There are many options to choose from for the playing surface used for a game of tennis. There are four main surfaces to play on. There are benefits and detriments to each one, depending on both the skill level of the players and the weather conditions, which have an effect on play no matter the surface materials. Also, whether or not the game is played indoors or outdoors also plays an important role in determining which surface is superior.
Let’s start with the clay court and look at some of the pros and cons for playing tennis on this surface. It is typically made of stone, brick or crushed shale. As of 2014, The French Open is currently the only one of the Grand Slam tournaments that uses a clay court. These types of courts are more commonly used in Europe and Latin America, perhaps because they are cheaper to construct but more expensive to maintain, due the court needing to be rolled into flatness consistently. Plus water retention is a consideration to be aware of as well.
Compared to other types of playing surfaces, clay courts are considered to be slow. Because of the nature of the surface balls will bounce somewhat higher and slower, making it tougher for an opposing player to hit a shot that can’t be returned. This makes clay court favorable to players that are not only considered baseliners but also defensive players.
Another advantage is that because it’s clay, the ball does leave an impression in the ground and thus can make it more effective at helping judges determine a close call in regards to the ball being called out or in.
Another “soft” type of court for playing tennis on is grass. Using a grass surface can be cost prohibitive because of maintenance. Rain can also be a factor. Because grass is inherently slippery, the ball can bounce and skid on this surface and cause bad bounces. Rallies are comparatively brief compared to other surfaces and therefore power and speed are often reward while playing on grass.
A great server can often find great success on grass courts, due to the importance of proper return because the advantage is with the server. Practitioners of this tactic must finish their point quickly in order to keep the ball on their side of the court as little as possible, thus putting the onus on the defender of the serve. Playing on grass is also easier on the joints of the knee.
The hardcourt is sometimes made of synthetic material and always of a rigid nature. Faster than clay but slower than grass, they can often vary in speed a great deal. These courts are painted and the amount of sand placed within the paint can affect the way the ball slows down after contact to the surface. Unlike other surfaces, hardcourt favors no particular style of play and thus can be a great equalizer of neutrality.
Hardcourt is not always played on a synthetic material. Sometimes concrete is used and it is the paint that can make the difference between viscosity of how the ball plays on the court. At times topspin can be magnified, similar to the effect that clay courts have while playing.
The final type of court surface is carpet and is a general term for any removable court surface. Many indoor arenas utilize rolls of tennis carpets that have a synthetic covering while backed with a thick rubber. In most cases these surfaces are fast and have a low bounce associated with use. They are no longer used in any professional arena and have been discontinued by the ATP since 2009.
By understand the pros and cons of each type of tennis playing surface, every player can better determine their strengths and weaknesses of their specific techniques and thus attempt to improve their overall game.