How clay courts affect players at the French Open

Roland Garros

One player has dominated the French Open like no other: Rafael Nadal. But why does the red clay favour the Spaniard so strongly, what affect does the surface have on  all of the top 20 ATP players and how can this help your tennis betting?


Nadal is as short as 2.000* with Pinnacle Sports to win the 2013 French Open following seven wins at Roland Garros. The Spaniard’s dominance on clay, however is down to a simple piece of science: friction. The torn-up nature of the surface means that the clay particles generate a lot more friction when balls bounce off the ground – far more than grass or hard courts.

Clay court science


The resistance generated when the ball collides with the clay slows down the bottom of the ball, but doesn’t affect the velocity of the top of it, which continues  travelling at the same speed. The disparity between the consistent speed (at the top of the ball) and the deceleration (on the bottom of the ball) forces a more  vertical impact with the floor.


The increased vertical angle then causes a higher bounce, which coupled with an overall decrease in speed, ensures that it’s harder to hit a winner and easier to  return shots. While this provides a distinct benefit for anyone returning serve, it also means the surface is ideal for consistent, powerful baseline players – like  Rafael Nadal.


Taking a note of a player’s style is particularly important for tennis betting for the French Open and other clay tournaments, as the competition favours baseline  players over attackers (Federer) and players who built their ranking on big serves (plenty of other players in the top 20).


Clay court aces: few and far between


One of the biggest statistics supporting the science behind the quirks of clay courts is ace percentages. Throughout the careers of all of the top 20 ATP players,  every one has hit noticeably fewer aces on clay than on hard courts. On average, the ATP top 20 has hit 43.5% fewer aces on clay than on hard courts.


Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 279.850* is the biggest victim of the curse of clay, hitting 79.5% fewer aces over his career on the crushed brick than on hard courts. The  Frenchman averages just 7.3 ace serves out of 100, compared with 13.1 on hard.


Milos Raonic has recorded the highest career ace percentage on the surface (12.9 per 100 serves), which is still a massive 52.7% drop on his hard court performances.


Service stopper


Nineteen of the 20 top ATP players win fewer points on their first serves on clay than on hard courts. While this is partially accounted for by a reduction in aces,  the fact that clay courts gives receivers a better opportunity to return the ball is also vital.


Only Juan Monaco manages to win more points on his first serve on clay – 0.9% more – than on hard courts. He also wins more points on clay on his second serve – 3.2%.  Such tidbits are useful for tennis betting, as not many people would consider anyone to win more points on their serve on clay than on a hard court. This fact suggests  that Monaco could easily be underrated on the surface.


Returners’ revenge


Every player in the ATP top 20 has an improved “return points won” percentage on clay. While the improvement can be as little as 0.8% (Janko Tipsarevic), it’s also the  statistic that shows Nadal’s dominance. With a 14.3% increase in return points won on clay; the Spaniard wins an incredible 46.9% of points served at him.


Spanish supremacy


All three Spanish men inside the top 20 boast exceptional clay-court performance. Nadal and David Ferrer win more return points on clay than any other player, winning  46.9% and 44.2% respectively (Djokovic is at 43.9%).


This is almost certainly helped by the fact that clay is the primary surface in Spain, largely because of the hot, dry climate. This could be why Andy Murray, who  spent a lot of his youth training in Spain, has the fifth highest return point percentage of the top 20 at 43.6%.


In terms of the performance difference between clay and hard courts, Nadal and fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro top the table, successfully returning on 14.3% and 10.7%  more points on clay than hard courts.


It could also be argued that Nicolas Almagro is the most surface-agnostic of the top 20 players, hitting just 18.9% fewer aces on the surface (the second smallest  drop), and winning just 0.5% fewer points on his first serve and 0.4% on his second – the smallest differences of any player.


Other clay outliers


Investigating the performance of the 20 top ATP players also revealed some other interesting facts about players not usually associated with their clay-court  performances:


Kei Nishikori: Nishikori actually wins the third-highest percentage of return points of any of the top 20 players at 43.9%. Only Nadal and Ferrer do better. Despite  this success, he also has the lowest ace rate – the Japanese star achieves just 2.5 aces per 100 serves.


Stanislas Wawrinka: The Swiss ace doesn’t have much luck winning his first serve on clay – he wins 21.8% fewer points on his first serve on the surface.


Janko Tipsarevic: Tipsarevic’s return point performance is pretty much constant between the clay and hard courts – he only wins 0.8% more return points on clay, the  lowest of any of the ATP 20.


Almost no other sports have the variety that tennis’ different court surfaces bring, nor witness as profound an effect. Therefore for any serious tennis bettor, it is  vital to treat the clay, hard and grass courts as separate entities, each with its unique quirks that should be built into betting analysis.


Click here for the latest ATP French Open odds (and here for the WTA French Open odds).


French Open Live Betting – 1st Round Limits Raised to $1000


Pinnacle Sports has raised the limits of next game bets to $1,000 for the 1st round of the French Open, up from $250. These limits increase throughout the tournament,  so tennis live betting fans can now bet even more and stay in the action.


The French Open will also see the launch of live spread and live totals betting for tennis matches. These will be posted during changeovers with the money line.


(Source: Pinnacle)




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