The various types of tennis court surfaces affect the speed of the game – and in turn, the game itself. There are four types of playing surface:
- The most commonly used, the hard court is made of a rubber-based asphalt that is coated in acrylic or concrete
- Clay courts are layered with sand or loose clay
- Comparatively speaking, the grass court is quite rare and requires more maintenance
- The carpet court is used for indoor playing areas
How the speeds are measured
The speeds of the various surfaces are measured and classified by the International Tennis Federation using a mathematical formula: Court Pace Rating = 100(1 – µ) + a(b – e). The formula calculates the effect the surface has on a tennis ball, taking into account friction. It measures how much the ball’s speed changes when it hits the court, considering the time between the successive bounces.
The test requires equipment such as an air cannon to fire out balls at a set speed and a piece of equipment called a Sestée (to reconstruct the trajectory of the ball and calculate pace). Courts with a rating of 45 or above are classified as fast, while a rating of less than 30 is classified as slow, with three categories in between.
The courts used in Grand Slams are categorised as follows:
- US Open Pro: Decoturf II – category 4, medium-fast
- Australian Open: Plexicushion Prestige – category 4, medium-fast
- French Open: Clay – category 1, slow
- Wimbledon: Grass – category 3, medium
How different speeds affect play
A player’s optimal surface is determined by the surface on which they win their highest percentage of matches. Depending on the player’s style and technique, their game can be better suited to some surfaces more than others. Whether the courts are faster or slower or if they cause higher or lower bounces, this will impact the players’ performance.
As statistics show, faster surfaces favour the server – considering the number of aces and service breaks on fast courts. Quite often, players who prefer clay courts tend to have a weaker serve than those who play on grass and hard courts.
Tennis court maintenance
To maintain their speed and rating, tennis court maintenance is required on all playing surfaces. Hard courts will require regular sweeping to avoid slipping accidents, while clay courts should be watered regularly and the clay replaced. Grass courts require the most maintenance, as the grass must be kept to the same length and texture – the ball’s bounce depends on how tightly the soil is packed. Carpet courts have a slower bounce than hard courts and have a fairly regular bounce pattern. They should be cleaned and vacuumed regularly.