How Madrid Open Clay Court Is Different Than French Open Surface

Published 04/29/2021, 9:17 AM EDT
A general view during the match between Rafael Nadal of Spain and Francis Tiafoe of The United States during day six of the Mutua Madrid Open at La Caja Magica on May 09, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)


Is it the same playing on the red soil at the Mutua Madrid Open and Roland-Garros? Any professional tennis player worth his salt would tell you that while the surface is the same, the way the ball behaves on the red dirt in the Spanish capital is fundamentally different from the experience at the French Open.

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Reason? The notoriously fickle nature of the Madrid turf, which tends to sway as the weather does.

What makes the Madrid clay different from the Parisian clay?

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As has been the case at Madrid across editions, the turf changes with the changing outdoor conditions every day. And this change, as is often the case, is most noticeable in the way the ball skips or skids off the surface or comes sluggishly on to the racquets.

If it’s a bright, sunny day in the Spanish capital with not a tinge of cloud in the sky, the ball tends to come off the relatively drier surface a lot faster.

However, if the overhead conditions are dull and overcast or if there is some drizzle around, the ball tends to grip the wet soil for a fraction of a second longer and come off the surface relatively slower than what it would on a good day.

PARIS, FRANCE – JUNE 09: A general view inside Court Philippe Chatrier during the ladies singles final between Sloane Stephens of the United States and Simona Halep of Romania during day fourteen of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2018, in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The claycourt at Madrid Open changes with the changing playing conditions

It goes without saying that the key to success at the Mutua Madrid Open is to adapt one’s game to the changing nature of the surface. However, the same is easier said than done as some players, especially those bred or skilled on hard courts, like it when the balls come quickly off the surface.

While the ones, who honed their skills playing on dirt, would feast on a sluggish turf where the ball moves a fraction slower.

This explains why Simona Halep or Iga Swiatek, who are more accomplished on clay, might do better in terms of adjusting to the tricky Madrid turf than Naomi Osaka, who is a champion on concrete but not too clever on dirt.

On the men’s side, Stefanos Tsitsipas would fancy adapting to the strip more than Daniil Medvedev, who has had most of his successes on hard courts.

MADRID, SPAIN – MAY 08: Felix Auger-Alliassime of Canada congratulates opponent, Rafael Nadal of Spain, during day five of the Mutua Madrid Open at La Caja Magica on May 08, 2019, in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Current women’s World No.1 Ashleigh Barty homed in on this aspect at her press meet ahead of this year’s event, saying adapting to the surface is crucial to boosting one’s prospects at Madrid Open.

Though the task is relatively less arduous for the Big 3 – combined nickname for Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – as they have been champions across surfaces, even they haven’t had it easy at Madrid.

While he has ruled the roost at Monte-Carlo and Barcelona with 11 and 12 titles respectively, Nadal has just five career titles in Madrid, which by the way, is a record.

Federer and Djokovic have three titles apiece on the tricky strip.

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Roland-Garros does make life a lot easier for players as the surface remains true to itself and doesn’t respond to the overhead conditions as Madrid.

Hence, while the balls would come off the clay a lot slower at French Open than it does at the other Grand Slams, the nature of the surface remains the same throughout and a few rounds of practice would put players a lot more at ease before match days.

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It’s unlike Madrid where one has to adjust one’s game every day.

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Priyabrata Chowdhury

850 articles

Priyabrata Chowdhury is a tennis author for EssentiallySports. He has been a print journalist for a decade, producing news pages for leading national dailies such as the Hindustan Times and The New Indian Express. His passion for sports eventually drove him to tennis writing.

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