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Tennis Surfaces and Their Game Play

Tennis Grass Court Tennis Grass Court

In a professional tennis player's career, it's all about the Grand Slam tournaments: The Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. The Australian Open and the US Open are played on hard courts, while the French is played on clay, and Wimbledon on grass. Thus, if a pro wants to win one of the slams, perhaps, his best chance is learning how to master tennis on hard court since two of the four slams are played on this surface. However, even a non-pro tennis player would do well to know by heart the differences between the tennis surfaces as they definitely affect how the game should be played.

Tennis on Hard Court

Tennis Hard CourtTennis on hard court is among the fastest tennis out there. Tennis hard courts consist of synthetic or acrylic layers placed above a concrete or asphalt base. These bases, which vary in color, have a tendency to play quickly because very little energy is absorbed by the surface. Furthermore, the ball tends to bounce high when playing tennis on hard court, thus allowing players to utilize many types of spin in the course of play. However, because the hard court is the court where the ball bounces most consistently and predictably, it is also the surface of choice for beginners.

This is because on hard courts, a player can try different types of shots including spins and lobs. The downside to playing tennis on a hard court, though, is that it is tough on the knees and ankles, thus making it the surface that is most prone to injury resulting from wear and tear from constant play. Former World Nr.1 player and a multiple Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal was often forced to limit his schedule on hard courts because of knee injury problems on the surface.

Nevertheless, it is still the most common type of surface used for tennis courts around the world. As a result, hitting flat balls, which are the most favored types of shots on hard courts because of their speed, are the ones most widely taught by tennis coaches and mastered by tennis players around the world. This trend is dictated, moreover, by the quick playing style on the surface, the speed of which is usually determined by the speed of the tennis court. This, in turn, is determined by how much sand is placed in the synthetic or acrylic layer that is used over the asphalt base. Using more sand will result in a slower bounce because more friction is created. However, despite the speed of the hard court, grass is still the fastest tennis surface, at least on paper.

Tennis on Grass Court

Grass courts are made of rye grass, but the surface still depends on the composition of the grass. The higher the percentage of rye grass is used, the slower the court, which is the reason why Wimbledon, which uses 100 percent rye grass, is slower than other grass courts. There are, however, fewer and fewer grass courts available, despite it being the most traditional of the tennis surfaces. This is because of the high maintenance cost of grass courts. The grass must be watered and mowed often, and there may be a need to plant new grass on the surface if patches of holes develop.

Furthermore, in terms of play, because grass courts tend to be slippery, the ball often skids, bounces low, and retains most of its speed, almost never bouncing above a player's waist. This same slipperiness is also the reason why some say it is dangerous to play on a grass court; players may lose their footing on the surface, possibly causing serious injuries. This was particularly evident at Wimbledon 2013, where a greater than usual number of players slipped and were injured.

Moreover, grass courts have a higher rate of bad bounces than other courts. To compensate for this, players have to move faster to reach the ball quickly so that they can have enough time to make adjustments based on how the ball bounces, thus again, increasing the chances for players to suffer injuries. Nonetheless, as a consequence of the quick speed of the ball on the court, as well as the ball's awkward bounces, points on grass are much shorten than on other tennis surfaces. Thus, speed and power, most especially on the serve, are the most important qualities that a player must have to attain success on the surface.

Tennis on Clay Court

In contrast to hard courts and grass courts, clay courts are the slowest among the major types of tennis court surfaces. Clay courts are made of crushed shale, stone or brick, and the composition of the clay used has a big effect on the way a court looks (red, green, maroon, grey, and most recently, blue), but more importantly, the way that the court plays.

In general, though, clay courts are considered slow since a ball will bounce relatively higher and more slowly on a clay court, thus making it much more difficult for a player to hit unreturnable shots. As a consequence, points on a clay court are usually longer since it is much more difficult to hit outright winners on this surface. Thus, in terms of play, consistent baseliners (players who stay in the area around the baseline most of the time) and players who have a strong defensive game, enjoy the most success on clay courts.

To achieve such success, clay court players use lots of topspin to throw their opponents off of their games. Related to this is the playing movement on clay courts, which is very different from the playing movement on the two other surfaces. Playing tennis on clay court often involves being able to slide to the ball as the player makes the stroke during a point, certainly very different from running and stopping, which is done on hard and grass courts. Lastly, clay courts are unique in that the ball bounce leaves a mark on the surface, and this mark can be used to determine whether or not the shot was in.

The Importance of Tennis Surfaces

Certainly, the surface of the tennis court should have a huge impact on the type of play that should be employed by a player. However, it is quite difficult to always control the type of surface one plays on. For this reason, perhaps the best way that a tennis player can achieve consistent success is by improving all facets of his game, thus enabling him to adjust his game, depending on the type of surface he will play on. That way, a tennis player can always be ready.

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