What makes the Charleston Open so unique?

The Volvo Car Open held at Charleston is a WTA Premier event on the WTA calendar. This clay court event is played outdoors on green clay. The “green” before clay raises the eyebrows of many. However, back in the 70s, this was one of the most reputed turfs on the circuit alongside hard, grass, carpet and wood.

Primarily, the green color of the Charleston courts come because of the source from which it is crushed. The usual red clay seen in Europe is made after crushing brick, whereas the green clay is made by crushing metabasalt. The metabasalt contains the mineral “epidote,” which gives the clay its signature green color. Green clay was a common sight for tennis fans at the US Open back when it was held in Forrest Hills during 1975-77. Since 2011, Charleston is the only venue on the ATP and WTA Tour combined which hosts an event on green clay. On the ATP Challenger circuit, the Milex Open, Savannah Challenger and Sarasota Open are held on green clay courts.

HarTru is currently the leading manufacturer of green clay. This surface is more prominent in the southern and eastern parts of the United States. In fact, in Florida, the number of HarTru surfaces are more in number compared to hard courts.

“It’s a bit of a happy medium for European clay court specialists and Americans that love hard courts. It’s secure footing, but you can still slide. This surface is a good transitional surface. It’s not red clay, but it’s easy to practice on for the players who are used to it. It’s a surface that is a fairly good equalizer. You never know who’s going to win. It lends itself to all styles of play more than any other surface.” – Pat Hanssen, General Manager of HarTru

Hanssen probably summed up the biggest advantages of green clay in those lines. Based on its key characteristic of being able to slide despite being a faster court than the red clay gives it the most apt position in the calendar. Played after the sunshine double events, the 56 ladies entering the Charleston Premier probably get the most physically suitable transition from hard courts to clay courts. Many pundits of the game had earlier vouched in their opinions for Miami to be played on green clay. However, the relocation of the Miami Open to its new venue at the Hard Rock stadium has folded the turf change plans for the time being.

The green turf of Charleston has proven to be quite challenging for the ladies ever since it turned into a Premier event. Many are still perplexed as to why we don’t have more tournaments played on green clay. But the generalized slowing down of courts (even hard courts) puts the green clay out of question for most events since the play is far more slower on the red dirt. This keeps Charleston as the flag bearer of the green clay and considering its rich past, it is here to stay for years to come.

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