30 April 2012
With the clay-court season underway we sat down with three-time French Open quarter-finalist Goran Ivanisevic to discuss the challenges posed when playing on the dirt.
He may be known for his storybook win on the green grass of Wimbledon, but for Goran Ivanisevic the first taste of tour success came as a fresh-faced 18-year-old on the red clay of Stuttgart in 1990.
Quicker surfaces such as hard courts and grass were kinder to the Croat’s big serving game but his maiden victory in Germany – the first of three career titles on clay – proved he was no pushover on the slow, high-bouncing court.
'You need to know how to play on clay,' said the ellesse brand ambassador, who trained on the surface as a youngster in Split. 'If you grow up on clay then you know how to play on clay.
'For example if you take [Pete] Sampras, he never knew how to play on clay. He played a hard court game on clay. When it came to French Open quarters and semis, he just could not win. There were better players on clay than him. On clay you need to be patient and just need to know how to deal with it.
'Terre battue’, as the French call it, is a surface that has got the better of many greats down the years. Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Lindsay Davenport, Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters are just some of the former world No.1s who’ve gallantly failed to lift the coveted trophy at Roland Garros, the slow surface neutralising their strengths and asking questions of them that no opponent ever did.
According to Goran adapting to clay is a lot easier now than when he played because court surfaces around the tour are beginning to slow down to encourage, what some would call, more exciting tennis.
'In the past you needed so much time to adjust but now these guys play easily,' he said. 'To play the French Open and then go to Wimbledon was mission impossible before but now the speed of the court means you can adjust easier.
'Wimbledon in the 90s compared to Wimbledon now is not the same tournament. Before Wimbledon was so fast, you could not stand back. Now you cannot come in because it’s so slow. They say nothing is different but something changed definitely.'
From today's crop of players, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have captured back-to-back titles in Paris and London while all eyes will be on Novak Djokovic this year to see if the Serb can replicate their feat.
But who does Goran think is the greatest ever clay-court player of all time? 'That’s tough, but in the end it’s going to be Nadal. He’s going to win another four or five French Opens because I don’t see anybody beating him on that court.'