Tennis is one of the few sports out there with multiple playing surfaces for all levels to play on. They all bring something different to the table, and have a uniqueness to them that stands out.
What are tennis courts made of? This is a closer look at those surfaces, as well as everything else that goes into the development of a court.
Playing services have come and gone in tennis, but right now, there are three distinct options to choose from. In fact, there are two that dominate the playing schedule at both the professional and amateur levels. The other is a more traditional court surface that still continues today because of the sport’s history.
- Made of: A wearing surface made out of natural grass + sand, silt and a compact layer of clay
The grass tennis court comprises a very tightly packed grass that forms a firm, yet slick, surface. It is the traditional surface that was first used way back when tennis first began, and it lives on in a few tournaments to this day.
Wimbledon is the most known tournament with grass courts by far, and is considered by many to be the most prestigious event in the sport. Unfortunately, the cost to keep this type of playing surface going is pretty high. That’s why there are virtually no recreational grass courts around in any part of the world.
Grass court season for professionals only lasts about a month. In order to have success on the surface, players need to use the right type of shoes. They usually have some very tiny bumps on the soles that offer enough traction to move around on slippery grass. Otherwise, players will fall when they are trying to change direction.
- Made of: Brick, crushed stone + shale or other unbound mineral aggregate
There are two distinct types of clay courts available for tennis courts all around the world. The first is red clay, which is found naturally in Europe and South America. This is the type of clay that is found at the French Open, as well as just about every other clay court tournament at the professional level.
Many love the natural red clay available in Europe, and it looks and performs a little bit better as well. The problem is, if it’s not naturally found locally, it can be a pain to install.
The clay must be imported, which automatically increases the overall cost of the project. It is also a bit more challenging to maintain, which puts stress on that budget as well.
A green/gray-colored clay, also known as Har-Tru, is another solution to play this style of tennis. This is usually found in the United States and other countries that don’t have red clay readily available.
It is more affordable to install, and easier to maintain. It plays very much like traditional clay, and it gives older players the advantage of not having as much stress on the joints when moving around.
- Made of: Concrete or Asphalt – covered most of the times with an acrylic top
Hard courts come in a few different varieties, and they can play fairly differently when set up. There is such a thing as fast hard courts, as well as slower ones. A lot of it depends not only on the surface but also on the type of grit added to that surface.
Hard courts are designed specifically to be extremely durable so that play can go on without much upkeep. Once everything is put into the ground, it just takes some regular maintenance to ensure that everything looks good.
The surface doesn’t need to be treated any special way like grass or clay. That is one of the main reasons why they are so popular in today’s game, instead of relying on some of these other surfaces.
As far as how hard courts work when installed, it really depends on the type of top layer. Some hard courts are very fast because there’s not much grit on the ground, so the ball penetrates the court pretty quickly.
In other cases, there is a good amount of smoothness to the surface, which means the ball skids a bit more and favors those who hit with powerful strokes.
You can read more about the different surfaces in this post.
What is Below Tennis Playing Surfaces?
Below any type of tennis court is much more than what meets the eye. There is always some combination of a regulating base directly below the wearing surface, as well as a foundation and formation layer to keep everything as durable as possible.
The very first layer that is as deep as the entirety of the court is called the formation layer. The goal here is to provide a barrier between the ground, and the build-up of the court. It stops any roots or other problematic issues from branching into the court and causing damage. In order to put the formation layer down, it needs to be flat and level before starting.
On top of the formation level is the foundation, which helps to control the temperature with a court. This is done to allow the court to drain properly and act as a dependable surface. Without this thick layer, it would be nearly impossible for any tennis court to have a level of consistency.
Grass and clay courts require a little bit of moisture, so the foundation for the surface is a bit different than hard courts. Experts in installing playing surfaces will know what to keep in mind when doing so.
Finally, the last layer before the wearing surface that people actually see is the regulating base. This base is very different depending on the surface. The purpose of this layer is to create a very stable surface that is also extremely flat so that the actual surface performs well.
What Else is Needed to Make a Tennis Court?
Surfaces are obviously very different, but there are some consistent parts of a tennis court. There’s not much beyond the court surface itself, but the net is pretty standard across the board.
A net spans the entire court in most recreational settings. There are two posts installed, with the net going all the way across. There is a strap in the center to lower the net six inches from the ends.
There are also lines painted onto the surface to organize the game formally. These lines are made of chalk in most cases, except for on clay courts. There might be permanent lines on clay courts that are meant to be at the same level as the clay itself.
If the court is not properly maintained, those lines might be raised just slightly and cause a few bad bounces here and there.
The dimensions of a tennis court are 78 feet long and 36 feet wide. This is to accommodate a doubles court, as almost all tennis courts have doubles and singles lines.
The amount of space available behind the baseline and on each sideline varies from court to court. The more space available, the better for players at a high level. The drawback is that it costs a lot of money to have extra amounts of space to move around on.
Why Courts Must be Properly Made
Even at the lowest levels in a public park, tennis courts must be properly laid and made to ensure that they stand the test of time. Otherwise, they are not going to have a very long shelf life, and it’s ultimately going to be a pretty big waste of money.
Some companies specialize in putting tennis courts down, and they provide the best value since it is such a specialized skill. Even though they look pretty simple on the surface, there is a good amount of work underneath needed to make a great tennis court.