Tennis is one of the most popular sports today. People not only love playing tennis, but the number of spectators who love watching a tennis game grows impressively every year, too. It is a game that is fast-paced and exciting, keeping the players and spectators on their toes. Most people who love the four big international championships know that there are different types of tennis courts, including clay, grass, and hard courts.
However, most people don’t realize that there are, in fact, eleven different types of tennis courts. The court surface is significant because it can impact a player’s game tremendously. A player like Rafael Nadal thrives on clay courts, whereas Roger Federer stands out on grass surfaces. With such a great variety of tennis courts, we can’t help but wonder how they differ and what makes them stand out.
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What are the Different Types of Tennis Courts?
The International Tennis Federation(ITF) has divided tennis court surfaces into eleven categories. These categories are:
- Hard courts made of acrylic or polyurethane
- Clay courts
- Grass courts
- Asphalt courts
- Carpet courts
- Artificial clay courts
- Concrete courts
- Artificial grass courts
- Hybrid clay courts
- Uniquely made courts
- Indoor courts
Each of these courts has its own makeup as they have been made with different materials, and therefore they offer a different play experience for players.
Hard Courts Made with Acrylic or Polyurethane
These courts are extremely popular in the United States. In fact, they stand out in popularity. These courts are a base made with asphalt or concrete that acts as the regulator of the court surface. The base is then covered with a polyurethane or acrylic surface. After that, the white lines and court colors are added. Finally, these hard courts can have a layer that has been cushioned underneath the acrylic layer. This layer will affect the court speed. Depending on this, these hard courts can have fast, medium, or medium-fast gameplay.
The court speed becomes slower when more sand is added to the paint mixture that is used to paint the surface. You can see these great courts when you watch the Australian and the US Open, as well as the ATP Finals. These hard courts can be very bouncy, which adds to the gameplay excitement and thrill. Players who have significant and robust serves flourish on these hard courts. Interestingly, heat and sun cause these courts to increase in-game speed, so players might experience utterly different gameplay when they play at two different times of the day.
In contrast to the US that prefers hard courts, clay courts are preferred in South America and Europe. They offer remarkably slower game speed.
These courts are made by layering a compacted layer of unbound material, including stone, shale, or brick. After that, a second top layer of the same material that has been finely crushed is laid out. These courts are great for players who enjoy a bouncy and slow court speed. Therefore, players who play with a lot of topspin shots do well on these court surfaces. In addition, players who love a bit of a slide during their games love clay courts because they offer more sliding during play. However, the downside of clay courts is that maintenance is required more regularly, including brushing, rolling, and irrigation of the clay-court surface.
Clay courts can be divided into two categories which are green clay and red clay courts. The US prefers green clay courts since they offer faster court speed. On the other hand, red clay courts are preferred in Europe and South America since they provide a slower court speed. When it comes to professional tours, red clay courts are popular. In fact, one of the biggest Grand Slams, the French Open at Roland Garros, is played on red clay courts.
Although grass courts have become rare and hard to find these days, it is still considered an elegant court surface loved by players and spectators alike. In the past, grass courts were very popular, with three of the four Grand Slams being played on it before 1974. The US Open, Australian Open, and Wimbledon were all played on grass surfaces originally. However, over the years, other court surfaces became more popular, and today it is only Wimbledon that is still played on grass. You might wonder why, if these courts are considered so elegant, they took such a decline in popularity. The answer is because grass courts require a lot of maintenance. Hard courts and clay courts require much less maintenance and, therefore, are often preferred.
They make natural grass courts by layering a thick layer that is made of a mixture of sand, silt, and clay. That layer is covered by natural grass. Some grass courts feature pipes in their foundation layers that are helpful for drainage. By adding drainage pipes, the grass court won’t suffer from the accumulation of water.
Since grass courts offer a bit of slide on the ball, grass courts provide a fast court speed. Players also find that grass courts provide a low play where the balls remain closer to the ground than clay and hard courts. Therefore, players with topspin shots or flat shots love playing on grass courts. Grass courts have seen the longest tennis matches in history because the surface can make breaking your opponent’s serves very tricky.
The process of making asphalt courts is very similar to that of acrylic courts. The most significant difference is that asphalt courts don’t have a top layer of acrylic, which can lead to the court suffering damage much faster. These courts are also susceptible to crack development because of heat or sunlight. These cracks have to be repaired to avoid injury and to offer a good game experience. Asphalt courts cost much less than other court surfaces to make, so courts meant for public use are often asphalt courts. However, although the initial costs might be low, the maintenance costs are much higher than in other courts. In addition, no professional tournaments are played on these surfaces.
