Tennis Clay Courts
Clay courts are one of the many surfaces that tennis is played on. They are known for their slower ball and player speed, and the French Open is distinctive for being the only Grand Slam played on a clay court. Keep reading to learn more about clay courts in tennis.
Clay Tennis Courts
Clay tennis courts are made of different combinations of crushed stones, gravel, and bricks. Most popular in Europe and South America, clay courts tend to be cheaper to make, but more costly to upkeep than more common hard surface courts. Clay courts are generally more durable and are considered to be a premium type of court. The properties of clay allow players to be more agile on the court, limiting stress on joints and even allowing for the ability to slide to reach balls. Clay typically results in slow bounces, which allows quick players more time to return shots.
- Durable playing surface
- Properties of clay make it easy on players’ joints
- Slow bounces allow more time for shot returning
- Fun playing surface that even allows for sliding
- Weather can cause bounce results to vary
- Courts tend to be slippery, which can make it difficult to change direction
- Slow bounces put heavy shot makers and big servers at a disadvantage
- Typically require a high level of maintenance to preserve a smooth playing surface
Clay Tennis Court Speed
In general, clay courts are said to play “slower” than grass or hard courts, because the clay encourages higher bounce, reducing the ball’s speed. Due to the slower ball speed that is seen on clay courts, these courts favor defensive players, who rely less on overpowering their opponent with intense serves and instead are more technically advanced and have better stamina. The slow ball speed results in longer points, less “winners” (excellent shots that are unreturnable), and softer shots with greater topspin.
Red and Green Clay Courts
There are two main versions of clay courts: red courts and green courts. Red courts are made using finely-crushed shale and red brick, giving them their distinct color.
Green courts, on the other hand, are made with shale and ground metabasalt, a rock with a signature black-and-white speckled appearance. When crushed, it gives courts a green-gray color. Green clay is most common in the United States. Green courts tend to play a little harder and faster than red clay courts.
History of Clay Tennis Courts
Clay was initially used to protect grass courts in England during the 1800s, which could dry up or burn in the summer months. William Renshaw, one of the early tennis greats, famously kept his private courts hydrated by crushing up old clay pots that were rejected from a nearby producer.
Starting in the mid-1900s, clay courts became more popular as tennis clubs began using them with greater frequency. The company Har-Tru, one of the first leaders in the clay court business, was founded in 1931 and used stone mined from Pennsylvania for its green clay surfaces.
The advent of companies that specialized in clay (like Har-Tru) expanded the popularity of clay courts even further, and today several big tournaments are played on clay courts. Stade Roland-Garros, home to the French Open, is perhaps the most famous clay court. It utilizes a red clay surface.
What is the difference between clay and hard courts in tennis?
Clay and hard courts are different in a number of ways. Firstly, they use different materials: clay courts, as might be expected, are made from clay, whereas hard courts are usually a type of asphalt or concrete with an acrylic surface. Secondly, clay courts play differently than hard courts, with clay courts generally being slower than hard courts due to difference in texture. However, clay courts are cheaper to construct than hard courts, though they require a bit more maintenance.
Where are clay tennis courts most popular?
Clay tennis courts are most popular in Europe and South America. The French Open is notable for being the only Grand Slam played on a clay court. Other major tournaments played on clay tennis courts include the Monte Carlo Masters, the Madrid Open, and the Italian Open.