The second Ankita Raina first stepped on it, she felt the distinction. “Not weird, actually, I was more excited about the prospect of playing on a surface with a different colour,” Raina later stated.
For somebody who has been knowledgeable tennis participant since 2009, it’s odd to have skilled a brand new floor on the tour after greater than a decade. But that’s how uncommon taking part in the sport on inexperienced clay is, which the Indian did at the ITF W100 Charleston match final week.
So unusual is the floor that it at present hosts only one high-degree occasion all through the season – the WTA Volvo Car Open in Charleston (previously known as Family Circle Cup). Even at the ITF and Challenger degree, a rung beneath the ATP and WTA excursions, solely a handful of tournaments are dressed with inexperienced clay; they usually’re all in the US, whilst pink clay stays the norm at the European clay courts.
To achieve entry to the South Carolina ITF occasion, Raina needed to play the qualifiers. With tournaments few and much between this pandemic-hit season and gamers jostling to play in as many as they’ll, Raina hopped from a tough-courtroom match in Tyler, Texas, to Charleston and received solely a solitary day’s observe earlier than taking part in a match on a floor she had by no means seen earlier than.
The preparation course of, therefore, comprised rumour. “I’d heard that it’s not as slow as red clay,” she stated. “And as I began playing on the green clay, I enjoyed it.”
Raina misplaced in the second qualifying spherical to American Claire Liu and was additionally crushed in her opening spherical of doubles, partnering Colombian teen Osorio Serrano. But after these three matches on the alien floor, she nonetheless felt extra at house than on the pink dust. “It’s similar to playing on a hard court. Of course, the points are longer than on hard but it’s faster than the normal clay that we play on,” she stated. “You don’t slip like you usually do on red clay and the ball does not bounce too high.”
Consistent bounce is the USP of this inexperienced floor. The origin of the use of inexperienced clay for tennis courts goes again to the early Thirties, when a sure HA Robinson got here throughout an organization in Maryland that was producing roofing granules, which he was certain might be used to fabricate quick-drying courts.
Two courts had been constructed utilizing the materials in 1932; the experiment was a hit. “Mr. Robinson used his initials (HAR) and, as the story goes, his wife called it a surface with a true bounce and a true green colour, resulting in the Har-Tru brand,” stated Pat Hanssen, president of Har-Tru, now one in every of the world’s largest manufacturing corporations for tennis courts of varied sorts and the main producer of the inexperienced clay floor.
Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, Har-Tru has courts in 23 international locations round the world other than the US. According to Hanssen, the demand for inexperienced clay floor comes predominantly from inside North America, Canada included.
The complicated means of its manufacturing begins from a Charlottesville quarry. “The green clay, which is actually finely crushed aggregate – an igneous metabasalt, to be precise – is pulled from a vein of stone that runs through the Appalachian Mountains. Much of it is underground and impossible to access and requires tunnelling to get to it,” Hanssen stated.
Green clay was in vogue at the elite American tennis stage earlier than the arduous courtroom revolution. The US Open was performed on the Har-Tru inexperienced clay courts from 1975 to 1977 at Forest Hills. The match moved over to the arduous courts of Flushing Meadows in the following 12 months.
But Charleston saved the floor alive, with the match attracting the largest feminine professionals; Serena Williams is a 3-time champion. While this floor doesn’t expertise the temper swings that pink clay does as a result of climate situations (bear in mind Roland Garros in autumn this 12 months?), the pure color stays extensively most popular round the world.
“A natural, red clay court plays in a very wide range. It can be very slow and heavy when wet and extremely fast and slippery when dry. Green clay does not have these swings,” Hanssen defined. “But red clay is more resilient in terms of bounce, meaning when the ball is hit with topspin it tends to bounce faster and higher than on green,” he added.
Red clay is additionally rather more tough to take care of and requires twice as a lot time to maintain in good situation. While the inexperienced model additionally wants every day care and upkeep in addition to abundance of water, it has its positives. “Green clay surfaces are easy to construct and maintain, easy to repair and dry quickly. It allows safe, controlled footwork and sliding. It’s easier on the body than hard courts. It plays very consistent in all weather and in a narrow speed range with limited height to the bounce,” Hanssen stated.
Also, it doesn’t get as messy as the pink dust, the place sliding can include its pitfalls, together with further rounds of laundry. “I personally don’t slide much even on red clay. But yes, this is not as dirty as red clay can get,” Raina stated.
Hanssen, although, doesn’t see inexperienced as a viable second choice or alternative to the pink on the largely European clay-court swing. “All courts over there are red clay. It is culturally accepted and there is considerable knowledge on how to care for it. It would be costly to change to green versus keeping the red,” he stated.
That is exactly why the blue clay experiment at the Madrid Masters was extensively criticised and didn’t final past the 12 months of its introduction in 2012. But Raina, who received a primary-hand style of its inexperienced cousin, wouldn’t thoughts taking part in on it extra typically on the professional excursions. “It has the benefits of clay while being faster; you can play a hard-court game on it,” she stated. “So, for my game, I’d prefer this over red clay.”