Carpet courts used to be popular, and it wasn’t uncommon to see games of the professional tour being played on carpet courts. In fact, one of the most popular professional tours, the ATP 1000, which was played in Paris, was played on a carpet court. However, the ATP decided to use only hard courts from 2009, so carpet courts were discontinued. With this decision, the court surfaces used for the biggest professional tournaments went down to only three, including grass, hard, and clay courts. However, in 2019 there were still three tournaments played on carpet courts in Germany, Eckental, and Kaohsiung. These courts are made by covering a layer of asphalt with a carpet that has been specially designed for the game of tennis. These courts offer very fast court speeds, so players who are big hitters love carpet courts.
Artificial Clay Courts
Although artificial clay courts might not be natural clay court surfaces, they still have the same feel as usual clay courts. These courts are made by using a uniquely designed carpet that makes up the base of the court. This base is then covered with clay or sand. Artificial clay courts offer the same gameplay features as a natural clay court, including great sliding ability and slower shots. In addition, artificial clay courts benefit from requiring much less maintenance than real clay courts since no irrigation is needed to keep the court functional. However, these court surfaces aren’t as popular as real clay courts, but the reason for this may be because they are relatively new in the world of tennis. There is no tournament currently played on artificial clay courts. In addition, an artificial clay court offers faster gameplay than a real clay court because the ball bounces less on artificial clay courts.
A concrete court has a very similar look to an asphalt court, but they differ significantly in their construction. Concrete courts are relatively straightforward to make, and they are much lower in cost than some other kinds of court surfaces. For example, asphalt courts tend to have much more cracks than concrete courts. No professional tournaments are currently played on these courts.
Artificial Grass Courts
The construction of artificial grass courts is very similar to those of carpet or artificial clay courts. Construction starts with a base layer that has a regulating function, and then a unique turf is layered over it. Although the top layer looks like grass, an artificial grass court requires a great deal less maintenance than real grass courts. In addition, artificial grass courts tend to be less harsh on the body than real grass courts. Finally, there are some similar gameplay features to real grass courts and some that are different. For example, playing on an artificial grass court offers a low ball, as you would find when playing on a real grass court. However, in contrast to real grass courts, artificial grass courts don’t offer a very slippery game and provide more traction for those who play on them. These court surfaces are popular in parks or private residences because of their low maintenance requirements. No professional tournaments are currently played on artificial grass courts.
Hybrid Clay Courts
The ITF recently recognized a new court surface. It is the hybrid clay court developed in Europe using technology that is new and trademarked. These courts are wonderful since they offer the same gameplay as regular clay courts, but they don’t need much maintenance. Therefore, the ITF has classified hybrid clay courts as slow courts. Since there are only a few hybrid clay courts globally, all found in Europe, no professional tournaments are currently played on hybrid courts. However, an exciting feature of these courts is that they can be built on any surface. In addition, these courts offer significant savings on maintenance costs, they are frostproof, and they offer incredible draining of water. All of these benefits make it a great possibility that hybrid courts will become more common in the future.
The ITF recognizes some unique court surfaces that include canvas, tiles, and wood. No professional tournaments are currently played on these courts since these courts are very rare. However, these courts can offer very challenging gameplay, and they offer a court speed that is simply too fast.
The last court surface that is worth mentioning is the indoor court. Although it might not be a different court surface, an indoor court does offer a different game feel. Indoor tennis courts don’t have windows, so your game does not get affected by the wind. This makes for a more accurate gameplay where players can have an exact idea of where their balls will go. This can lead to players feeling more open to taking risks while enjoying a game of tennis.
Another feature that makes indoor courts unique is that the game will not be affected by the heat or direct sunlight, so regardless of the time of day, your gameplay will be the same, and the court speed will remain unchanged. Lastly, indoor courts tend to have a faster court speed, but it might be because the indoor air is more compressed and not because of the court surface specifically.
For example, one of the ATP 1000 tournaments is played indoors in Paris, with many other smaller tournaments like the ATP 500 and the Challengers also being played indoors. In addition, since 2020, Grand Slams have added retractable roofs to their main courts, so these courts might also give players the same indoor court game feel.
The tennis world is vibrant and trendy, so it is no surprise that the court surfaces continue to improve and expand. As a result, players can enjoy a great variety of gameplay by trying their hands on different court surfaces, or they can stick to their favorite court surface. With so many different court surfaces available, players will never have a dull game.