Why Grass Is The Fastest Surface In Tennis

The majority of tennis players around the world will never have the opportunity to play on a true grass court. There are just not that many grass courts around these days, and it is expensive to play on the few that do exist.

Still, the grass is a very important surface in tennis, and it was the earliest surface players played on when the game was first invented. Not only that, but the Wimbledon Championships are held every year on grass courts.
When watching Wimbledon, commentators will discuss how fast the surface is. Not only that, but players can visually see that the ball moves a little quicker during the point, rushing players to make faster and smarter decisions.

Why Are Grass Courts Fastest In Tennis? Grass is currently the fastest major surface in tennis. The science behind it is that blades of grass don’t provide the same type of rebound as clay or hard courts. The grass is weak, and therefore it bends quite a bit each time a ball hits the surface. The result is a faster and lower bounce than other surfaces. Grass also has less gripping us to it than hard courts or clay courts. With reduced friction, the ball can move through the court at faster speeds.

Grass Speed Compared To Clay/Hard Courts

Different studies will show slightly different results, but the common consensus is that grass courts are anywhere from 10% to 20% faster than clay and hard court. Not only is this due to a softer surface not providing the same type of rebound, but the lack of grittiness to grass as well. Hard courts and clay courts cause more friction on the ball, which slows it down that extra split-second for more reaction time.

A hard shot on grass is going to skid in ways that players just don’t see when they are on other surfaces. Not only is it faster, but grass makes it a little more difficult to hit shots with a lot of spin on them.

Tennis Balls Play a Role

When brand new balls are used on grass, there is a huge difference in speed. About the only thing that can slow down the ball a little bit on grass is if the ball fluffs up.

The vast majority of tennis balls are not going to fluff up or show heavy use quickly on grass because there is a lack of friction. That is why there are clay-court balls and hard court balls because everyone is trying to enjoy a game of tennis with balls that last a while. Companies don’t make grass-court balls and sell them to the public, simply because there are so few grass courts.

Grass court balls stay fresher than most other options out there. That is the one trade-off to using a faster surface, although for most people, paying for balls is nothing compared to paying for court fees and special shoes.

The Grass Courts at Wimbledon

Despite so many different tennis clubs moving away from the grass, the one picture most people think of in regards to tennis is the grass courts at Wimbledon. The green grass, the white outfits, and the overall prestige of the tournament always make for a standout platform.

On the very first day of the tournament, there is plenty of fresh optimism in the air. Not only are players dreaming of a championship, but the lawn at Wimbledon is a vivid green in person and on television. The grounds crew at the All England Club spend all year taking care of the courts and preparing them for all the abuse they will take into weeks. That very first day is their showcase for all the hard work they put in.

Even the best grounds crew in the world can’t prevent grass from starting to wear down after hours and hours of play. By the second week of Wimbledon, there are noticeable patterns of wear and tear on the court. The most common areas are along the baseline, and the centerline leading up to the net. Not only is this very visible with a change in color, but the playing surface changes a little as well.

Wimbledon has always been very reluctant to change. However, in 2001, the grounds crew decided that it was time to sample another type of grass to help with durability. They took on the task of converting all the courts to 100% perennial ryegrass. The traditional setup was a mix of rye and creeping red fescue, but it just wasn’t cutting it for most people.

The new grass was more durable, but another advantage to this move is that the grass players a little more like all the other surfaces. Some tennis purists thought this was an attempt to make all surfaces play the same way and take some creativity out of the game, but this was mostly due to a focus on improved durability.

By the end of the second week, players know that there will be some bad bounces at Wimbledon. It is part of using a natural surface like grass. There is simply no way around avoiding this issue, save for changing the surface altogether. There are absolutely no talks of that happening, so players need to accept it as part of the game.

How Much Does a Fast Court Affect The Top Players?

Every single tennis player in the world has some type of court preference, and it mostly comes down to their style of play. Traditionally, hard hitters have really enjoyed the courts at Wimbledon, because it allows them to play quicker points and get free winners. A ball might hang up a little longer for people to return on slower courts, but they can hit winners on grass courts.

Perhaps the most glaring example of a top player having success on one surface, and struggling on others, is Pete Sampras. He is arguably the greatest player in Wimbledon history, winning a total of seven titles on grass. He was also able to win the U.S. Open five times, and the Australian Open two times.

Compare that to his clay success, and he looks like a totally different player. He was only able to make the semifinals of the French Open one time. He struggled at smaller venues on clay as well. His game was just not built for clay, as the ball did not move quickly, and he was unable to slide on the court like a lot of other players.

In the current era, Roger Federer benefits a lot from grass. Not only does he have an above-average serve, but he enjoys coming to the net and putting balls away with volleys. Most of the other top players in the world like to hang by the baseline, which isn’t always the best on grass.

Grass is so different that every player takes the time to play at least one warm-up tournament before heading to Wimbledon. Even the grass-court season is not very long, going directly to Wimbledon without any match experience is a disaster waiting to happen.

The Future of Grass Courts

At this point, tennis has pretty much moved completely away from grass courts. They are nearly impossible to find open to the public, and they are very costly. For those who really enjoy the sport, it might be worth saving up some money and trying the court at least once. It just doesn’t make financial sense to play on grass courts consistently, unless the person has a lot of money.

Wimbledon will continue to bring in viewers, and players who benefit from fast surfaces will flourish. The game is played a little bit faster for about one month out of the year, and there is still something really enjoyable about watching tennis played on his original surface.

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