Tennis is a bit of a unique sport in that it can be played on a variety of different playing surfaces. The four main tennis courts are clay, grass, hard and carpet. Almost all tennis players have their preference, and even the pros have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the playing surfaces they are competing on.
Let’s take a look at the history behind each of the main tennis courts.
Grass courts were the first playing surface for the sport, which had originally been known as lawn tennis. Major Walter Clopton Wingfield patented lawn tennis in Great Britain in 1874 according to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Grass courts play incredibly fast, which leads to short rallies at the professional level. They used to be the norm and featured in three out of the four grand slam tournaments including Wimbledon, the Australian Open and U.S. Open. As of today, Wimbledon is the only one of the grand slam events that is still played on a grass surface.
Clay courts emerged in the 19th century, and they are believed to have been introduced by seven-time Wimbledon champion William Renshaw. While giving lessons on a grass court, he noticed the grass would die easily due to the hot sun. To protect the grass, he laid down red powder. Clay tennis courts have become a whole lot more sophisticated since then as you might imagine, but that’s how they began.
Clay courts are widely considered to be the slowest playing surface in tennis, and currently the French Open is the only grand slam tournament that is played on clay.
Hard courts have developed into the most popular playing surface for tennis, and they have been around for about as long as grass courts have been in existence. Hard courts can be found just about anywhere from local parks to the courts that middle school and high school kids compete on.
Hard courts were not used during official tournaments until the 1940s, but currently, the Australian Open and U.S. Open are both played on hard courts, which do not play as fast as grass courts but not as slow as clay.
Carpet courts are not as popular as the other tennis courts listed above, and they have been phased out of official tournament competition. Carpet courts play fast, leaving not much room for a high number of rallies, which is part of the reason they are not featured much at the professional levels.
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