The surface is the most important thing in tennis, according to Gaston Gaudio, winner of the French open 2004.
During a typical rally, a tennis ball comes into contact with the ground for a fraction of a second, but what happens during and after that instant decides the bounce, movement, and speed of the ball.
Clay courts are said to improve strategy, fitness, footwork, and agility. They’re much more demanding, tough and challenging than grass or hardcourt.
Do we need more clay tennis courts in USA? Read on to find out.
Types Of Tennis Courts
There are four main types of playing surfaces and each one has distinct properties. Major tournaments and some celebrity players are associated with each type.
The playing surface is typically made from brick, crushed stone, and shale. The composition of these minerals and loose aggregates varies a little from brand to brand, so it can take different shades from light yellow to deep red.
The ability of the surface to absorb water is another main property. Natural clay absorbs very little water and takes too long to dry, that’s why it’s rarely used in tennis courts. The ‘En-tout-cas’ brand is more widely used, as it has better drainage.
There’s another variety which is green clay or rubico. It’s also known as Har-Tru, and it has a slightly harder and faster surface.
Many tournaments are held on clay courts, the most prominent of them is the French Open.
Tennis hard courts are made from an acrylic layer on top of an asphalt or concrete foundation. They’re medium-fast to fast play, as there’s little energy absorption by the solid surface.
The US Open and Australian Open both use hard courts. The ball tends to bounce high, and agility is the winner in matches played on this surface. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are among the masters of the hard court.
This type of tennis court goes back to the historic beginnings of the game when it was known as ‘Lawn Tennis’.
The types of grass differ a little, but they’re all very high maintenance surfaces, and quite slippery when wet. Wimbledon is played on a grass court, and rainy days usually bring the games to a halt.
Balls usually skid and bounce low off the grass surface. They tend to retain most of their speed and generally stay around knee level.
These are textile nylon surfaces, installed as rolls or sheets. This is by far the fastest surface, and that’s why it was discontinued by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP)
As of 2019, only one tournament in Quebec is played on carpet.
What’s So Special About Clay Tennis Courts?
Clay courts are the playgrounds of slow balls. Players are usually unable to deliver fast and unreturnable shots, as the ball loses much of its speed when it hits the surface.
It also bounces high, so there are very few hard-to-return low balls. The best move on the clay court is usually the topspin, and once delivered, the opponent has little chance in returning it.
Movement on the clay court is also unique, in the way players slide into the ball during a stroke, as opposed to running and stopping, which is the norm in hard court and on the grass.
The players who conquer the clay courts are usually the ‘baseliners’, or the consistent, more strategic players.
Does Playing On Clay Affect Performance?
The nature of the clay court shapes its players. They need to be in top shape physically and mentally.
The pattern taken by the ball whether it’s served or returned is highly challenging. The way to win is to be smart, patient and skillful.
Players who are trained on grass or hardcourt focus mostly on speed and smashing power. Both become useless on a clay court. It’s a superman with kryptonite kind of situation.
The opposite is also true, players trained on a clay court easily continue their winning streak on grass or hardcourt. This gives them a significant edge over their opponents.
Do We Need More Clay Tennis Courts?
Clay courts are more abundant in Europe and Latin America than the US, and it’s been reflecting on the players’ scores for more than a decade now.
The Junior tournaments are luckier in that respect than the adults. There seems to be a larger base of clay court tournaments for the young.
Hopefully, this would spread more as the ages go up from school and college competitions, to the professional players.
There’s a growing awareness of the importance of adding variety to tennis courts around the US, and especially clay courts. We hope it gains more traction and eventually more wins in the Grand Slam.