The Story Behind The French Open’s Sacred Red Clay
From the Beginning
When you think of clay, what comes to mind? For many it conjures up images of the iconic Roland Garros grounds, home to the most iconic clay courts in the world and the only Grand Slam tournament to be played on clay.
However, the factors that led to the French Open being played on clay are a little less “iconic” or “sacred”.
Originally, clay was used at Roland Garros out of necessity. The story goes that the Renshaw Brothers, Ernest and William, who were essentially the 19th century equivalent of the Williams sisters, used the clay to cover the wilting grass in the summer heat. Over the course of many years the clay process evolved into what it is now: a total of five layers each around 31 inches in depth: the first is made up of stones, followed by gravel, volcanic residue, limestone and finally a thin layer of crushed brick about .07 inches thick which gives the famed orangish/brown hue.
*Composition of a clay court at Roland-Garros*
The Unique Playing Style Required for Clay
Not only does the playing surface look different at Roland Garros, but it also factors into a different style of play for those trying to win the major championship.
The red clay of Roland Garros is slower, which makes rallies much more tactical and less direct. The famed red dirt also brings spin into play, favoring those who are adept at top spin, slices, and drop shots. The playing surface also demands different movements, favoring those with an ability and understanding of how to slide on clay.
Better in the End
The red dirt of Roland Garros may be more demanding physically, but it still remains the least harsh playing surface – protecting the joints and limiting the risk of injury, making it ideal for any level of player, from the dominant Rafael Nadal all the way to a budding amateur.