Clay has long been the red-headed stepchild of the tennis world, with top pros like John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and Pete Sampras almost taking pride in never winning a French Open. The term “clay-court specialist” was a veiled insult. Now, though, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal is a clay-court wonder, and elite players have embraced extensive clay training, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The clay game has traditionally been slower, but lately clay has been getting faster, even as other surfaces—grass and hard courts—have slowed. The modern game is played mainly from the baseline, turning it into the kind of chess match clay players learn to thrive on. “Clay teaches you to suffer,” coach Jose Higueras says, looking ahead to tomorrow’s French Open kickoff.