When is a Clay Court a Clay Court?
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As I spent time on the installation of a red ClayTech court in Austin this week I was reminded of a discussion I had with Jose Higueras about red clay courts. The USTA was deciding on the court system they wanted to install at the National Campus in Orlando and I was pushing HYDROCOURT capped with a 1/4" of European red clay. Har-Tru began experimenting with installing a thin layer of European red clay over HYDROCOURT three years earlier and found that it was possible to achieve the look and feel of European red clay with significantly reduced maintenance and greater surface consistency. Jose was adamant that only the full European system could replicate the playability that professionals experience during the clay court season that culminates with Roland Garros. My response was that if all your foot and the ball touches is European red clay, does it really matter what is underneath? After all, there really isn't any consistency across the surface materials or the base layers from country to country in Europe. The clay in Italy is different than the clay in Monte Carlo and Germany and so on because they are procuring local materials for the most part. And Roland Garros is a system all it's own composed of iron ore, limestone and the thinnest of layers of brick dust and crushed tile. This would seem to prove my point.
And this brings me back to ClayTech, the clay court with a fraction of the maintenance. Instead of the base being crushed aggregate, real clay or anything in between, the base of this court is a textile that is glued to asphalt or concrete. The textile is fully covered by the clay surface, meaning all your foot and the ball touches is the clay. Is it a clay court or does it always need a qualifier like Hybrid or Synthetic? I want to hear what you think but I will close with this. When I take players to hit on ClayTech they instinctively seek out the "differences" of the surface. They test the slide and keep looking at the surface and measuring speed and height of ball bounce. So finally I say let's play a game to 11 and when we are done the reaction is invariably the same. "I totally forgot what I was playing on. It was just a clay court." Isn't that the most important thing of all?