I usually manage to play tennis once a week on Saturday mornings.
I’m lucky in that I have 8 courts about 5 minutes walk from my house.
But they are all the same surface, the hard (macadam) courts.
I’ve never tried playing on any other type of surface, so I was curious with this blog post to explore all the types of tennis court surfaces and the differences between them.
I know the type of material affects the way the ball bounces after hitting the court.
For example, with a grass court, the ball retains most of its speed, where as clay courts reduce the speed of the ball.
Four Primary Types of Tennis Court Surfaces
There are four types of surfaces for tennis courts; clay, grass, hard court, and carpet.
The history of tennis is connected to an early version of handball that was primarily played indoors. However, in the late 1800s, the modern variation of tennis was established as lawn tennis.
The first modern tennis courts were technically grass courts as they were played on the croquet lawns.
By the early 1900s, tennis players were also playing on clay courts, which were originally called hard courts.
What Are Tennis Courts Made of?
A variety of surfaces are used for tennis courts, from grass to acrylic materials.
These courts may be created indoors or outdoors.
The type of tennis court impacts the way the ball bounces off the court and the speed of the ball. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) classifies these surfaces based on the pace.
A category one court is the slowest surface while a category five court provides the fastest playing surface.
Category one courts are often clay courts and are often made from crushed brick or stone. The clay surface can slow the ball, reducing the benefits of powerful serves.
Grass courts produce the opposite effect by providing more bounce and faster speeds. These courts favor players with big serves.
Grass Courts Are the Fastest Courts
Grass courts are comprised of various grasses grown on hard, compressed soil. Before growing the grass, the soil needs to be packed and rolled to provide a suitable base for the court.
The grass tends to be slippery, allowing the ball to retain most of its velocity after hitting the court.
As the balls often skid and have a low bounce, players need to move more quickly compared to other tennis court surfaces. The playing style is quicker and usually favors the serve-and-volley approach.
The condition of the court also impacts the game. The health and length of the grass may change the bounce and skid of the ball.
Grass is the original surface for tennis courts and the cheapest to create. However, grass court maintenance is costly and time-consuming.
The original Grand Slam tennis tournaments were played on grass courts. The only major tournament that still uses a grass court is Wimbledon, which is also the oldest tennis tournament.
What are the benefits of a clay tennis court?
The French Open started using clay courts in 1891. It remains a popular option in continental Europe and Latin America.
The clay material is typically comprised of various crushed aggregates including stones, shale, and brick. These clay courts tend to be cheap to construct and costly to maintain.
The surface needs to be rolled to keep it flat.
While grass courts help the ball retain its speed, clay courts slow the ball down. Players can also get more bounce compared to other playing surfaces.
With a clay court, there is less benefit for big serves. Clay courts favor players that play from the baseline and serve groundstrokes.
There are two main varieties of clay courts, red and green.
Red clay courts are constructed from crushed brick. The top layer may include looser particles to allow better drainage.
Green clay courts are comprised of crushed metabasaltic materials. This material helps create a slightly firmer surface, which helps speed up the play compared to a traditional clay court.
What Materials Are Used to Make Hard Courts?
Hard courts were originally clay courts as they were hard compared to the grass courts. Modern hard courts are commonly made from concrete or asphalt.
This material provides the foundation for the tennis court, which is then covered with a layer of synthetic material.
These tennis courts favor different types of playing styles.
Some hard courts may offer faster or slower speeds. However, they are typically faster compared to clay courts and slower than grass courts.
Hard courts have been used for the US Open and Australian Open for several decades. They are also often found at parks and other public tennis facilities.
Hard courts tend to provide inexpensive options for public tennis courts. They also require less maintenance compared to the other playing surfaces.
What Are Carpet Tennis Courts?
Carpet courts are often used for temporary courts. Any removable tennis court covering is considered a carpet court.
Two of the most common materials for carpet courts include nylon and rubber. They are typically sold in sheets or rolls and intended for indoor courts.
Outdoor carpet courts are often comprised of artificial turf filled with sand.
As these courts are made from a variety of materials and used on different surfaces, they offer varying levels of bounce and speed. However, they are typically fast with a low bounce.
Very few professional tennis events use carpet courts. In 2009, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) decided to stop using carpet courts in professional tournaments.
They wanted to standardize the use of hard courts and reduce the risk of injury to players.
What Is the Difference Between Indoor and Outdoor Courts?
Any of the surfaces discussed may be used indoors or outdoors, including grass courts. However, hard courts are the most commonly used type of indoor tennis court.
When clay courts are installed indoors, they may have a watering system installed underneath the clay surface. There are also several facilities that have indoor grass courts with roofs that open and close.
With indoor courts, players do not need to deal with the same variables that affect play on an outdoor court. The courts are shielded from the outdoors, eliminating wind and rain while providing a controlled temperature.
What surface do you prefer playing on?
For me, I would love to try playing on grass as I’m stronger with my volleys than ground strokes.
Clay would be interesting to try and it would encourage longer rallies.
Maybe I could give it a go one day?
But hard courts seem to be a nice compromise which suit different playing styles.
At the moment, this is all I have access to, and I enjoy playing on it.