Green with Admiration: Charleston’s Unique Clay

It’s the surface used for nearly half of the recreational tennis courts in the Southeast U.S., but green clay has one – and one only – stop on the WTA Tour: the Volvo Car Open.

Nearly impossible to find in red-clay-loving Europe, green clay is a truly American staple that has similarities to its European cousin, meaning Charleston’s slot in the tennis calendar, in-between hard and clay court season, fits perfectly.

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“It’s a bit of a happy medium for European clay court specialists and Americans that love hard courts,” said Pat Hanssen, the general manager of Har-Tru, manufacturer of the green clay used in Charleston. “It’s secure footing, but you can still slide. This surface is a good transitional surface. It’s not red clay, but it’s easy to practice on for the players who are used to it.”

The surface itself gives a consistent yet low bounce for players who might expect the unexpected with red clay. It slows the ball down some (good for those who hit spin and slice), yet players are still able to hit through the court, something nearly impossible to do on the red stuff.

“It’s a surface that is a fairly good equalizer,” Hanssen added. “You never know who’s going to win. It lends itself to all styles of play more than any other surface.”

The Charleston champions’ roll call helps explain this: From Serena Williams to Jelena Jankovic to Justine Henin and Conchita Martinez, the surface – like grass or red clay – doesn’t favor any certain style in particular.

Yet Pam Shriver, the former world No. 1 in doubles, who won two titles at the Volvo Car Open, says a big serve can be key.

“Green clay is a little bit faster than European clay,” Shriver said. “I think with this surface you see a net gain for big servers. In the last few years Serena has won there, as have Sam Stosur and Sabine Lisicki.”

Regardless of who walks away the winner, this much is clear: green clay continues to be a staple in Charleston and another aspect that sets apart an already unique event.