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An education on clay courts and Har-Tru in the United States

Matt Zemek



Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

You learn something every day — hopefully, at least. I learned something about why there aren’t more clay courts in the United States when I talked to Jonathan Levine, the tournament director of the new Arizona Tennis Classic, the $125K ATP Challenger Tour event which makes its debut on March 11 at the Phoenix Country Club in Phoenix, Arizona.

I have gone on record as saying that when Miami changed its tennis venue (a change which occurs this year with the new setup at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens), it should have used Har-Tru green clay. I stand by that assertion partly because of what Levine told me.

My education in the construction and proliferation of clay courts in the United States was developed not by anything I learned about tennis in Florida, but about tennis out here in the Southwestern United States, the part of the world where I was born and now live with my mother. I have wondered why Phoenix — or Albuquerque, New Mexico — wouldn’t want to establish a clay-court tournament and appeal to Latinos who come from a clay-centric tennis culture.

When I talked to Levine about clay tennis in the Southwest, I asked him about what I felt was a missed marketing opportunity to cater to a growing demographic market in the United States.

It wasn’t — and isn’t — a matter of economics, Levine told me. Clay courts exist or don’t exist in various parts of the United States for other reasons.

“The conversation about surfaces, there’s a lot of talk that maybe the development of a player’s game is better suited to clay – the foundation of the groundstrokes. I think you have found when you look at Federer, Nadal and Murray, there is something to be said for that,” Levine said. He made the point that player development in the United States is the more urgent reason to want to create more clay-court opportunities for players.

Levine then mentioned another reason you don’t see many clay courts in the Southwest, or have a clay-court tournament of note in the Pacific or Mountain time zones of the United States:

“Maybe there could be more clay courts in the United States, but in Phoenix, it is too dry,” Levine said. “You only see them in the South (United States) where you have the humidity.”

Levine explained that in weather which is insufficiently moist, the consistency of the clay court doesn’t settle and create a playing surface which would meet professional-tour standards.

I thought I knew more about clay courts in the United States than I actually did. I am willing to acknowledge that I received an education from Jon Levine, the director of the Arizona Tennis Classic.

Miami, you still missed the boat. Phoenix, okay: I concede that I placed extreme expectations on you as a clay-court tennis city. My bad.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.