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Tennis Court Surfaces: Why They're Important
There are a wide variety of surfaces that tennis courts are made of. This article takes a look at the reasons matches are played differently based on the type of surface they are contested on.
The world's elite tennis players continue to battle on the hard courts at the 2020 U.S. Open. It's their talent and hard work that has carried them there, and, ultimately, determines the results. But as with any tennis tournament, the court surface also plays a factor.
Let's examine the three types of courts most commonly used on the pro circuit, and the impact they have on players:
Grass: It plays the fastest of the surfaces primarily used in pro tennis. That means points tend to be shorter and matches are quicker. The ball typically bounces low on grass. On a worn grass court, it can be more difficult to anticipate the direction that the ball will travel. Players like Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, who have excellent serves and the ability to react quickly and make adjustments during volleys, have thrived on grass.
According to Federer, "It's much harder to defend on grass time and time again than on any other surface."
In the late 18th century, grass was used for the first time in variations of the modern game of tennis. The grass surface eventually became quite popular. Most professional tennis tournaments, including the U.S. Open, Australian Open, and Wimbledon, were held on grass through the early 1970s. Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam event currently played on grass.
Clay: Volleys are more drawn out and deliberate on clay, the slowest of the main surfaces. Some players who struggle on faster courts are able to find success on clay. Rafael Nadal is among the tennis stars with a knack for playing on clay. While he has won other Grand Slam titles as well, Nadal has been especially dominant at the French Open, the lone major featuring clay courts.
The world's most recognizable clay courts are at Roland Garros, home of the French Open. Those courts were built with crushed red bricks. The clay surface is rarely used for tennis courts in the United States, but it is common in Europe and South America.
Hard Court: The most frequently used playing surface in modern tennis falls between grass and clay on the speed spectrum. Due to the hard, flat surface, the path of the ball is fairly predictable. Both the U.S. Open and Australian Open utilize acrylic hard courts. In addition to acrylic, hard courts are also sometimes constructed with asphalt or concrete.
One of the best hard-court players in recent memory ended her singles career with a disappointing second-round loss at the 2020 U.S. Open. Kim Clijsters had won the tourney on three previous occasions, and also has an Australian Open victory to her name. Her combination of power and agility served her well over the years on hard courts.
Aaron Griggs has enjoyed watching tennis for a long time, and began playing the sport when he chose it for a P.E. elective in college.