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Rod Laver won the French Championships on two occasions in 1962 as an amateur and again in 1969 as a pro – both titles being the second leg of one of his Grand Slam sweeps of all four major titles. In this excerpt from his newly re-released memoir THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com), Laver discussed how players, like the pros playing at the French Open at Roland Garros the next two weeks, need to play on clay.

Patience and legs. You’ll go a long way with those assets on clay. The stronger the longer. This was always impressed on me when I played in Europe, especially Paris, where the slow clay courts dictate an entirely different game from the grass of Australia, Wimbledon and Forest Hills, or the pavement of other areas.

If there is a universal surface it is clay, found almost everywhere, and won on by those players who can control the ball and their impulses to overhit. The defensive player has an edge because of the slower, higher bounce of the ball, giving him more time and a better chance to reach a forcing shot and make a good return. Clay blunts the force of a powerful serve and favors those who can play steadily and accurately from the backcourt.

In their perceptive analysis of singles, Bill Talbert and Bruce Old discovered in charting matches between two big hitters, Lew Hoad and Pancho Gonzalez, that Lew and Pancho won 75 percent of their points at the net on grass and 40 percent at the net on clay. Yes, they are different games.

Ability to keep the ball in play, move it around with changes of speed and spin, will pay dividends on clay. This doesn’t mean that you should forget about attacking. Far from it. Against a persistent and sure baseliner whom you can’t out-rally you have to get up to the net and break up his pattern with angled volleys. But you can’t be impatient in going up there; your way must be well paved with a strong deep approach shot.

Most baseliners like it back there, and you’ve got to draw them up with soft shots and angles, make them play a few shots near the net where they’re uncomfortable. Since the huskiest serve in the business isn’t going to be overly oppressive on clay, you’d better forget about blasting your serve and concentrate on placing the ball and getting the first one in. Naturally you’ll let fly with a hard one just to keep the foe honest if he creeps closer on you.

Doubles on clay is about the same as doubles anywhere else—an attacking game. There will be more retrieving, longer points, but you have to get up to the net fast. But in singles you may as well face the fact that you have to be fit and favorably inclined toward running. You’re going to be on the court a while, most likely.

Bring your lunch.



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