Welcome to the Dance

The picture above is of Steve Stagg, who just built a clay court not far from my house in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It’s our favorite place to be. He is holding a copy of Paul McNamee’s book: Welcome to the Dance: Master Clay to Master Tennis. (I describe below a few of this book’s key ideas about why you should play on clay.)

I: The Aesthetics of the Dance:

Like a child in socks at play in the kitchen, you must learn to slide on clay. As McNamee puts it: “the sound of a well-executed slide on clay is similar to the ‘swish’ you hear when you execute a parallel stop on snow. It’s music to the ears!” Because points are longer and involve more of the court, players learn to dance together as they respond to each other’s moves. Topspin creates more angles. Drop shots die more quickly. You cannot simply overpower an opponent as you can on hard courts. Clay demands more artistry, more spin, more angles. You must make the ball dance, use more of the court’s geometry. You must learn the difference between hitting the ball through the court (as Blake does) and off the court (as Nadal does).

II: The Practical: Almost all the top players grew up on clay. Training on clay teaches you how to construct a point. In other words: what comes first, what comes next, what are the variables at this moment, at that moment. Clay exposes your weaknesses more than any surface, forces you to work on them. And there are few cheap points on clay. You have to earn them. To endure longer rallies, you must be as fit as possible, much fitter than you need to be on hard courts. The gift of clay is that its surface is easier on the body, especially important as we age. When you wake up each morning, the body’s less stiff. You can play more when you’re younger, more when you’re older.

III: The Spiritual: For Paul McNamee, clay become a sort of master guru, and he “would listen for the subtle messages the clay was gently whispering.” If you listen carefully, clay will teach you to become a better tennis player. If you listen attentively and with all your imagination, clay might teach you how to live. McNamee describes tennis on clay in terms of a chess board where we must play all the pieces as well as we can: “The bishop represents spirituality, honesty to understand your strengths and weaknesses, endurance and patience for the longer rallies.” The knight represents “bravery, nobility, humility.” Things you will need on clay. Things you will need in life.

Welcome to the Dance: Master Clay to Master Tennis is published by the Slattery Media Group and is available for purchase online at their site or at Amazon. Best book out there on the intricacies and delights of clay court tennis. Highly recommended.

Author Bio (from Wikipedia):

McNamee is the only player to switch a grip as a professional, changing from a one-handed backhand to two-handed in 1979.[2] He won two singles and twenty-three doubles titles during his professional career. A right-hander, he reached his highest singles ATP-ranking on 12 May 1986 when he became the world No. 24. McNamee reached his highest doubles ATP-ranking on 8 June 1981 when he became the world No. 1. McNamee won 24 men’s doubles titles including four Grand Slam doubles titles in his career. He won the 1979 Australian Open and the 1980 and 1982 Wimbledon Championships with Peter McNamara and the 1983 Australian Open with Mark Edmondson. He won the mixed-doubles title in Wimbledon with Martina Navratilova in 1985. McNamee was also a member of the Australian Davis Cup Team which won the Davis Cup in 1983 and 1986. McNamee played a key role in the founding of the Hopman Cup international tennis tournament in 1988. He served as tournament director of the Hopman Cup and CEO of the Australian Open.

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