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Tennis Surfaces Explained

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

When talking about Tennis, one specific thing that comes into the mind is the surface. Each surface has its unique qualities and when a particular player’s game style goes in sync with those qualities of the surface, he becomes the GOAT on that surface. If you look at the present generation tennis players Nadal knows for the clay courts, Federer for the Grass and Djokovic for the Hard courts. Though Carpet court was in use in professional tournaments till 2009, because of ATP’s decision to end the Carpet court to prevent the injuries, we are not focusing here. So, here is a brief article on different surfaces in Tennis and their characteristics which affect the playing style of the game.

Clay Courts

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Clay courts are one of the two traditional tennis surfaces along with grass courts. These courts are more commonly seen in Europe and Latin America. Clay courts are relatively slower than other courts. The ball bounces relatively high and when it contacts the surface (which is soil) it loses much of its initial speed making it easy for the defensive and baseline players. Clay courts players prefer topspin to control the rally. Rafael Nadal's average topspin is 3200 rpm which is highest when compared to other players. Some of the players who excelled in clay courts are Rafael Nadal, Bjorn Borg, Chris evert, Thomas muster, Gustavo Kuerten, etc.

Interesting fact: Madrid open 2012 was the only tournament that was organized on Blue clay instead of Red clay. The main motive behind this was the better visuality, especially for Television viewers. The change was heavily criticized and faced the boycotts threat from Nadal and Djokovic (who both lost on the blue surface) led to switch back to red clay in the next season. Roger Federer eventually won lifted the trophy by defeating Tomas Berdych.

Hard Courts

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Hard courts are made of rigid materials like asphalt or concrete and covered with acrylic material to seal the surface. Usually, hard courts vary in speed depending on the quantity of sand used. Generally, hard courts are faster than clay courts and slower than grass courts. Since there is little energy absorption when the ball contacts the surface, the ball tends to bounce high without losing much of its speed. Hard courts are considered as the Neutral courts because of its speed and bounce characteristics when compared to other surfaces. Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors are some of the best players in hard courts.

Interesting fact: US open is the only Grand slam which has been played on all three surfaces. It was played on grass from 1881 to 1974, clay from 1975 to 1977 and hard courts from 1978 till present.

Grass Courts

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Grass courts are more traditional than other courts and are frequently used courts until the 1970s. Three out of four grand slams are used to be played on grass courts till the 1970s. Because of its high maintenance cost, most of the tournaments have been switched to hard courts. At present, Grass courts are common only in Britain. Because grass tends to be slippery, the ball bounces low while losing very little of its speed, rarely rising above the knee height making Grass courts as the fastest courts among all. Bounces depend on how healthy the grass is, how recently it has been mowed, and the wear and tear of recent play As the ball move faster, players must reach the ball quickly and rallies are comparatively smaller than others which favors serve and volley players. Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Williams Sisters, Martina Navratilova have mastered the grass surface.

Interesting fact: The longest tennis match ever recorded was played on Grass surface. Wimbledon 2010 became the stage which was played between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. The match spanned over three days and 11 hours with Isner coming out on top with a score of 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7–9), 7–6(7–3), 70–68.


About the Author

The post is written by Ganadeep. Ganadeep is graduate from IIM Visakhapatnam and a avid tennis follower and ardent fan of Roger Federer. Apart from tennis, he loves to read books in his free times

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