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How to Win on Grass, Hard or Clay Tennis Courts

Posted by Five Seasons Family Sports Club on 11/3/14 1:53 PM


The sport of tennis is unique in that it can be played on a wide variety of surfaces. In fact, the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the official governing body for the sport, currently acknowledges over 160 different types of tennis courts, with surface compositions that include grass, carpet, clay, concrete, gravel, wood, acrylic and asphalt. Each surface has its own characteristics, and the astute tennis player recognizes that to win, he or she must adjust their playing style to fit the court surface.

The three types of tennis court surfaces that are arguably the most popular are grass, clay and hard courts. Although largely indistinguishable to the naked eye, the manner in which the ball bounces on each surface varies greatly when examined at a granular level. According to a series of experiments conducted by the ITF, clay courts produce a slower ball speed off the bounce than grass or hard courts. Of the three, a fresh grass court is actually the fastest, but over time it loses ground to hard courts due to the exposed dirt that comes from normal wear and tear. 

The determining factor for ball speed is a physics concept known as the coefficient of friction, a metric that determines the degree of abrasive force that is created between the tennis ball and the ground upon contact. Each court surface carries a different frictional coefficient, which heavily influences not only ball speed, but also the height of the ball's bounce. Understanding these subtle nuances can help you get a better feel for how you should construct your points, and will largely determine the type of shots you'll be able to rely on during a game. 

How to Win on Clay Courts

Since clay is the slowest of the three surfaces in question, you'll have more time to reach the ball off the bounce. This is a benefit for you on the defensive side, but it's a liability when it comes to choosing the kinds of shots you can take. The slower ball momentum of a clay court essentially rules out any dependence upon a power game; you're going to have to develop killer consistency and accuracy with ball placement if you plan on playing to the strengths of a clay surface. This may mean that you can't focus so much on trying to win points based on hitting one big shot, but rather chip away at your opponent by constructing points that require two or more strokes. 

Clay is also known for being slightly slippery; you can take advantage of this characteristic by pushing your opponent as wide as possible, focusing on mixing sharp cross-court volleys with shots that land in the open court. This will hopefully keep your opponent off-balance and running back and forth, which can easily wear them down, especially when the court surface lacks the extra traction needed to execute quick changes of direction.

Clay courts produce a higher ball height off the bounce than other surfaces, and you can benefit from this unique characteristic by hitting deep, topspin-heavy shots to your opponent's backhand. The extra topspin will produce a nice bounce that will be tough for your opponent to respond to, especially with a backhand shot. This will more than likely force him/her to return with a short, weak ball, which can offer you a great setup to easily put away the shot with a forceful groundstroke.

How to Win on Grass Courts

With grass courts, the ball bounces at a slightly lower angle and flatter trajectory, which increases the perceived speed of the court. In addition, grass courts have a very low frictional coefficient, which enables the ball to travel faster off the bounce than you would normally see with clay surfaces. Since the ball is traveling faster, it also increases the amount of impact on your racket when you're making a return shot. This can lead to unpredictable or off-center shots. For this reason, playing on grass requires very sharp reflexes, as you may not always be able to accurately nail down what direction the ball will be coming at you when your opponent takes a shot. 

Because of their exceptional speed, grass courts to lend themselves to a power game, so trying for big shots makes much more sense on this particular surface. Serve-and-volley tennis is a common approach to grass courts as well. One of the most effective shots you can utilize on a grass court is the slice groundstroke, because the grass surface naturally produces a low bounce, making it difficult for an opponent to get under the ball for an adequate return shot. 

How to Win on Hard Courts

Hard courts are generally slower than grass and faster than clay, but it should be noted that the speed of hard courts can vary greatly based on the type of materials used in their construction (e.g., acrylic, asphalt, concrete, etc.). Since hard courts shave less speed off the ball than clay, it is a good idea to stick close to the baseline when playing on this largely unforgiving surface. Try to keep your return shots low and flat, aiming for the top of the net so that you can power your shots past your opponent. The speed and placement of your first serve is also vitally important when playing on hard courts. Invest the time to increase your serve speed, and you will see it paying great dividends in the amount of points you can win off the serve. 

Due to their speed, hard courts also lend themselves to a more aggressive style of play. Stay on the offensive and attack the net when possible. Be alert to identify weaknesses you can exploit, and mix up your return shots to alter the pace of the game and keep your opponent guessing. Try shots of varying depths to exploit different angles, and punish high balls as much as possible. In addition, use tight strings, as they complement the style of play needed for fast surfaces. 

Regardless of the surface you choose to play on, the main ingredient to effective tennis is consistent practice. Diligently apply the tips and strategies listed above, and you can become a threat to your opponents on practically any court surface.


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Topics: Tennis

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