaches, Nadal is as dominant a figure as anyone ever has been on a particular tennis surface. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
FILE PHOTO: Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates with the Italian Open trophy after winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
FILE PHOTO: ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open
FILE PHOTO: Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates with the Italian Open trophy after winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
FILE PHOTO: Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates with the Italian Open trophy after winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
FILE PHOTO: ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open
FILE PHOTO: Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates with the Italian Open trophy after winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
FILE PHOTO: Tennis - ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open - Foro Italico, Rome, Italy - May 20, 2018 Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open
FILE PHOTO: Tennis - ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open - Foro Italico, Rome, Italy - May 20, 2018 Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Power-packed: Rafael Nadal in practice at Roland Garros on Friday (AFP Photo/Thomas SAMSON)
Power-packed: Rafael Nadal in practice at Roland Garros on Friday
Power-packed: Rafael Nadal in practice at Roland Garros on Friday (AFP Photo/Thomas SAMSON)
Rafael Nadal says he's as motivated as ever as he prepares to chase an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.
Nadal relishing Roland Garros return
Rafael Nadal says he's as motivated as ever as he prepares to chase an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.
Rafael Nadal says he's as motivated as ever as he prepares to chase an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.
Nadal relishing Roland Garros return
Rafael Nadal says he's as motivated as ever as he prepares to chase an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.
Rafael Nadal says he's as motivated as ever as he prepares to chase an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.
Nadal relishing Roland Garros return
Rafael Nadal says he's as motivated as ever as he prepares to chase an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.
British No. 3 Cameron Norrie had won only four tour-level matches heading into this week’s ATP 250 event in Lyon, but on Thursday he took out world No. 10 John Isner to move into the semi-finals. This was probably the best win of Norrie’s career, even if the Lyon tournament is not televised on the BBC like his victory over 21st-ranked Roberto Bautista Agut during February’s Davis Cup tie against Spain. Remarkably, both results came on clay – a surface that Norrie has barely played on. Even if Norrie loses to the experienced Frenchman Gilles Simon in today’s semi-final, he is still projected to climb 17 places to No 85 in the world when the next set of rankings are published. "I'm so stoked with my performance today," said Norrie, who shares a background in American college tennis with Isner. "He was a big idol of mine. It's crazy to be competing against guys like that now." Norrie also learned that he will face Peter Gojowczyk, the hardest man to spell in the top 100, in his first match at Roland Garros early next week. The French Open draw was held on Thursday night and threw up winnable opening rounds for all four British players. Kyle Edmund will face young Australian Alex De Minaur, while Johanna Konta plays Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan – a woman she thrashed in Rome last year – and Heather Watson drew the big-serving Frenchwoman Oceane Dodin. The draw has only strengthened Rafael Nadal’s chances of lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires for an 11th time, as most of his leading threats – Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic – landed in the opposite half. Meanwhile three-time champion Serena Williams, who did not receive a seeding despite heavy pressure from her admirers, will start against No. 70 Kristyna Pliskova. Should she reach the second week, Williams could face old foe Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.
Britain's Cameron Norrie defeats John Isner to reach Lyon semi-finals
British No. 3 Cameron Norrie had won only four tour-level matches heading into this week’s ATP 250 event in Lyon, but on Thursday he took out world No. 10 John Isner to move into the semi-finals. This was probably the best win of Norrie’s career, even if the Lyon tournament is not televised on the BBC like his victory over 21st-ranked Roberto Bautista Agut during February’s Davis Cup tie against Spain. Remarkably, both results came on clay – a surface that Norrie has barely played on. Even if Norrie loses to the experienced Frenchman Gilles Simon in today’s semi-final, he is still projected to climb 17 places to No 85 in the world when the next set of rankings are published. "I'm so stoked with my performance today," said Norrie, who shares a background in American college tennis with Isner. "He was a big idol of mine. It's crazy to be competing against guys like that now." Norrie also learned that he will face Peter Gojowczyk, the hardest man to spell in the top 100, in his first match at Roland Garros early next week. The French Open draw was held on Thursday night and threw up winnable opening rounds for all four British players. Kyle Edmund will face young Australian Alex De Minaur, while Johanna Konta plays Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan – a woman she thrashed in Rome last year – and Heather Watson drew the big-serving Frenchwoman Oceane Dodin. The draw has only strengthened Rafael Nadal’s chances of lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires for an 11th time, as most of his leading threats – Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic – landed in the opposite half. Meanwhile three-time champion Serena Williams, who did not receive a seeding despite heavy pressure from her admirers, will start against No. 70 Kristyna Pliskova. Should she reach the second week, Williams could face old foe Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.
FILE - In this June 11, 2017, file photo, Spain's Rafael Nadal holds the trophy as he celebrates winning his 10th French Open title, after defeating Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka in three sets, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1, in the men's final match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris, France. Even as his 32nd birthday approaches, Nadal is as dominant a figure as anyone ever has been on a particular tennis surface. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
Serena could face Sharapova in 4th round at French Open
FILE - In this June 11, 2017, file photo, Spain's Rafael Nadal holds the trophy as he celebrates winning his 10th French Open title, after defeating Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka in three sets, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1, in the men's final match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris, France. Even as his 32nd birthday approaches, Nadal is as dominant a figure as anyone ever has been on a particular tennis surface. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
FILE PHOTO: Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates with the Italian Open trophy after winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
FILE PHOTO: ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open
FILE PHOTO: Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates with the Italian Open trophy after winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
FILE PHOTO: Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates with the Italian Open trophy after winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
FILE PHOTO: ATP World Tour Masters 1000 - Italian Open
FILE PHOTO: Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates with the Italian Open trophy after winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Champions return: Rafael Nadal and Jelena Ostapenko with their French Open trophies at Thursday's draw (AFP Photo/Thomas SAMSON)
Champions return: Rafael Nadal and Jelena Ostapenko with their French Open trophies at Thursday's draw
Champions return: Rafael Nadal and Jelena Ostapenko with their French Open trophies at Thursday's draw (AFP Photo/Thomas SAMSON)

What to Read Next