From the historical Wimbledon grass to more modern concrete courts to legendary Roland-Garros’ clay, today we focus on these different tennis court surfaces.
It’s common knowledge that the tennis court surfaces highly influence the bounce of a tennis ball. The international tennis federation (IFT) regulates and classifies these different tennis court surfaces by their theoretical speed.
What are the pros and cons of each tennis surfaces? What adjustments to your game do you need to make? In this article, I will try to tackle every concern and question you may have about the subject.
Clay Courts - The Most Prestigious Type of Tennis Surface
Found mostly in Europe and South-America, clay tennis courts are the dream surface for baseline players. The French Open has been dominated by such players, especially in the open era. One may wonder, why is that exactly? Let’s dig into the characteristics of this surface.
First of all, clay courts are the most sensitive to spins and the slowest of all. This tennis court surface requires specific training, physical condition, and skillset.
Players are less prone to joint injuries because of the softness of the surface and the ability to slide.
If you want to be successful on clay courts, patience and a strategic mind will go a long way in terms of game. It would be best to learn how to build your points and avoid unforced errors at all costs.
This surface has seen the birth of absolutely dominant players such as Rafael Nadal, also known as the “King of Clay”. His 11 titles in Roland Garros and 57 titles on clay courts are an all-time record.
“We are changing more and more tournaments from clay to hard surfaces but the hard surface is more aggressive so there are more and more injuries”
Clay courts allow players to slide, which makes them more mobile and adds flexibility to their movement. Defensive players and those who like to play from the baseline are often the ones that strive on clay courts.
One of the many advantages to building clay courts is that it’s an eco-friendly surface. Its non-toxic composition is made of crushed bricks and mineral aggregates.
From a practical point of view, ball impacts leave a mark on this surface, which is a great advantage when reviewing whether a ball was out.
Best clay court players of all time
- Point construction: Clay courts are the best surface to learn how to construct a point properly.
- Durability: The longest-lasting of the tennis court surfaces.
- Improving: The best surface to improve as a tennis player.
- Fewer injuries: Lowest impact on the body
- Fewer mistakes: Make the judge’s job easier thanks to the marks left by the ball.
- Price: Clay courts are cheaper to construct
- High maintenance: Requires a lot of brushing, watering, and rolling.
- Weather condition: Huge weather impact
- Defensive playstyle: Not ideal for offensive players as the balls bounce slow and high
Even though big serves lose their advantage and this surface is quite forgiving, some players, notoriously known as offensive, have won the French Grand Slam tournament. The ones who were able to do so have had to adapt their game style and strategy.
So remember, if you want to be a complete player, clay courts are where you should practice. However, the ability to adapt to each surface is what separates the good from the great.
Grass Courts - Where Serve And Volley Reigns Supreme
For you to understand how important a tennis court surface can be, grass courts are the perfect example.
You see, if a ball travels at 100Mph before it hits the ground, a bounce on a clay surface will reduce its speed to 78Mph.
Can you guess what the impact would be on grass courts?
From 100Mph, the ball will travel at 92Mph after bouncing on the grass. That’s a 14Mph difference for a strong forehand. Can you imagine the difference it would make on a 150Mph John Isner serve?
Now we know that grass is a fast surface, and players know how to adjust their game accordingly. You need to learn the differences each surface will make on the rebound heights, the trajectories, the spins, and the overall game plan.
Grass is the historically prominent surface. That’s where tennis was born and initially played. This surface favors offensive players with big serves and a strong net game.
Nowadays, the grass season is quite short on the pro tour. It only lasts 4 weeks with Wimbledon as the main event. This tournament gave birth to quite a lot of champions who could master the low bounce and the quickness of grass balls.
