Chase Rubin Explains: Grass, Clay, and Hard Courts – What’s the Difference?

Chase Rubin has played in all sorts of tennis courts, from the Philadelphia Cricket Club’s grass courts to the blacktop courts of East Compton. He believes that inner cities should invest in their sports facilities, including tennis courts, as a way of keeping the youth from drugs and alcohol. His volunteer tennis instruction program has produced more than 20 NCAA Division I athletes since it started. Today, he discusses the three most common kinds of tennis courts today.

Have you ever wondered why some tennis players excel on clay courts and never seem to win on grass, and vice-versa? Why do the different Grand Slam tournaments use different kinds of courts? Each of the three most common kinds of tennis courts – grass, clay, and hard court – have certain characteristics that favor certain kinds of playing styles. Below, we discuss the differences between the three kinds of tennis courts, and the playing styles that they favor. In addition, we will give you examples of players whose careers were defined by their excellence on particular kinds of courts.

Grass Courts

Commonly associated with the Wimbledon Championships, grass courts require a lot of maintenance and thus have a short playing season. While they are relatively rare in the United States, they are the most common surface in the U.K. Due to their slippery surface (which only gets even more slippery after a drizzle), grass courts are considered the fastest of all tennis court surfaces. Balls bounce lower on grass courts, and the movement of the ball is a bit unpredictable due to the softer and uneven texture of the surface. Grass courts favor players with good serves and net games, such as Pete Sampras, and matches played on grass tend to be fast-paced, with a lot of power shots.

Clay Courts

Marked by a deep, red color, clay courts are strongly identified with the French Open and the Roland Garros tennis stadium. They are made of brick or crushed stone such as shale. There are other clay courts, made from crushed basalt, that have a greenish hue. Clay courts are considered the slowest playing surfaces in tennis as they reduce the speed of the ball, reduces the skid of the ball on the court’s surface, and cause the ball to bounce higher. They neutralize the power of hard-hitting players and favor those who generate a lot of spin on their shots and players who prefer staying on the baseline, such as Rafael Nadal, who is often considered the King of Clay.

Hard Courts

Hard courts are the easiest to maintain; thus, most country clubs and city tennis facilities use them. Most hard courts are layers of sand mixed with acrylic or synthetic material on a foundation of either asphalt or concrete. They are considered by the International Tennis Federation as a good surface for players of all types, and is generally considered a “democratic court” as it occupies the middle ground between grass and clay. Balls travel at a speed between those produced by grass and clay courts, and bounce higher and very predictably. Hard courts are favored by baseline players and others who like long rallies, such as Roger Federer, who has won five Australian Open titles on a hard court made from blue Plexicushion.