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Welcome to the Dance
Australians traditionally don’t pay much attention to clay court tennis, although this attitude changed somewhat in 2019, when Queensland’s Ash Barty won the French Open on the red clay of Roland Garros. The magic of clay had also eluded Paul McNamee until he played in Paris as an 18-year-old. He says, of that experience: “My life changed forever.”
Welcome to the Dance is his ode to clay court tennis, what he describes as his “soul food”. It describes his journey as he sought to unravel the complexities of clay—from that first experience, a lesson learnt at the hands of 41-year-old Bolivian Pancho Gorostiaga, to the day he triumphed over John McEnroe on the centre court of Roland Garros at the 1980 French Open.
“Clay is the ultimate surface, asking all manners of questions in a multitude of ways. Confounding and frustrating, invoking anger or dismissiveness…as it probes and tests the areas of your game, and your psyche that you would love to keep hidden. I have been blessed to have been able to go on that journey, experiencing the joy I still feel whenever I set foot on clay—the smell of a freshly watered court, the swish of the slide, the plop of a gentle drop shot, the use of angles or the element of surprise and ah, the sensory overload as you make a tennis ball dance.” Welcome to the Dance is not just McNamee’s journey to understanding the nuances of clay, but it shows how to appreciate this holistic surface, to love its personality. Understanding clay is the gateway to improving your tennis, no matter what level you may be, or on what court you play.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul McNamee is a former professional tennis player who became a devotee of the magic of clay. In tennis parlance, he describes it as his ‘soul food’. His career post-tennis led him to oversee 46 major events around the world, including the Australian Open. He is a strong believer that who you are comes from within. His autobiography Game Changer was published by Text Media in 2013.