Clay Courts vs. Hard Courts

With tennis fans glued to the French Open this week and the rest of next week, we thought it’d be appropriate to talk about the differences between the clay courts used at Roland Garros, and the post-tension hard courts we install throughout New England.

It’s a little more than just, this court is made out of clay, and this one from concrete. For tennis players throughout history, it has meant the difference between major championships and major failures.

Before today’s current stars of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovich – all of which have won titles on hard courts, clay courts and grass courts — tennis plays who were good on the hard court, couldn’t handle the clay courts and vice versa.

Pete Sampras won seven hard court major championships, including five U.S. Opens, but his struggles on clay are well-documented. His best finish at the French Open was a semi-final appearance. Bjorn Borg, on the other hand, won six French Open championships on the red clay court, but failed to win a hard court major.

So, as you can see, it’s has to be something more than the surface. Let’s take a look.

Clay courts

Clay Tennis CourtsThere are a variety of different clay courts and the colors of the clay means they’re made of different material. Red clay courts are made of crushed brick and shale, green clay courts use crush basalt, blue clay courts are made from crushed brick, and grey clay courts are made from natural clay from the ground.

This effects how the ball spins and is returned. The Red clay favors the player who can play defense, not one who can blow it by their opponent. The bounce off the clay court is higher and slower than that of a hard court. Also on a clay court, players can slide into their shots, preserving energy instead of coming to a complete stop while hitting their return.

Clay courts are cheaper to construct, but they need a lot of maintenance, which costs a lot of money. They need to be rolled, lines need to be painted more frequently, and the amount of water let on the court has to be watched closely. They’re kind of a pain to maintain.

Post Tension Concrete Hard Courts

Hard Court Tennis CourtMost public and private tennis courts throughout North America use hard courts. Post-tension concrete tennis courts are some of the more premier hard courts used in the country because of their durability and drainage advantages. Hard courts dry much faster than clay courts.

As far as play on a hard court, it’s much faster than clay and the bounce is lower. The tennis players who have an advantage are those who have a fine all-around game. Those who have a power serve, can defend on the baseline and attack the net. Most post-tension concrete hard courts use an acrylic finish.

Justin Karcher, an avid player in Buffalo, NY, said he prefers hard courts over clay because “the bounce is always better. It feels less restrictive.”

Both courts are great for tennis players, but when it comes to construction, maintenance costs, and aesthetic appeal, hard courts are the way to go.