Why is Rafa the King of Clay?

The scarce record

Rafael Nadal is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. With 22 Grand Slam singles titles to his name and 209 weeks at the number one spot in the rankings, he has a strong claim to being the best ever. One place where no one can doubt his dominance is on the clay courts of Roland Garros, the home of the French Open. It has been the source of 14 of those 22 Grand Slam titles, with Nadal holding a scarcely believable record of 112 wins and 3 losses at the tournament. He has produced an unbelievable level of tennis on clay courts, to the point where he has been considered simply invincible. Other players have also had more success on one particular court surface than on others, but why the discrepancy? After all, tennis is tennis, right?

Other than clay court…

Grass, clay and hardcourt are the three court surfaces used by the ATP and WTA tours, with each being represented by at least one Grand Slam tournament. Each of these surfaces has its own characteristics, which can even vary slightly between different tournaments on the same surface. As such, each surface requires a different approach and style of play to allow the player to make the most of it.


Clay is the slowest court surface used at professional level. A typical clay court match will see much longer rallies because the ball is slower off the court, giving players more time to move and adjust. As such, the court favours those players who are able to grind out long rallies, as well as those who use heavy topspin, which is why Rafa has had so much success on clay, as his game is perfect for exploiting the unique nature of the surface. Clay courts are typically found more throughout South America and Western Europe, and most of the players who excel on clay hail from these regions.


In contrast with the clay, Grass is typically the fastest and lowest-bouncing of the three. It typically favours faster play and fewer long rallies, with big serves and net play usually coming to the fore. Grass is the most classic surface for tennis, used by all Grand Slams except the French Open at some stage, and is still in use at Wimbledon. Despite this, it actually makes up a rather small percentage of the tournament calendar, with only 11% of tournaments being played on grass and these all being played in the space of about a month.


Synthetic grass, like we have at our Malvern centre, is slower than traditional grass, with a higher bounce. Although this is not a surface used at the professional level, the softness underfoot and the consistent bounce make it a great option for most players.


Finally, hardcourts are a lower-maintenance, universal court surface. Hardcourts are found all over the world and are faster than clay, but not quite as quick as grass. They allow all styles of play to be used, as the relatively flat, non-textured surface gives consistent bounce which allows baseline players to be confident in where they need to position themselves. However, the speed of the courts can also allow for more adventurous play, meaning players who want to move towards the net and attack can do so.

US Open Court Right in Melbourne!

Both the Australian Open and US Open are played on hardcourt, but that is not to say that both courts are the same. Since 2008, the Australian Open has been played on Plexicushion, a surface with medium-fast speed. On the other hand, the US Open surface is rated as having medium-slow speed. The US Open courts use a surface called Laykold Cushion Plus, which is the same surface installed at our Orrong Park venue. So, if you want a taste of Grand Slam tennis, book a court and come down to visit us!