|ESPN.com: French Open 2006||[Print without images]|
|Clay is the game's slowest and trickiest surface.|
Translated into real numbers, the simulation shows that a neutral-spin, 120 mph serve on clay (which absorbs a serve's power) takes .077 seconds longer to reach the baseline than a serve hit on acrylic, and .101 seconds longer than one hit on grass. Players are instinctively aware of this, Miller says, so they "don't waste energy trying to kill the ball." In fact, the average speed for the 20 top servers at the French (134 mph) is 4 mph slower than at Flushing Meadow and Wimbledon.
Serves on clay also bounce higher than on other surfaces. The same 120 mph serve rebounds 9.84 inches higher on clay than on acrylic, and 17.32 inches higher than on grass. Slower pace and extra bounce give receivers more time to set up, which results in fewer aces. In 2005, 1,435 aces were hit at Roland Garros, versus 1,648 at the U.S. Open and 2,080 at Wimbledon.
So how does this explain the record of U.S. men in France? Simple: Americans generally depend on big serves and short rallies, but clay rewards patient, well-conditioned players such as defending champ Rafael Nadal. So it's no surprise that U.S. women, who don't rely as much on power, have historically fared better than their male counterparts. And it's even less of a shock that eight of the past nine men to win the French are from countries that love their siestas.