The Summer hard court season. The most unforgiving time on the tennis calendar. Relentless with the heat and brutal on the body. Week after week of tournaments labeled as The US Open Series that culminates into the largest and richest tennis event in the world…The US Open which starts on August 26th. The electricity of New York City, the buzz of the crowd and the largest winner’s check in grand slam tennis history makes the build-up to this event that much more exciting.
The hype is real, but so are the dynamics of playing on hard courts. All surfaces have their own unique characteristics. Here’s what you need to know about hard courts if you plan on playing or watching the professionals compete on this surface.
In terms of the speed of the ball and height of the bounce, clay is the slowest and highest while grass is the fastest and lowest (apart from some indoor carpet courts) and hard courts sit somewhere in the middle. Hard courts will offer the truest bounce as the surface is always even but they can be pretty unforgiving and will put a lot of strain on the body – especially the legs and knees.
But they do allow for firm footing, unlike clay and grass. Court manufacturers have softened hard courts in recent years by adding extra layers of rubber to the under surface. i.e. Rebound Ace.
This makes the ball bounce a bit higher and can, in some cases, slow the ball down.
This change in the ball characteristic can also bring a change in the height of the bounce and speed of the ball so you have to keep adapting to that. On average, a ball hit on hard courts will still have 68% of its initial contact speed after its bounce. Clay is much lower at 59% and grass courts are slightly higher at 70%. Anyone who has played on a variety of surfaces can feel the difference. In a game that relies on fractions of a second for timing, these small variances can be the difference between a clean winner and a embarrassing mishit that lands in the 10th row.
Conditions are often hot and humid during the American hard court season and can be oppressive in certain parts of the country – the temperatures rise to over 100 degrees on the court. Oh, and let’s not forget, hard court temperatures are usually 10-15 degrees hotter than what the mercury might read off the court suspended on a fence or post. It may be 90 degrees in the stands, but think about the feel of that hot asphalt. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never tried to cook an egg on a tennis court. It would be a bigger lie if I said that egg was not cooked quickly on the most steamy of Summer days. I’ve even flirted with the thought of throwing down a steak or two on the baseline to see the Maillard reaction go into full effect. The only thing that stops me is the look of pure disgust I’d receive from the “competitive” senior ladies doubles teams competing on the adjacent court. And while we’re at it, that’s not gum that you stepped on near the doubles alley, that’s the rubber sole of your shoe that is quickly reducing to a melty glob of nothingness. The good news for aggressive hard hitting players is that if you play in this type of heat at midday for example, you can expect the ball to be traveling pretty quickly through the air.
Preparation for the outdoor hard court season is crucial for players at all levels. Physical conditioning will be a deciding factor in many matches and proper hydration and nutrition can often provide an edge to performance. Mental toughness in the heat can also affect the outcome of matches.
When it comes to playing styles, medium-fast hard courts will suit the aggressive all-court player which Big serves and powerful ground strokes are the modus operandi. You will see more flat first serves especially if the court is playing fast, and more kick second serves as the court will take the top spin and ensure the returner is having to hit at shoulder or even head height.
You are less likely to see drop shots on this surface as the ball tends to sit up – so players will only play these when their opponent is well off the back or side of the court. Most winning ground strokes will be flattened out to make the ball travel faster.
Good luck to you and your game this Summer. Happy Hitting.
Thanks for Reading.
Kyle LaCroix @TennisTycoon