http://foxsports.news.com.au/story/0,8659,16017128-23216,00.html Yes, the French should forget hard courts (see below) Australia begins clay revolution By Margie McDonald July 23, 2005 LLEYTON HEWITT and Alicia Molik will be invited to test a state-of-the-art clay court, which Tennis Australia officials hope will revolutionise and revitalise the game in Australia. The court is being laid at MelbournePark by French company Avanten. TA will ask Hewitt, Molik, all other Australian ATP and WTA Tour players, former champions, leading coaches, club captains - in fact as many people as possible - to have a hit on the new surface and provide feedback. "If they like the surface, we'll lay five courts in east Melbourne and then we'll start looking at other facilities," TA's newly appointed director of player development Craig Tilley said. In the wake of Australia's Davis Cup loss to Argentina on grass last weekend, there has been a push to change the surfaces on which our budding stars are brought up. The outdoor carpet courts where many juniors learn to play, particularly in Sydney, have been identified as a blight on their development. Synthetic grass replaced the old anthill and bitumen courts of the 1950s and 1960s. The surface is easy to maintain and easy on the joints for both juniors and recreational players. But because it is not a tournament surface it is of no use in developing elite players. "Our kids are playing just hit and miss tennis where a rally rarely goes beyond five shots," Bob Giltinan said from his tennis centre in north Manly, on Sydney's northern beaches. "With clay, kids are going to hit 20 balls in a rally and learn to make a point because constructing the point is what tennis is all about. "Look at the European players. Their hands are so good they can execute a drop shot in the middle of a baseline rally." At present, there is one clay court at MelbournePark - home of the Australian Open and one of the centres used by the AIS tennis academy. But the clay court campaign is underway. There are two Grand Slam standard clay courts at the Sydney International Tennis Centre at Olympic Park, where Hewitt practised in the lead-up to Roland Garros before he withdrew with a cracked rib. Canberra has 12 courts, Perth 14, Adelaide four and a new $60million centre announced for Brisbane last week will have half-a-dozen clay courts as well as Rebound Ace and grass. Australia is not the only country turning to clay. About 10 years ago, the French turned to hardcourts but are now ripping those up and returning to clay in a bid to keep quality players coming through the system. Australia, unlike France, has no clay court history because the surface needs such high maintenance and large volumes of water to keep it at tournament-play standard. Giltinan has nine courts at Manly in Sydney's north - eight synthetic grass and one Rebound Ace. He said he wanted to put down clay but was thwarted by costs. "Clay courts are a prohibitive cost for tennis centres with all the other demands. They need constant care and maintenance and it's virtually a full-time job," he said. But new manufacturers have found a more cost-effective, lower-maintenance product that makes the surface just as economical and time efficient as hardcourts. Avanten and the Perth-based Top Clay are breaking down the barriers of using clay by producing a court with none of the downsides. "If a court is properly installed, it requires about a third of the amount of time and a third of the amount of water of a grass court," Top Clay co-director Ted Reiss said. "To maintain them is about 20 minutes per court per week, which is really nothing." Reiss said there had been misinformation and confusion over clay courts for decades and it needed new technology and uniformity to bring clay courts into the 21st century. "The culture here is put in a hard court and leave it and nothing happens but they only have a six to eight year life and they have to be re-done," Reiss said. Clay courts had a 50-year life, he added. Tilley intends to accelerate the clay cause, with the warning that more clay courts is not the sole solution to a lack of depth in Australian tennis. Improved talent identification, coaching and upgraded tennis centres were other areas to be given an overhaul. "But we do need a national philosophy that clay is a greater tool to teach kids," Tilley said. "It's also better physically, on joints and hips, for recreational players." There are approximately 2000 tennis centres and clubs in Australia. "A lot of private facilities make their decisions economically, that's true," Tilley said. Tilley's assistant Peter Johnston said the materials for the Avanten courts would be sourced in Australia but would use the new European technology. "It's like Colonel Sanders' 11 secret herbs and spices, but it seems to be all in the mixture and texture of the (four) different levels," Johnston said. Some do not need convincing about clay. Tim Wood, manager of the University of Western Australia's SportsPark in Perth, said the centre originally had two clay courts but now has 14 because of demand. "Initially it was a niche market but it's growing into actual tournaments on clay courts," Wood said. "Clay helps your ability to think about point construction. And because the points last longer it brings in your fitness and footwork. "It's brought back a renewed interest in the game." Hopefully it will bring forward a few more Lleyton Hewitts and Alicia Moliks.