Where wood was once used in the 17th century on the tennis courts of the French and British nobility, the surfaces of today's courts are typically hard, clay or grass. Tennis courts can be expensive to build and maintain depending on the surface. Each type of court surface has its advantages and disadvantages in regard to how it affects your style of play and how it affects your body.
Hard courts are the most common type of court used in tennis and the easiest to maintain. Hard courts can be made with asphalt or cement with a layer of cushioning material and topped with paint mixed with sand. These courts are regarded as medium to fast courts. Hard courts allow the ball to bounce more at contact because less of the ball's momentum is absorbed by the court. The amount of sand mixed into the top paint layers will dictate how the ball will react with the surface.
Clay courts are not as expensive to build but do demand a fair amount of maintenance, including watering, rolling and brushing. The clay material is typically red or green in colour because of the kind of crushed shale, stone or brick used. Throughout Europe and in South America, you will find predominantly red clay courts. In the United States, you will find more green clay courts. Both the red and green clay courts are considered to be slower courts. When balls contact the clay court surface, they tend to bounce up, or sit up, instead of skidding. The court absorbs a lot of the ball's momentum. Accomplished clay court players learn to slide on the clay with ease while playing.
Grass courts are expensive to build and to maintain, requiring yearly reseeding and constant mowing. Because of the amount of time and money spent for maintaining grass courts, they are not that common. Playing on a grass court is easier on your body in that it is a softer surface. However, the ball tends to stay low and skid when it contacts the grass. This can be harder on your knees because it means that you have to lower your body to the ball. Grass courts are the fastest courts to play on and suit a serve-and-volley style of play.
Artificial grass courts are sometimes used. These are similar to the surface used on some football and baseball fields. Players enjoy the artificial courts because the ball bounces more predictablly than on natural turf and there is less foot slippage. Artificial grass courts also do not require the maintenance of natural turf.
Carpet tennis courts are used predominantly indoors. This type of court is easy to install. The material can be rolled out over cement or wood and can temporarily be installed for special tennis events.