Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Jan 1, 1999 – Dr. John F. Murray – By now I hope you’re fully absorbed in the excitement of the French Open, and delighted by the creative displays and stamina you’re seeing. Playing on the blood red dirt of Boulogne, Munich, or Madrid poses a daunting challenge to anyone raised on a hard surface or serve-and-volley diet. The ball only moves slower on the moon, and the mental demands are extraordinary! Let’s examine some ideas to help you thrive in the dust, whether you’re from LA or Lyon.
Get Down and Dirty
Before worrying about technique or strategy, reach deep down for an attitude to thrive on clay. Think like a desert commando and learn to love the sand. This surface is easy on the bones and joints, and it’s a blast sliding around kicking up dirt! Hard courts and rugs are sterile compared to the imperfect bounces and stained clothing where real athletes compete! Soft courts challenge your mind too, as factors such as patience and strategy are more important than booming serves and blistering forehands.
Go Into Thin Air
Prepare for clay like an elite mountain climber readying for a full-day assault on the summit of Everest. Realize that this is a battle of attrition rather than a race to the finish line. As the ball hits loose dirt, it bites with great friction and slows down. With fewer winners possible, and more unforced errors, consistency and raw perseverance are needed. Create opportunities with patience and smarts. If you love quick trips to McDonalds, this attitude in tennis will only lead to an early exit at stade Roland Garros. An extended brunch on the Champs Elysees is a much finer idea. The food is better too! Your battle cry should be “I’m here to stay,” rather than “let’s hurry up.”
Adjust to the Court
Depending on moisture and maintenance, the ball will bounce higher or lower, faster or slower. The wetter and looser the clay, the slower the ball. Take stock of conditions before the warm-up and prepare your game plan accordingly. The trajectory of the bouncing ball alters your hitting zone, and you need to prepare for this. You also need to be ready for balls that hit a piece of clay and veer slightly off at the last instance. On a very slow surface, drop shots and sharply angled drop volleys are lethal. You can easily wrongfoot your opponent by hitting behind them, to where they came from, since quick stopping and starting is difficult. The main point is that you are in guerilla warfare, and the player who adapts to conditions best always survives.
Use Imagery to Gain Patience
Prior to the match, close your eyes and vividly imagine yourself playing games in which the points last twice as long as they normally do. For example, visualize yourself in rallies in which you hit 10 shots in a row deep into your opponent’s court before they make an unforced error or hit a short ball that you can easily exploit. With extended imagery sessions you’ll gain the needed patience for clay.
Get into the Gym
It’s no secret that fit players thrive on the dust. Get yourself into the best physical shape you’ve ever been in and you’ll defeat players who have more raw talent, experience, or power. The ability to run down every shot is a tremendous asset on clay. Also practice your slide! Combine Mental Equipment with endurance and quickness and you’ll long for that dusty dirt.
My Predictions for the French
Who will win it all this year in France? As I write this article, the French Open is just beginning. Here are my humble predictions: Men: Carlos Moya or Marcelo Rios; Women: Venus Williams or Lindsay Davenport.