The second Ankita Raina first stepped on it, she felt the distinction. “Not bizarre, truly, I used to be extra excited concerning the prospect of enjoying on a floor with a special color,” 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. However that’s how uncommon enjoying the game on inexperienced clay is, which the Indian did on the ITF W100 Charleston event final week.
So unusual is the floor that it at present hosts only one top-level occasion all through the season – the WTA Volvo Automobile Open in Charleston (previously referred to as Household Circle Cup). Even on the ITF and Challenger degree, a rung under the ATP and WTA excursions, solely a handful of tournaments are dressed with inexperienced clay; they usually’re all within the US, whilst purple clay stays the norm on 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 hard-court event in Tyler, Texas, to Charleston and bought solely a solitary day’s apply earlier than enjoying 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 gradual as purple clay,” she stated. “And as I started enjoying on the inexperienced clay, I loved it.”
Raina misplaced within the second qualifying spherical to American Claire Liu and was additionally overwhelmed in her opening spherical of doubles, partnering Colombian teen Osorio Serrano. However after these three matches on the alien floor, she nonetheless felt extra at house than on the purple dust. “It’s just like enjoying on a tough courtroom. In fact, the factors are longer than on laborious nevertheless it’s sooner than the conventional clay that we play on,” she stated. “You don’t slip such as you often do on purple clay and the ball doesn’t bounce too excessive.”
Constant bounce is the USP of this inexperienced floor. The origin of using 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 fast-drying courts.
Two courts have been constructed utilizing the fabric in 1932; the experiment was successful. “Mr. Robinson used his initials (HAR) and, because the story goes, his spouse referred to as it a floor with a real bounce and a real inexperienced color, ensuing within the Har-Tru model,” stated Pat Hanssen, president of Har-Tru, now one of many world’s greatest manufacturing corporations for tennis courts of varied varieties and the main producer of the inexperienced clay floor.
Based mostly in Charlottesville, Virginia, Har-Tru has courts in 23 nations world wide other than the US. In keeping with Hanssen, the demand for inexperienced clay floor comes predominantly from inside North America, Canada included.
The advanced means of its manufacturing begins from a Charlottesville quarry. “The inexperienced clay, which is definitely finely crushed mixture – an igneous metabasalt, to be exact – is pulled from a vein of stone that runs via the Appalachian Mountains. A lot of it’s underground and inconceivable to entry and requires tunnelling to get to it,” Hanssen stated.
Inexperienced clay was in vogue on the elite American tennis stage earlier than the laborious courtroom revolution. The US Open was performed on the Har-Tru inexperienced clay courts from 1975 to 1977 at Forest Hills. The event moved over to the laborious courts of Flushing Meadows within the following 12 months.
However Charleston saved the floor alive, with the event attracting the largest feminine professionals; Serena Williams is a three-time champion. Whereas this floor doesn’t expertise the temper swings that purple clay does resulting from climate situations (bear in mind Roland Garros in autumn this 12 months?), the pure color stays broadly most popular world wide.
“A pure, purple clay courtroom performs in a really big selection. It may be very gradual and heavy when moist and very quick and slippery when dry. Inexperienced clay doesn’t have these swings,” Hanssen defined. “However purple clay is extra resilient when it comes to bounce, that means when the ball is hit with topspin it tends to bounce sooner and better than on inexperienced,” he added.
Crimson clay can also be rather more troublesome to take care of and requires twice as a lot time to maintain in good situation. Whereas the inexperienced model additionally wants day by day care and upkeep in addition to abundance of water, it has its positives. “Inexperienced clay surfaces are simple to assemble and keep, simple to restore and dry shortly. It permits protected, managed footwork and sliding. It’s simpler on the physique than laborious courts. It performs very constant in all climate and in a slender velocity vary with restricted top to the bounce,” Hanssen stated.
Additionally, it doesn’t get as messy because the purple dust, the place sliding can include its pitfalls, together with further rounds of laundry. “I personally don’t slide a lot even on purple clay. However sure, this isn’t as soiled as purple clay can get,” Raina stated.
Hanssen, although, doesn’t see inexperienced as a viable second choice or alternative to the purple on the largely European clay-court swing. “All courts over there are purple clay. It’s culturally accepted and there’s appreciable information on methods to look after it. It might be pricey to vary to inexperienced versus holding the purple,” he stated.
That’s exactly why the blue clay experiment on the Madrid Masters was broadly criticised and didn’t final past the 12 months of its introduction in 2012. However Raina, who bought a first-hand style of its inexperienced cousin, wouldn’t thoughts enjoying on it extra usually on the professional excursions. “It has the advantages of clay whereas being sooner; you’ll be able to play a hard-court sport on it,” she stated. “So, for my sport, I’d want this over purple clay.”