Differences Between Types of Tennis Court Surfaces
From the All England Club to your neighborhood high school, tennis courts come in a variety of surfaces. Professional Grand Slam tournaments -- Wimbledon, the US Open, the Australian Open and the French Open -- feature grass, hardcourt and clay surfaces. While the dimensions of each court remain consistent between surfaces, playing styles and ball speed do not.
The US and Australian Grand Slam tournaments feature hardcourt surfaces. Typically constructed from plastic or cement, this "fast" surface results in short rallies that favor hard serves, although many professionals consider hardcourt the most democratic of surfaces in terms of playing style. The amount of sand in the topcoat and the type of substrate underneath affect ball speed, and its gripping, sticky surface can increase the likelihood of player injury.
The courts at the All England Tennis Club -- the host of Wimbledon and perhaps the best known professional Grand Slam tennis tournament -- feature grass. Similar in complexion to the golf putting green, the grass surface moves the ball the fastest of every Grand Slam surface because it lets the ball slide. Grass surfaces favor serve-and-volley players who rush the net following serve to take advantage of an opponent's slower foot speed following return. Constant mowing and frequent watering make grass courts expensive to maintain; as a result, they are unusual.
The French Open features red clay courts. Comprised of crushed natural materials such as shale or brick, the clay court moves the ball the slowest of all surfaces. Baseline players who shoot with consistency and use heavy spin appreciate the longer points and higher bounces that clay courts accommodate. "American" clay courts -- commonly called Har-Tru -- move the ball more quickly than the traditional red clay courts, but still permit slower volleys.
While every Grand Slam tournament is held outdoors, many players enjoy indoor tennis. Indoor tennis facilities most commonly use carpet surfaces -- such as rubber -- and these surfaces vary greatly in terms of texture and material. Indoor courts also use suspended surfaces, which appear outdoors as well. The suspended surface helps players avoid knee and ankle stress because of its shock-absorbing qualities, and tennis professionals regard it as a medium-speed surface. Finally, some indoor tennis surfaces use wood. Faster even than grass, wood is the most unusual of all surfaces.
Lisa Bigelow is an independent writer with prior professional experience in the finance and fitness industries. She also writes a well-regarded political commentary column published in Fairfield, New Haven and Westchester counties in the New York City metro area.