Tennis

How to Adapt your Tennis Game to Different Court Surfaces

The relationship between the style of your tennis game and the type of surface you are playing on can have a significant impact on your chances of winning a match. Here are some fundamental tips for how you can adapt your training and style of play to be more effective on the most common tennis surface types:

Grass:

The surface most famously used at Wimbledon and most commonly played on in the summer months. The nature of playing tennis on grass favours a particular playing style which if harnessed correctly, can bolster your chances of playing better and defeating your opponent. When playing on grass courts players will find that the ball travels much faster than other surfaces and the length of points are generally shorter. For this reason, grass courts favour a more aggressive playing style. The use of ‘slice’ is also effective for both the serve and groundstrokes on grass, as the ball continues to skid well off the surface whilst maintaining good speed after the bounce. The ball also bounces lower compared to hard or clay courts making it trickier for your opponent to hit a good return against slice on this surface.

The ‘serve and volley’ tactic is also most effective on the grass court surface. This is despite it’s popularity as a tactic in tennis has reduced significantly from the days when wooden rackets were commonplace. As serves will travel fast off of the surface on grass courts, the return from your opponent is likely to be weaker in response to a good serve compared to on other surfaces. This gives you an increased opportunity to come to the net from a weaker return and finish the point. Coming to the net at the right time gives you greater opportunity to place the ball across a wider range of angles away from your opponent. This can be most easily achieved when playing on grass courts.

Clay:

The famous courts of the French Open have made clay courts recognisable across the world. The ‘King of Clay’ is undoubtedly Rafael Nadal, having won Roland Garros a record-holding 13 times. There are several aspects of Nadal’s playing style that favour the clay court surface. It is such principles that we can study in order to play more effective tennis on the surface. Rallies tend to be longer on clay courts due to the reduced speed of the ball on impact with the ground. As well as bouncing slower, the ball tends to bounce higher on clay courts compared to other surfaces. For this reason, having good endurance for longer rallies is a critical part of your game to develop in order to be an effective clay court tennis player. Aggressive baseline players generally do well on clay. However the slower pace of the ball on the surface means that just trying to hit hard may not be as effective. Try to vary your shots more on clay and be creative with angles and spin to keep your opponent guessing.

Hitting the ball deeper to push your opponent far behind the baseline is another effective tactic on clay, as this will allow you to dictate the point. When the time is right, hit a drop shot after you have built the point up in this way. With your opponent far behind the baseline, they will be much less likely to get to the ball in time to hit an effective return.

Hard Court:

The surface used at the Australian Open and US Open. Across much of the world, hard court is the most common tennis surface played on. It is also likely to be the most common surface of choice if you are playing in a country with wet conditions; keeping these courts maintained is much easier than grass and clay courts. Furthermore, hard court is often the surface that most beginners playing at free or ‘pay as you go’ public courts will learn to play tennis on. For such reasons mastering the tactics most effective on hard court is pivotal.

When it comes to the speed and height of the bounce off of the surface; hard courts hit the middle ground between the slower and higher bounce found on clay courts, and the lower and faster bounce typical when playing on grass. If you have as strong forehand shot, then the conditions of hard court give you good opportunity to dominate the game with it. Inside-out forehands are also more common on the hard-court surface as you have more time to run around your weaker shots compared to on grass. Drop-shots should also be used less frequently when playing on hard court as the more true and consistent bounce means that your opponent is likely to get to them in sufficient time. If going for a drop-shot, ensure that your opponent is far enough behind the baseline so that the ball will be out of reach on their attempt to get to the net. With the speed of the ball maintained better than on the clay court surface, a low and more aggressive playing style can be effective in winning you more points, if carried out effectively.

This article is not intended to be an extensive list of all the playing styles appropriate for adapting your tennis game to on different court surfaces. Some less common tennis surfaces have not been included in this list. It is also worth considering that not all grass, clay or hard courts are exactly the same. Each individual surface will differ, and the bounce can even be impacted by other factors such as the weather and temperature on court. Furthermore, some basic tennis tactics such as consistency, ‘building the point’ and moving your opponent away from the centre of the court are universally good tactics across all playing surfaces. However, this article has hopefully provided you with some practical takeaway tactics that you can learn, practice and develop to become a better tennis player across the three main playing surfaces.