The second tennis Grand Slam tournament of the year is almost upon us: the French Open. Held at the Stade Roland-Garros in Paris, the French Open is currently the only Grand Slam event to be held on clay. Here, we will discuss the different tennis court surfaces and the major tournaments that are played on each.
There are in fact two different types of clay court: red clay and green clay. The former, is the more common variety of the two, while green clay, known as ‘rubico’ is a harder surface. Clay courts are in fact made up of crushed shale, stone, brick, or other mineral elements and it’s very rare to find a red clay court made from actual clay. The reason that clay isn’t used as regularly, is due to the surface’s inability to absorb water and the length of time it’d take to dry.
Green clay courts are made from crushed metabasalt, as opposed to brick, making the surface both harder, and faster. Green clay courts are predominantly found in the USA and the Charleston Open (in women’s tennis) is played on a green clay court.
Due to the materials involved, clay courts are inexpensive to construct; however, they have higher maintenance costs, as the surface must be rolled to preserve its flatness.
In terms of gameplay, clay courts are considered slow, because the balls bounce high and lose much of their initial speed when they hit the surface. This makes it more difficult for players to deliver an unreturnable shot. Due to the surface, players are able to slide to reach and hit shots – something that isn’t as achievable on say grass, or even a gravel surface. But a benefit to clay courts, is that when the ball lands, it leaves an imprint in the ground, meaning it’s easier to identify if a shot was in, or out.
As we mentioned before, the French Open is played on clay and is the pinnacle of the spring clay season. Other third-tier tournaments played on the surface include the Monte-Carlo Masters, the Madrid Open and Italian Open.
Spaniard, Rafael Nadal is often referred to as “the King of Clay” and has 11 French Open singles titles to his name. Since his debut in 2005, he’s only lost twice in the tournament. He also holds the record for the longest winning streak by a male player on a single court surface – with 81 wins between April 2005 and May 2007. In French Open odds, Simona Halep and Rafa are the favourites to win their respective finals.
Grass courts are seen as traditional and are most common in Britain – with Wimbledon being the only Grand Slam played on grass. Due to the surface becoming slippery when wet, it is vital for the courts to be covered in the event of precipitation – and as we’ve seen in the past with Wimbledon, grass courts must be left for the day if rain appears.
In terms of gameplay, as the surface becomes slippery, the ball can skid, or bounce awkwardly. More often than not, the ball bounces low, meaning players have to be quick to play it back.
The grass season is short and until 2014, there were only two tournaments (one being Wimbledon, and the other, the Hall of Fame Championships). Now there are several tennis tournaments played on grass in the summer, but none more prestigious than Wimbledon and no others any higher than fourth-tier level.
Pete Sampras won seven Wimbledon titles between 1993 and 2000 and is often lauded as one of the greatest grass-court players of all-time. However, statistically, Roger Federer is the most successful, with eight Wimbledon titles and a total of 18 grass-court titles. In women’s tennis, the Williams sisters are undoubtedly the most successful, with 12 Wimbledon singles titles between them, as well as five doubles titles.
Hard courts are predominantly found on the ATP tour and in terms of Grand Slam tournaments, two are played on hard courts: the US Open and Australian Open. Hard courts are made of layers of acrylic or synthetics, on top of a concrete or asphalt foundation.
The surface can be slippery, so an anti-slip paint is applied to enhance the playing conditions – the balls can bounce high. The gameplay on a hard court is quicker than clay, but not as fast a grass court.
Novak Djokovic is the current US and Australian Open champion and has 10 Grand Slam wins on the hard court.