Professional tennis is commonly played on a variety of different surfaces, with each type distinguishable immediately by its colour and texture. Wimbledon, famous for its green lawns, or grass courts, looks significantly different from the red clay of France's Roland Garros. Each court, however, has individual qualities that distinguish it far beyond simple colour distinction.
Perhaps the single most common type of tennis court in America is the hard court. By far the cheapest to make, the tennis hard court is made of asphalt or concrete, and can vary at the professional level in its specific composition. The hard court is usually paved a single solid colour inside its lines, and a contrasting colour outside of its lines, so that spotting close line calls becomes easier. Also, the hard court is notorious for being extremely high impact on joints, making it unappealing to older senior players and those with arthritis and joint problems.
The grass court is known to be slightly less harsh on joints, and absorbs more downward shock than the average hard court, making it slightly more appealing for senior players. Additionally, the grass court's tendency to cause the ball to skid on impact makes the ball move much faster after it rebounds off the court. For this reason, the grass court is particularly favoured by players who like to hit hard, fast moving shots. England's Wimbledon tournament is played on one of the most famous grass courts in the professional circuit.
Made of the same kind of clay that most professional baseball infields are made of, the clay court is the lowest impact surface that is available for tennis surfaces, and is thus highly favoured by senior players and those with joint problems. Additionally, the use of loose sediment makes the techniques needed to play on clay very unique, as the slippery sediment makes slipping and sliding around the court a typical part of the clay court game. However, due to the use of loose sediment, the clay surface causes the tennis ball to rebound much slower off of the court, making the surface more favourable by those who hit with lots of top spin and little speed or pace on their shots. The French Open is played on one of the most well known clay courts in the professional circuit, but clay is popular in Spain and other European cultures as well.
Hard Court Variations
Hard courts can vary in composition, especially at the professional level, so that each type of court can create a different kind of motion to a player's shot. The U.S. Open, for example, uses an acrylic hard court, which causes the ball to bounce faster and with more top spin than other hard court surfaces, such as the Australian Open hard court, which uses synthetic asphalt.
Clay Court Imitations
At the amateur level, clay court imitations are frequently used as a substitute for clay, because the clay court is so expensive to build and maintain. One of the more popular clay substitutes amongst club owners is artificial grass covered in sand. The artificial turf mimics the low impact nature of clay, while the sand mimics the slippery sediment which is so important to the clay court game. It is not a perfect imitation, but the surface comes close to imitating the clay court aesthetic.
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