Home » British tennis to trial revolutionary new clay in bid to end French Open misery

British tennis to trial revolutionary new clay in bid to end French Open misery

ROLAND GARROS — British tennis authorities will install a new high-tech hybrid clay court this month in an effort to improve its players fortunes on the surface.

All six British singles players were knocked out in the first round of the 2024 French Open, the second time in five years the contingent have returned “nul points” in Paris.

Clay is the least popular surface in the UK – there are just 200 real clay courts – and Roland Garros is the grand slam where Brits have had the least success: Fred Perry in 1935 was the last man to win it, Sue Barker in 1976 the last British woman.

However, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) will install their first “Red Plus” hybrid clay court later this month.

There are only five in the country at the moment and they are described as “a valuable halfway between the playing characteristics of European red clay and the easier maintenance practices of other historical artificial clay courts”.

Like a real clay court, the surface does use crushed-up brick dust it, requires watering and balls leave a mark – as they would at Roland Garros.

“It’s a clay court with a difference. It’s a hybrid clay court,” Peter Sutton, CEO of Clay Court Services, the company which installs Red Plus courts in the UK, tells i.

“With the climate in the UK, effectively probably from about October right through to March, you can’t play on a shale or outdoor clay court. Then you then have to do a lot of preparation and maintenance to get them ready for April.

“If you’ve got a dry November, December, January, February, if you haven’t got the frost or whatever you can play on these courts.”

There is an appreciable cost differential too: converting a hard court to Red Plus costs around £35,000 while even resurfacing a real clay court – never mind installation from scratch – starts at around £50,000.

Sutton, who has also installed traditional clay courts in the UK, discovered Red Plus on a trip to northern Italy to visit Terre Davis, a small family company that supplies the clay courts for the Rome Masters.

When he expressed an interest in artificial clay, they introduced him to a former tennis coach called Michele Corsiero, who was manufacturing hybrid clay courts with real clay, and Sutton promptly bought a court for his home club, Little Aston Tennis Club. It was so popular that there are now three Red Plus courts at the club in the West Midlands.

Sutton Coldfield, just up the road from Little Aston, now have one too – and are even hosting Solihull native British No 3 Dan Evans for a practice session. He revealed that his then-coach Sebastian Prieto, an Argentinian native and therefore a clay expert, was completed fooled by it.

“I’m probably not best qualified to say if it was good or not, but I thought it was pretty good,” Evans said.

“And I was obviously with Sebastian at that time and I practiced with him on it. He actually didn’t know that that was the [hybrid] surface until after.”

And now the LTA is due to install one at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton as a trial of sorts, with the plan of encouraging the roll-out on a wider basis if the surface is deemed suitable.

i understands that, along with Evans’s testimonial, reports from players and coaches who have experienced Red Plus so far has been “very positive”.

It is still not the real thing of course, and the LTA says it is still trying to form partnerships with academies in Barcelona and Girona to expose young up-and-coming players to real clay, but the prospect of more surfaces that are akin to clay – if not the real thing – on home soil is one that would improve the outlook for the future.

Aside from the courts though, who is the future of British tennis? i looks at the three men and three women who might, in years to come, make this year’s dire run on the clay a thing of the past.

Men’s – Henry Searle, Oliver Bonding, Viktor Frydrych

When Henry Searle won the Wimbledon boys title last summer, he was the first Brit to do so since the 1960s. The son of former first-class cricketer Harvey Trump, the rangy left-hander beat fifth seed Yaroslav Demin in the final in straight sets, cheered on by a “Barmy Army” of friends and family.

Junior tennis is not always a good indicator of senior talent in the men’s game but Searle’s ability has convinced Morgan Phillips, head of boys’ tennis at the National Academy in Loughborough where the teenager trains, to quit his job to help him take his first steps in the professional game.

Henry Searle celebrates a point against Yaroslav Demin during the Boys' Singles Final on day fourteen of the 2023 Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon. Picture date: Sunday July 16, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story TENNIS Wimbledon. Photo credit should read: Steven Paston/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use without prior written consent of the AELTC. Still image use only - no moving images to emulate broadcast. No superimposing or removal of sponsor/ad logos.
Searle was the first British winner of the Wimbledon boys title for 61 years (Photo: PA)

And after spending some time training with Jack Draper and former South African cricket team fitness trainer Steve Kotze, Searle is starting to deliver, reaching his first Futures final last month and a new career-high of 631 in the world.

Behind Searle, Oliver Bonding and Viktor Frydrych are Britain’s top ranked juniors. Frydrych, 18, reached the boys doubles final in Australia earlier this year but is yet to make the kind of strides in the senior game that his classmate Searle has.

Bonding is two years their junior, but did recently become the first British boy to win a Junior 500 title on the clay courts of Blumenau in Brazil.

Women’s – Hannah Klugman, Mika Stojsavljevic, Mimi Xu

If you speak to anyone in British tennis who knows the junior game, they all talk up the chances of Hannah Klugman being the one to outstrip the rest.

Klugman was just 14 when she won the U18s Orange Bowl last year, a prestigious Floridian junior tournament previously won by the likes of Chris Evert, Caroline Wozniacki, Bianca Andreescu and Coco Gauff – and held on clay. Now 15, she is the No 6 ranked junior in the world and is on the verge of breaking the top 600 in seniors after reaching multiple quarter-finals at Futures level.

Mika Stojsavljevic is in the same cohort as Klugman but without the strength of junior results. However, just last month the Londoner was given a wildcard into the Nottingham $35k – and promptly won the tournament to rise nearly 200 places in the world rankings.

Mimi Xu is the oldest of the trio, but only by a few months but is in the same bracket in the world rankings at 677 and has beaten Klugman on tour as recently as October.