If you follow pro tennis in the slightest, or if you’ve ever experimented with different tennis court surfaces, you know that the surface affects one’s game. This is why some tennis pros rake in tournament titles on a particular court surface but rarely make it to the finals when playing atop other materials.
The surface of a tennis court affects how balls bounce and also players’ movements during a match. Because court surface is such a major factor in a player’s performance, there is a large selection of surface materials from which to choose when constructing tennis courts. Weather is also taken into consideration when deciding what surface is the best choice. Clay courts were originally composed of crushed bricks, but today crushed shale and stone are also utilized. Over time, manmade, synthetic materials have become available when building court surfaces (cushioned coatings, textiles, rubberized shock pads, polymer coatings, etc.). Today, the French Open is the only Grand Slam Tournament to use clay courts.
Although there are a prolific number of materials to craft a court surface, we’re only going to focus on the four most common surfaces you’re most likely to encounter as a recreational player. (You would most likely only need to learn different variations of the four main categories if you were reaching near pro status or planning on constructing your own courts.)
Pros: Easier on knee joints; favorable for strong servers because the ball is harder to return due to skidding and bouncing poorly; advantageous for powerful players that hit the ball with great speed.
Cons: If you live in a region that receives large amounts of rain, this surface could be difficult because the grass becomes slippery when wet and balls bounce poorly; defensive players are at a disadvantage because balls are generally more difficult to return on this surface.
Pros: Balls bounce higher and slower, which is favorable for defensive and baseliner players; the ball leaves an impression on the clay when it bounces, which can help judges in making accurate calls.
Cons: Typically slower than other surfaces; balls bounce higher and slower, so more difficult for offensive players to hit a shot that can’t be returned; material tends to retain water, which is a disadvantage for rain-prone regions.
Pros: Ball moves more quickly than on clay but slower than on grass, so considered the most “neutral” court surface.
Cons: Paint used on courts affects the spin and bounce of the ball (magnifies topspin); depending on what synthetic material is used, ball speed can vary greatly.
Indoor Carpet Courts
“Carpet” refers to most any form of removable surface material used on a court. Thick rubber-backed synthetic covering that can be rolled up are commonly used in indoor arenas. However, the ATP discontinued use of the court material in 2009, which aren’t used in professional facilities. The courts are fast, and tennis balls typically have a low bounce.