Sliding Into the Clay Season with Coach Raemon Sluiter

For the past decade, the Volvo Car Open has been the lone WTA tournament to be played on green clay, a surface found throughout the Eastern and Southern United States.

For the dozens of players who choose to make the stop in Charleston, the tournament serves as the perfect bridge from the quick hard courts of Indian Wells and Miami to the slower red clay lead-up events ahead of the French Open.

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But how does this surface differ from the others used on tour? And what adjustments do players need to make to play their best tennis on it? To find out that and much more, we enlisted Raemon Sluiter, a former top 50 men’s player and the coach of defending champion Kiki Bertens, to help us understand.

Volvo Car Open (VCO): What’s the biggest change that a player has to adapt to with switching to clay?
Raemon Sluiter: I think first of all the change in movement. Sliding on clay is a very specific thing, something not so easy to do if you have not grown up on it. The amount of adjusting your overall game is different for every player. Most of the players play a little more patient on the dirt.

VCO: The green clay that’s played on in Charleston… how does it differ from European red clay?
Sluiter: In general, the green clay has a little higher bounce and also plays a little faster, but that also depends a lot on altitude and weather. Madrid for example has a higher bounce then Charleston, just because of altitude.

VCO: What sort of drills are you doing with Kiki to get ready for playing on clay?

Sluiter: We do a lot of sliding exercises. I think hitting slices into the two service boxes is a very good drill to get the sliding in the system to help you work on your touch, which you need a bit more on the clay.

VCO: Does a player “change” his or her tactics on clay?

Sluiter: Some players use a bit more topspin to get the ball into an uncomfortable height for their opponent. Rafael Nadal is of course the best example of that.

VCO: Kiki had a reputation as a great clay courter earlier in her career, but now has shown she’s top level on every surface. Why is that?
Sluiter: She has been working on her fitness really hard, which allows her to position herself behind the ball more on hard courts, too.

VCO: What’s your favorite thing about playing on clay vs. other surfaces?

Sluiter: For me the long rallies, the physical battles, getting dirty socks. It just feels a bit more like raw action. I love the dropshots, also… Clay brings up a lot of nice situations in a match.