Tennis is played on a rectangular flat surface, usually of grass, clay, concrete (hard court) or a synthetic suspended court. The dimensions of a tennis court are defined and regulated by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) governing body and are written down in the annual 'Rules of Tennis' document.1 The court is 23.78 meters (78 feet) long, 10.97 meters (36 feet) wide. Its width is 8.23 meters (27 feet) for singles matches and 10.97 meters (36 feet) for doubles matches.2 The service line is 6.40 meters (21 feet) from the net.2 Additional clear space around the court is needed in order for players to reach overrun balls for a total of 18.3 meters (60 feet) wide and 36.7 meters (120 feet) long. A net is stretched across the full width of the court, parallel with the baselines, dividing it into two equal ends. The net is 1.07 meters (3 feet 6 inches) high at the posts, and 0.914 meters (3 feet) high in the center.3 The net posts are 3 feet (0.914 m) outside the doubles court on each side or, for a singles net, 3 feet (0.914 m) outside the singles court on each side.
A North/South orientation is generally desirable for outdoor courts to avoid background glare at dawn or dusk. Orientation should also take into consideration other structures and features on the site, neighbouring property, vehicle and pedestrian traffic, and prevailing winds. Topography of the site and efficient site utilization should be considered as well.
Tennis is played on a variety of surfaces and each surface has its own characteristics which affect the playing style of the game. There are four main types of courts depending on the materials used for the court surface: clay courts, hard courts, grass courts and carpet courts. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) lists different surfaces and properties and classifies surfaces into one of five pace settings:4
- Category 1 (slow)
- Category 2 (medium-slow)
- Category 3 (medium)
- Category 4 (medium-fast)
- Category 5 (fast)
Of the Grand Slam tournaments, the US Open and Australian Open use hard courts (though both used grass courts in the past, and the US Open used clay courts from 1975 through 1977), the French Open is played on clay (though it too was played on grass before 1928), and Wimbledon has always been played on grass.
ITF uses the following classification for tennis court surface types:5
|A||Acrylic||Textured, pigmented, resin-bound coating|
|B||Artificial clay||Synthetic surface with the appearance of clay|
|C||Artificial grass||Synthetic surface with the appearance of natural grass|
|E||Carpet||Textile or polymeric material supplied in rolls or sheets of finished product|
|F||Clay||Unbound mineral aggregate|
|H||Grass||Natural grass grown from seed|
|J||Other||E.g. modular systems (tiles), wood, canvas|
Clay courts are made of crushed shale, stone, or brick. The French Open is the only Grand Slam tournament to use clay courts.
Clay courts slow down the ball and produce a high bounce in comparison to grass courts or hard courts. For this reason, the clay court takes away lot of advantage of big serves, which makes it hard for serve-based players to dominate on the surface. Clay courts are cheaper to construct than other types of tennis courts, but the maintenance costs of a clay surface are higher than those of hard courts. Clay courts need to be rolled to preserve flatness. The clay's water content must be balanced; green courts generally require the courts to be sloped to allow water run-off.
Clay courts are more common in Europe and Latin America than in North America and tend to heavily favour baseline players.
Grass courts are the fastest type of courts in common use (AstroTurf is faster but is primarily used only for personal courts). They consist of grass grown on very hard-packed soil, which adds additional variables: bounces depend on how healthy the grass is, how recently it has been mown, and the wear and tear of recent play. Points are usually very quick where fast, low bounces keep rallies short, and the serve plays a more important role than on other surfaces. Grass courts tend to favour serve-and-volley tennis players, such as John McEnroe and Pete Sampras among men and Martina Navratilova and Jana Novotná among women. The surface is less firm and more slippery than hard courts, causing the ball to slide and bounce lower, and so players must reach the ball faster. Serve-and-volley players take advantage of the surface by serving the ball (usually a slice serve because of its effectiveness on grass) and then running to the net to cut off the return of serve, leaving their opponent with little time to reach the low-bouncing, fast-moving ball. Players often hit flatter shots to increase power and allow the ball to travel faster before and after the ball hits the ground.
In 2001, Wimbledon organizers changed the grass to 100% perennial rye in addition to changing to a harder and denser soil, with both providing for a higher bounce to the ball and slower play.6 Grass court specialist Tim Henman spoke out against this change in 2002, stating "What on earth is going on here? I'm on a grass court and it's the slowest court I've played on this year".7 As a result, serving and volleying has become rare at Wimbledon and dominant baseliners such as Rafael Nadal, Venus Williams, and Serena Williams have won many titles. Tennis at the 2012 Olympics was played on grass courts.
