It’s begun — clay court season, at least for the men’s ATP and WTA tennis tours. From April 9 to the end of the French Open, June 4th, the top men and women players in the world of tennis will be making their debut on the red sliding clay events throughout Southern USA, Morocco, Monaco, Spain, Hungary, Portugal, Italy, many other countries and ending with the French Open.

Fourteen events for each tour as well as Davis Cup and Fed Cup will take place during this two month period of time.

This marathon of tennis events is totally grueling.

Red clay, which is made from crushed brick has many unique characteristics that the best players of that surface have acquired through years of practice.

Clay slows the hardest of hits in a manner that allow long rallies, lots of topspin, more defined and potent drop shots, higher bounces, and the art of sliding to a stop.

The extra mental focus and physical stamina needed can take its toll throughout the 8 weeks of play on clay.

Noted players of this surface are the likes of Rafa Nadal, Chris Everet, Thomas Muster, Monica Seles, Bjorn Borg and Serena Williams to name but a few.

Depending on the weather conditions you will get a clay court with bounces that vary greatly. If it’s hot and the courts dry out, wet from rain and humidity, cold - not to mention balls that slide off nailed down plastic lines which are almost impossible to account for.

The crushed red brick makes a mess of your shoes, the clay clinging to the tread, socks can almost be thrown away after a match and if you happen to slip and fall you’ll look like you’ve been in a football game instead of a tennis match.

Clay courts take a good deal of attention in making sure they’re compacted decently, water and rolled, brushed after each match and the lines cleaned. If it rains a lot and they’re not covered, it might be 2 or 3 days before they’re playable again.

There’s good and not so good to playing on clay courts. It reduces stress on your leg joints, softer under-foot, ball marks are left that detect if a close shot was in or out — but with that said, running more side to side with longer rallies can cause muscle strains in the legs, and if on a slide your feet aren’t angled correctly it very possible to turn an ankle or hurt your foot.

So what happens after June 4? The professional grass court season begins and in my mind, playing on grass makes playing tennis on clay seem like a walk in the park.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 45 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@gmail.com.