Before the onslaught of slower tennis courts, many had complained about the prevalence of unadulterated power tennis - powerful serving, court-pounding groundstrokes, and accurate volleying - that greatly shortens points, and in turn, the length of tennis matches.
Three important developments in tennis methodology and technology brought about this powerful type of play:
In the 1970's, players began to use the two-handed backhand, which resulted in players hitting as powerfully from both sides. Previously, the forehand used to clearly be the more powerful shot for most players. This two-handed backhand allowed players like Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, and Chris Evert to attain great success, resulting in tennis to be taught this way to youngsters learning the game.
Then, in the late 70's oversized rackets were introduced, allowing Pam Shriver, a 16-year-old amateur at that time, to reach the finals of the 1978 US Open. Her 110-square-inch racket, which allowed her to hit with more power than other players, was revolutionary at that time as racquets in those days were no larger than 70 square inches.
Then came the powerful rackets and synthetic strings, which replaced the classic wooden racket stringed with natural gut, certainly allowing players to hit the ball with even more velocity.
The power game thus greatly increased the speed at which balls were played, ending points and matches much more quickly than they used to.
However, the widespread use of power tennis had many fans complaining that the tennis had gotten boring since it no longer required strategy, just pure strength, to attain success. Perhaps, tournament directors were likewise unhappy with the faster matches since they gave sponsors less exposure time for their products.
Tennis Courts Getting Slower
Thus, slower courts were introduced, lengthening points and playing time. This has pleased mileage-hungry sponsors, as well as most tennis fans, who enjoy watching strategies unfold on the court. Furthermore, instead of the quick play that benefited serve-and-volleyers, slower courts have favored the counterpunching style of play since outright winners became harder to hit, allowing an excellent retriever to get almost any ball back in play.
Today's tennis is thus much more about consistency than raw power, and this development has made counterpunching and baseline hitting the most popular ways to play at the top level, while ushering in the death of serve-and-volleying.
As previously mentioned, most tennis fans are happy with slower courts, but not everyone is cheering the change. There are still those fans and players who want to see serve-and-volleying make a comeback. One of the proponents of going back to faster courts is Roger Federer, who has been forced to abandon his favored serve-and-volleying type of play because of the slowness of today's courts.
However, in professional tennis, like it is in most other things, majority wins, and at the moment, slower courts and longer playing times seem to be the direction tennis is headed.