Under the Surface – What’s in a Court?

We’ve reached the half way point of our 2016 tennis season and currently the ladies are adapting to the grass courts ahead of the Championships at Wimbledon. The grass court season is the shortest of all surface types however, lasting just 34 days. Switching surface type successfully is a crucial element of clocking in the victories at the highest level. This year there are 40 Hard Court Tournaments (7 Indoor), 15 Clay court tournaments (1 Indoor) and 6 Grass Tournaments in total, but what really is the difference between each surface?

The classification of a court though is much more complicated than simply grass, hard or clay. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) categorises different surfaces by court pace. Do you know the difference between your Mapecoat TNS Finish 1 and your APU HI-Court? We wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t as there are hundreds of ITF approved surfaces.

Court Classification

The US Open is played on DecoTurf which is category 4. The Australian Open is played on Plexicushion classified as 3; both are acrylic topped hard court surfaces. The courts at the all England club, Wimbledon as well as most other grass courts would attribute a rating of 5 the fastest playing courts. The Clay at Roland Garros on the other hand is given a rating of 1, the slowest type of court.


Clay courts are constructed using stone crushed to varying consistencies. A typical red clay court is made up of brick and Basalt. Clay is often used in warmer areas with less precipitation as the courts take a fair time to dry and are unusable in frosty weather. Unlike other courts players can slide easily on clay, making movement more free. Clay courts are some of the slowest available and produce typically longer rallies reacting viciously to spin. These courts need regular maintenance including line painting and sweeping.


Grass is widely considered to be the fastest surface tennis is played on. The pace favours the serve and volley game and a backspin technique. Grass courts cannot be used all year round as degradation of the surface is quick. You might notice that at two week tournaments such as Wimbledon, the baseline area in particular becomes thinned out and brown. Grass courts take a long time to dry so need to be covered immediately to prevent extended loss of play time.


These courts are usually made from concrete or Asphalt and coated with several layers of acrylic paint. These courts are the most common court you’ll find on the WTA or ATP tours as they require very little maintenance and can be used all year round unlike clay and grass. The pace of the court can also be varied considerably depending on the amount of sand added to the paint.

Of course there are many other different surfaces that aren’t used on the WTA tour such as Carpet, in fact the ITF states that ‘Tennis is unusual in that it can be played on a variety of surfaces. As long as the surface can be levelled, is uniform and has friction characteristics within an acceptable range, then it is likely that it is an appropriate surface for tennis.’ Bearing this in mind what surfaces would you like to see tennis played on in the future? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.


Full classification details available here (warning it gets very technical):