First, I should start by saying that there are four different types
of tennis court surfaces: hard, clay, carpet, and grass. And tennis
balls certainly bounce differently on each.
Hard Court - This is the most common type of tennis court, since
it's relatively cheap to build and easy maintain (although it will
crack after awhile). The surface is usually concrete and is very flat,
smooth, and, well...hard. It's the 'fastest' type of court, which means
that the balls bounce up very quickly after they hit the ground. It's
also an easy surface to run on so the players don't have to worry about
losing their footing much. Also, since the court is so flat, the ball
will always bounce how you expect it too, unlike on grass courts.
Clay Court - Clay courts are very hard packed clay or sand covered
by some loose clay or sand. The ball won't bounce as fast off of these
courts since the ground is softer than hard court. And once in awhile,
the ball can bounce off a rock or soft place in the packed clay which
will cause it to bounce up at an unanticipated angle, making it
difficult to hit. Also, since the players are running on loose sand,
they tend to slide around a lot.
Carpet Court - Not like you're living room carpet, this carpet is
tough and thin, usually placed over cement, and is a little like 'astro
turf' in a football stadium. Generally, either carpet or hard court is
used for indoor tennis courts, and carpet is never used outdoors. The
ball will bounce predictably, like on hard court, but the friction
between ball and the carpet will slow the ball down when it bounces.
Grass Court - The grass court is the most difficult type to play
on. The grass is very short, tough grass, growing on hard packed dirt,
not unlike the grass on a golf course green. If the dirt is packed very
well, then the ball can bounce almost as fast as it would on hard
court. However, the courts can also have very unpredictable bounces,
especially after the players have been playing a long time. The ground
under the grass is never as perfectly level as hard court is, so there
are always places that will cause the ball to bounce unpredictably.
The choice of court material also affects the shock forces on the
feet, ankles, knees, and backs of the tennis players as they run back
and forth. Playing continuously on a concrete surface can make these
joints hurt. A variety of new, high-tech synthetic materials are also
available for tennis court surfaces, keeping an eye to consistent,
springy bounces, cushioning for the players' comfort, and quickness of
drying so the players can get back to their game after the rain.
(republished on 07/19/06)