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Q & A: Tennis Courts

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
How do different tennis court surfaces affect the bounce of a tennis balls?
- theresa
A:
Theresa -

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.

Tim

(published on 10/22/2007)

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