As competitive or casual tennis players, we will encounter many different court surfaces when playing various friendlies, competitions and leagues. Each of these surfaces has its own unique quirks and need to be examined in close detail if we want to get one up on our opponents. In this blog, we will discuss the way our game interacts with the different surfaces and how minor changes to our game depending on the surface, can have a major impact on the standard of our play. The most common of these courts that can be found in tennis clubs all around Ireland is Tiger Turf, but we also have red clay, blue clay, hard-court, and grass.
Tiger Turf is an all-weather surface which is found commonly in clubs around Ireland due to its low sustainability costs and durability. This surface is not regularly seen on the ATP or WTA tour simply due to the climate of different countries and indoor facilities. This type of court produces balls with a high velocity which make low flat or slice shots very effective. Defensive players struggle on this surface as the quick pace and low bounce of the balls make it difficult to grind and stay far behind the baseline. Instead, aggressive players who play low flat shots love this surface. It would be advisable to work on footwork involving low shots, bending your knees and maintaining your balance if you want to truly excel on this surface. Kick serves on ineffective on this surface so stick to flat and slice on first and second serves to avoid setting up your opponent with an easy put-away. This type of tennis is rarely successful on the ATP or WTA tours which, I would argue, is a contributing factor to the lack of successful professional Irish tennis players.
Clay is the slowest tennis surface and produces a high bouncing ball. Defensive players like Rafael Nadal, 'The King of Clay', thrive on this surface because the high bounce allows them to stay far behind the baseline. However, as we saw in the French Open 2020, this leaves the player very vulnerable to drop shots with backspin. These shots stop dead on a clay court so you have to be on your toes and quick to get to the ball. The surface of a clay court is not completely flat which can result in an unpredictable bounce especially when the ball hits a large clump of clay so you always have to be ready. If you are going to play a match on a clay court, then be sure to focus on hitting with heavy topspin in your practice sessions prior to your match. When serving, work on your kick serves as unlike on the tiger turf courts, this surface kicks up at your opponent and is difficult to return. Juniors who grow up playing on clay courts have been very successful on the ATP and WTA tour so this is something to consider if you are a junior and very serious about your tennis. This surface can be found in major events all around the world with the most notable being the Roland Garros, Rome, Madrid, and Monte Carlo opens.
Grass courts are a luxurious and enjoyable surface to play on, but they present some very interesting challenges for competitive players. The bounce on a grass court is very low, fast, and often unpredictable so it is unwise to stay back at the baseline. Instead, players rush to the net to cut out the bounce altogether. In recent years, however, the beautifully cut Wimbledon grass has seen an increase in aggressive baseliners having great success at the Wimbledon grand slam. Interestingly, we can see the wear on the grass as the tournament progresses with large brown patches being found at the baseline and the net. This is where the players most commonly place their feet. Roger Federer has had great success on grass courts which can be attributed to his aggressive style and his ability to control the point at the net. When preparing for a match on grass, we need to focus in on our net skills. We must exercise the different types of approach shots i.e., 'serve and volley', 'slice', 'chip and charge', and 'drop shot'. Similar to tiger turf, kick serves are relatively weak so use slice and flat serves.
Hard-court is the most common surface used on the ATP and WTP tour. Half of the Grand slams in the season are hosted on hardcourt with the Australian Open and the US Open showcasing some of the most entertaining matches in the world. This type of court incorporates elements of each surface as its speed is a mixture of grass and clay, and it encourages all types of playing styles. Balls usually kick up high on hard-courts, so hitting with heavy topspin is very effective. If you are ever unfortunate enough to play on a worn hard-court surface, then you know that it can wreak havoc by creating completely unpredictable bounces. Hard-court is a very harsh surface on your joints, so if you have any injuries or weaknesses in your knees or ankles, I would recommend avoiding this surface at all costs. Speaking of costs, this surface is relatively reasonable in price to purchase, however, there is a catch. Hard-courts are easily worn down so they need to be resurfaced every four to five years. There are not many hard-court courts in Ireland due to our climate as they do not drain very well. Arguably the best hard-court player of all time is Novak Djokovic. His balance between defence and attack helps him to win many matches on these courts.
Knowing what surface we are going to play on prior to our matches must have a direct impact on our training sessions if we want to give ourselves the best shot at winning. Preparing well for these matches, and playing on many different surfaces will enable us to become more developed, adaptable, and well-rounded players. Making minor changes to our play style based on the surface we are playing on will give us the upper hand on our opponent.