American Shelby Rogers upset top seed Madison Keys Wednesday in the second round of this year’s Volvo Car Open, played on Har-Tru at the Family Circle Tennis Center just outside of Charleston.
Since this is the first tournament of the clay-court season, I caught up with Rogers’ coach Marc Lucero to talk about the challenges players face going from the hard courts to the clay courts, with so little time in between to make the transition.
TENNIS LIFE: The last match Shelby played on clay was over 10 months ago, in the quarters of the French Open. Do you wish they broke up the season more between hard and clay events?
MARC LUCERO: Well, I wish there were a little more time between Miami and and the beginning of our clay-court season. But with an event like Charleston in Shelby’s home state, there’s really no choice. We just have to do the best we can with the amount of time we have.
TENNIS LIFE: She lost to Angelique Kerber a week ago Sunday in Miami. How long did it take you to start working out on the clay?
MARC LUCERO: She took a day off and then we got right to it, so she had five days of practice to make the adjustment from hard to clay. Obviously you wish you had more time to prepare, but it could be worse. Someone like Venus who went all the way to the semis in Miami only had a couple days to acclimate. But then again, she made the semis of Miami, so a good problem to have. But it’s tricky for everyone with the events being back-to-back on the schedule.
TENNIS LIFE: Do you train at all on the clay throughout the year to keep it somewhat fresh?
MARC LUCERO: No. Training for tournaments is always surface-specific. Whatever surface she plays on next, we train on that surface.
TENNIS LIFE: As a coach, what are your primary concerns for your player making the quick switch from hard to clay?
MARC LUCERO: There are three areas, really. Movement, shot selection and mentality. Movement-wise, obviously on the clay sliding becomes really important. You want your player to feel the clay beneath them, make sure their footing and balance are there, and most importantly taking good routes to balls. You have to have good diagonal movement in order to slide in to the shot instead instead of through the shot.
Shot-selection wise, obviously the front part of the court is much more in play on the clay, so drop shots and drop volleys are now viable weapons. It’s also important to keep volleys lower and shorter. Volleying through the court against good movers can really backfire. And shot combinations are at a premium. Opportunities to finish points have to be created more through opening the court. It’s much harder to hit through an opponent on a clay court than on a faster hard court.
Mentality-wise, it can be a little harder to close out matches. You have to hit so many clean shots to finish a point. Not so easy if nerves kick in. But that cuts both ways. If you’re down, just dig in and make your opponent come up with a lot of great shots. Ends of matches can get complicated on the clay.
TENNIS LIFE: Kind of a home match for you, with Shelby being a native South Carolinian. How is that?
MARC LUCERO: It’s awesome. This event is already really special. Her being from the area makes it just that much more. The community really comes out to support the event and the players. The weather is wreaking a little havoc on us so far this week, but everyone involved here has been so accommodating. Definitely one of our favorite events on the calendar.