Best grass court players of all time
- High-quality tennis: Allows fast and spectacular points
- Less tiring: Physically forgiving surface
- Service: A strong serve can be a powerful ally here
- Fewer injuries: Soft on the joints
- Expensiveness: Not cheap to build and maintain
- Weather condition: Wet areas will decrease the quality of the ball-bounce
- Slippery when wet: Can be slippery if not completely dry
Playing on grass courts is quite rare for amateur players, however, if you have an upcoming tournament on this surface, try to get as much practice on this surface beforehand.
If I had to name just one thing for you to become a better player on grass, it would be this: Stay low and bend your knees A LOT more than usual.
Hard Courts - Fast-Paced Tennis Surface
Did you know that the US Open used to be played on clay courts? Much like the Australian Open who was played on grass until 1988, the US Open became a hard court tournament in 1978.
Neither fast nor slow, this intermediary surface presents very few disadvantages. The main one resides in the fact that it’s a very demanding surface for player’s articulations. Many players do get injured playing on hard courts. These injuries are caused by the lack of flexibility and softness of this surface.
Between grass and clay in terms of speed, hard courts come in different types. The material used in the construction of hard courts in the United States is called Decoturf and is usually green or blue. Meanwhile, in Australia, they use a material called Plexicushion, which is a bit slower.
Hard courts are cost-efficient as they are cheaper to build and require close to no maintenance. Acrylic-topped, this surface offers the most consistent ball bounce of all the outdoor tennis courts.
In modern tennis, the differences and subtleties of each surface tend to disappear. Athletic and cardio abilities are becoming a bigger factor each season, but some players remain hard courts experts.
Best hard court players of all time
- Low-maintenance: Hard courts are easy and cheap to maintain
- Longevity: It is a lasting tennis court surface
- Standard: Hard courts are a rather neutral surface that fits all playing styles
- Perfect bounce: No impact on ball trajectory
- Hard on the body: Strength and stamina highly recommended
- Hard surface: Hard courts are not suited to older players
Being the most common surface on the professional tennis tour, hard courts are essential to master for any aspiring pro player. Physical stamina and resistance coupled with a good serve can go a long way there, so make sure you adapt your practice sessions accordingly.
Carpet Courts - A Dead Surface?
Carpet courts are mainly found indoors. This surface consists of a rubber court cover and is essentially used for practice.
Almost never used on the professional circuit, carpet courts are made of artificial turf mixed with sand. There are however some tournaments still being held on carpet courts such as the Tournoi de Québec.
This surface is rather fast and quite popular in Asia, they are the closest thing there is to grass and are a good surface to practice on.
- Speed: Faster than hard courts
- Cheap: Inexpensive to build
- Hands-free: Requires close to no maintenance
- Ball-bounce: Very low ball-bounce
- Higher risk of injury: Can be hard on the knees
Carpet courts are great for fast-paced training, but they can be quite dangerous for your joints. I suggest that you warm-up properly before each session to lower the risk of injury.
Tennis Surfaces Impact On The Bounce
Different Tennis Court Surfaces - Frequently Asked Questions
Which tennis court surface is fastest?
Grass courts. Low bounce, high speed in a nutshell.
What are tennis hard courts made of?
Hard courts are made of concrete, topped with a synthetic and or acrylic layer.
What are the 4 types of tennis courts?
Grass, Clay, Carpet, and Hard courts (seriously guys, we just covered this).
Which tennis court surface is the best?
In the end, it all comes down to personal preferences, but clay is often regarded as the best surface. The reason behind this is that it builds the most complete players.
What is the hardest surface to play tennis on?
Once again, I will have to say clay courts here. Points need to be built strategically, it’s tough to hit a direct winner, and long rallies are quite common. You need a good combination of athletic abilities, tennis IQ, and skills.
To become a complete tennis player, you need to master each tennis court surfaces this beautiful game can be played on.
These four tennis surfaces we just covered all have pros and cons and can all be useful for improving a particular aspect of your game.
I sincerely hope that this article helped clarify the differences between these types of tennis courts.
What is your favorite surface to play on? Let me know in the comments below.