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. The main surfaces used for tennis include:
Clay (and shale);
Note: The descriptions given in this section are for guidance only and should not be viewed as definitive. A consultant or supplier will provide exact specifications for a particular installation.
Clay (and Shale)
A clay court is constructed using natural stone that is crushed to different levels. The finest level –a powder – is used for the uppermost layer (top dressing) and loosely bound together with water. The most common forms are red clay (terre battue) made from brick and grey clay (basalt), although the coarser-grained shale and soil-like anthill are also used.
Clay courts are normally among the slowest court surfaces, often producing the longer rallies, and are responsive to spin.
Outdoor clay courts are not normally used in areas with high rainfall, as they take a relatively long time to dry, hence reducing the time available for play. Clay courts cannot be used during frosty weather.
The mobile top dressing allows controlled sliding, which can make it more comfortable to play.
Repairs are generally inexpensive.
Materials are readily available in many places.
The surface takes time to dry following rain.
Daily maintenance is required to keep a clay court in top condition. Lines require regular painting, sweeping and levelling.
A grass court can be simply a lined lawn, but most top-class grass courts are more sophisticated, with careful specification of the type of grass that is used.
Grass courts are perceived to be one of the fastest surfaces, and favouring the serve and volley style of play, which tends to produce the shortest rallies. Backspin is particularly effective on grass.
Grass is not usable all year round, and courts are particularly sensitive to extensive use. A two-week tournament will result in several areas of the court being devoid of grass. An alternative is to use the court intermittently, or to move the court area (back to front and/or side to side).
The playing surface is renewable.
Grass is a relatively cool and glare-free surface.
Considerable maintenance is required.
Grass courts also take a relatively long time to dry, so potentially reducing playing time.
Acrylic courts are often concrete or asphalt surfaces coated with several layers of coloured acrylic paint. Some manufacturers’ court systems include cushioning layers.
The pace of acrylic surfaces is variable, and mainly depends on the amount of sand added to the paint.
Weather permitting, acrylic courts can be used year-round.
Generally durable, and require little maintenance.
Pace can be varied with aggregate and bounce is uniform across the court.
Drying time is dependent on quality of court construction.
A concrete court is relatively simple (in terms of its constituents) and durable. For this reason, they are often used where daily maintenance is not required, or the court is not supervised. Concrete is made from a mixture of sand, gravel, pebble, broken stone, or slag in a mortar or cement matrix.
The pace of concrete courts is variable. Porous concrete generally provides a slow to medium pace. If a carpet or acrylic layer is added, the pace is dependent on the characteristics of the top surface.
Concrete courts can often be used all year round and are not affected by extended and continuous use.
Concrete courts are extremely durable, and require low maintenance.
Can be used soon after rain and are easily resurfaced.
Concrete courts can be relatively difficult and expensive to repair.
Asphalt is made from broken stone laid in bitumen and is also referred to as bitmac and macadam (bitumous macadam). Local availability of constituents often determines whether asphalt or concrete is used.
If play is on the asphalt itself, then the pace is typically medium-slow. However, asphalt courts are often covered with another surface, which will dictate the playing characteristics of the court.
Asphalt surfaces are durable and can be used year-round (weather permitting).
Asphalt surfaces are durable and require little maintenance.
The porous surface can be played on relatively soon following rain.
Cracks can develop due to the court shrinking.
Laid on a base of porous asphalt, the majority of these courts obtain their characteristics from the application of aggregate to a carpet matrix. Artificial surfaces have the appearance of grass or clay, but are manufactured from synthetic materials.
The pace is of artificial grass is generally fast or medium-fast, being somewhat similar to natural grass, but is influenced by the volume of sand/rubber in the fibres. Artificial clay is typically designed to be slow.
The surface is porous, allowing play shortly after rain.
Pace may be tailored to the needs of users.
Requires a level and hard surface on which to be laid.
Condition and distribution of aggregate needs maintenance.
These surfaces provide a resilient and weather-resistant playing area, and are normally laid on a asphalt or concrete base. Carpet courts consist of a textile surface of woven or non-woven nylon, or a polymeric or rubber material, typically supplied in rolls or sheets of finished product.
Rubber mat surfaces are generally slow to medium pace. Nylon carpets are relatively fast.
Polymeric surfaces can be used all year round, as they are resistant to both frost and softening by heat.
Very little maintenance is required.
Can be used as a temporary surface.
May require certain climatic conditions for installation.
Playing characteristics are determined during the manufacturing process.
Once worn, they typically cannot be repaired, but can be replaced.