Grass courts were once among the most common tennis surfaces, but are now rare due to high maintenance costs, as they must be watered and mown often, and take a longer time to dry after rain than hard courts. The grass surface, however, is the most compatible with the human body because of its softness. For a more extensive discussion of the skills most advantageous on grass court, see grass-court specialist. Currently, Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam event played on grass.
Hard courts are made of uniform rigid material, offering greater consistency of bounce than other outdoor surfaces.8 Hard courts can vary in speed, although they are faster than clay but not as fast as grass courts. The quantity of sand added to the paint can greatly affect the rate at which the ball slows down.9 Hard courts are generally more equalizing than clay or grass in terms of playing style, although they favor harder-hitting baseliners and all-court styles with the current equipment. The US Open is played on an acrylic hard court, while the Australian Open is played on a synthetic hard court. The main difference between a synthetic hard court and a true hard court surface is the level of hardness. When the ball bounces on this surface it is faster than all other surfaces if there is not much sand in the top paint. The amount of sand used in the top paint and the size of the sand also determines the speed – more sand means less speed and larger sand particles will slow the speed of play. The amount of friction can also be altered and more friction will produce a clay court effect, where topspin is magnified. The extra grip and friction will resist the sliding effect of the ball and the resistance will force the ball to change its rotation.
Carpet is a tennis term for any removable court covering. A short form of artificial turf weighted with sand is common in Asia. Indoor arenas store rolls of rubber-backed court surfacing and install it temporarily for tennis events, however they are not in use any more for professional events. Carpet is generally a fast surface (more than hardcourt), with low bounce. Since 2009 their use has been discontinued on the ATP tour.
Hard courts are most common indoors. Slower, higher bouncing rubberized surfaces are used for a cushioned feel. Clay courts are installed indoors with underground watering systems. Barnstorming professionals played on canvas laid over wooden basketball courts up to the 1960s. For information about the original indoor tennis and tennis courts see real tennis and history of tennis.
The ITF campaign Play and Stay aims to increase tennis participation worldwide, by improving the way children are introduced to the game. The campaign promotes playing on smaller courts with slower red, orange and green balls. This gives children more time and control so that they can serve, rally, and score from the first lesson on courts that are sized to fit their bodies. The ITF has mandated that official competition for children under 10 years of age should be played on so-called Orange courts 18 m (60 ft) long by 6.4 m (21 ft) wide. Competition for children under 8 years is played on Red courts courts that are 11 m (36 ft) long and 5.5 m (18 ft) wide. The net is 0.8m high in the center.10
Common tennis court terms:
- Advantage service box or ad court: The receiver's left side service box, or the opponent's right for the server; significant as the receiving side for an ad point.
- Alley (Tramlines): The lanes on each side of the singles court, one on the ad side, one on the deuce side. These are only used when playing doubles.
- Back court ('No man's land'): The area between the baseline and the service line. It is not recommended to play in this area because this is where balls usually bounce.
- Baseline: The rearmost line of the court, furthest from and parallel to the net.
- Center service line: The line dividing the two service boxes on each side.
- Center niblet: The 12-inch mark at the halfway point of the baseline used to distinguish the two halves (and service boxes) of a tennis court.
- Deuce service box or deuce court: The receiver's right side service box, or the opponent's left for the server, significant as the receiving side for a deuce point.
- Middle T: See T.
- Service box: The area on each side bounded by the singles sideline, the service line, and the net. There are left and right service boxes, separated by the center service line.
- Service line: The line that is parallel to the net and is located between the baseline and the net. It marks the end of the service boxes.
- Side T: The T shape formed by the service line and the singles sideline. There are four such side Ts, two on each side of the net.
- T or Middle T: The T shape formed by the service line and the center service line.
- "ITF – Rulebooks - Rules of Tennis". ITF.
- "Rule 1 - The Court". International Tennis Federation. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
- Rules of tennis
- "Court Pace Classification Programme". ITF. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
- "ITF Approved Tennis Balls, Classified Surfaces & Recognised Courts 2012" (PDF). ITF. p. 62.
- "The Grass is Always Slower". BBC News. 2005-06-23. Retrieved 2010-01-06.
- "At Wimbledon, It's the Grass Stupid". Time. 2008-06-18. Retrieved 2010-05-25.
- "Hard Courts Make Tennis Champions". The New York Times. November 3, 1912.
- Tennis Universal
- ITF Play and Stay