Every time you step onto a tennis court, the racquets will all adhere to International Tennis Federation (ITF) regulations, the balls will be the same, and the net will be the same height off the ground. The line markings won’t change, either.
However, the surface you’re playing on could be dramatically different. There are as many as nine different surfaces used in tennis, but three are the most common. Asphalt, or hard court, is the most widely used surface for recreational courts.
Clay and grass courts are also common, especially at tennis clubs. Some tennis courts use an artificial type of clay or turf as well. While far less common, there are courts made of carpet, concrete, or acrylic materials. Each one presents different challenges for players to consider.
Here is how the difference between asphalt, clay and grass surfaces in tennis can change your game approach.
Any court other than clay, grass, or carpet would be labeled a hard court. This would include acrylic materials. The most common hard court material is asphalt. Concrete tennis courts are less common, mainly because of the higher cost of concrete.
Both the US Open and the Australian Open are played on hard courts. Hard courts are deemed fast surfaces. Both asphalt and concrete tennis courts have a top coating. This top coating can dictate the amount of ball action, but will not affect the ball as much as clay or grass.
Players with powerful serves and forehands benefit from the faster surface characteristics. Ball action and bounce usually keep rallies short. One reason for the prevalence of hard courts for recreational purposes is the simplicity of maintenance.
Clay courts produce almost the exact opposite when it comes to ball speed. Consequently, clay tennis court surfaces are often referred to as slow courts. In spite of being labeled as hard courts, clay surfaces actually produce a slightly higher ball bounce than asphalt or concrete.
The ball hangs slightly longer as well, so it is more difficult to hit a shot that is difficult to track down and return. There are more bad bounces on clay tennis courts. Even though the ball bounces higher in most circumstances, clay is easier on players than a hard court surface.
The French Open is played on clay tennis courts at Roland Garros in Paris, France. Clay courts are most common across Europe and in South America. Most clay tennis courts are not actually clay. Crushed shale, stone or bricks are used instead. Clay courts also require by far the most maintenance and attention.
Contrary to what you might believe, grass courts are actually the fastest of all tennis court surfaces. The reason grass courts are so fast is that the ball skids more instead of just bouncing. Once the most common surface used for tennis courts, the high cost of maintenance has seen a drop in the number of grass surfaces around the world.
The most famous grass courts are in England, home of The Championships, Wimbledon. One of professional tennis’s four Grand Slam events, the tournament is played at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, England.
The speed of the bounce and the reduced height make for quicker rallies. Grass is the most forgiving surface on player’s bodies. The conditions on grass courts will change because of wear as a tournament plays through multiple rounds. The accuracy of serves and volley skills are important when playing on grass tennis courts.
These three surfaces make up the majority of the tennis courts around the world. Each is used in one or more of the four ITF Grand Slam tournaments. There are less noteworthy tournaments played on these surfaces as well, which are usually events leading up to the Grand Slam.
Hard courts are the most common because of reduced costs and easier maintenance. Once the standard for all tennis courts, grass courts are rare because of the intense maintenance required. Clay courts are more common in places like Europe and South America.
Even though they have the same dimensions and rules of play, each surface has its own unique characteristics.