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Fri, Dec. 06

Howard: Different surfaces of tennis, and what to expect
My Point

The majority of tennis courts in today’s world are of a hard surface, concrete or asphalt - but that hasn’t always been the case. Up until the 1960’s grass and clay courts were prevalent and each of those surfaces as well as hard courts have their own special characteristics.

Even today, there is a break-down of tennis seasons based on court surfaces. Right now we are ending the clay court season, finishing with the French Open Grand Slam and then it goes to about 4 weeks of grass court competition raping up in general with Wimbledon and the rest of the year is pretty much hard courts.

Since the largest portion of the year is played on hard courts let’s talk about them first.

Hard courts have the truest bounce. Depending on the final surface painted on the court they can play fast, medium or slow. The question is how much sand they put in the paint. If you want the court to be really, really slow, much like Indian Well’s, you slam the sand in and the balls hit the surface and slow way down. Personally I like a slower court because the rallies last longer and as you get older your reflexes aren’t what they used to be.

The down-side of gritty courts is wearing out your tennis shoes.

Maybe you’ve played on concrete courts with only the lines painted on. It’s like playing on a gymnasium wood floor, slick and fast. If you’ve got a good hard flat serve life will be good under those conditions.

Nice thing on a hard surface is once you’ve figured out the speed of the court you can calculate the bounce angles and be able to count on them not to change, which isn’t true with grass or clay surfaces.

Hard courts are long lasting and fairly easy to maintain, especially if you use post-tensioned concrete.

Grass is where the game began. The invention of the lawn mower helped the cause. There were many large flat fields when mowed that became perfect for an afternoon of lawn tennis.

A picnic of friends or family outing was centered on a rousing game of tennis that included both men and women.

Grass is probably the hardest of surfaces to conquer. The bounces are unpredictable, the ball with spins can do some very funky things. Drop shots are deadly, and lobs over an opponent's head are tough to deal with as well.

If you have a good serve, grass will be your friend. Half-volleys are very difficult and it’s easy to understand why players in general serve and take the net. Most try to take the ball out of the air as much as possible which doesn’t allow crazy bounces that may end up making you laugh or wanting to break your racquet.

Add in when dogging down a ball your feet are sinking into the surface which throws your timing off more than you’d ever imagine and changing direction is no easy task if you have much momentum. In my mind, the idea is to play a little safer on grass.

And clay, you may come home a bit of a mess, but it’s fun. The ball tends to set up and slow down as the ball digs into the clay grains. Since the surface retains moisture the ball can get heavier which also slows things down even more.

Aces are fewer, rallies are longer, and touch angles and sliding after a sprint across the court is a special art to acquire and behold.

If it rains a little, no problem - but if it rains a lot, you may not play on clay courts for a couple days.

Unless you’re in a special part of the world or country, you’ll probably be regulated to playing on a hard surface, but whenever you get the chance have some fun with the clay and grass game.

Both will give you a new appreciation for what Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have accomplished.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or

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