Tennisover the years has become one of the most popular sports in the world.
The wave has also reached Indian shores, with stars like Olympic medalist Leander Paes and Women’s Grand Slam champion Sania Mirza taking tennis’ popularity to new heights in the subcontinent.
Like many other sporting disciplines, the playing surface – the tennis court – plays a crucial role in enforcing the rules of the game.
A good knowledge of the tennis court is therefore essential, not only to play tennis, but also to understand and enjoy the game.
Dimensions and marking of the tennis court
According to International Tennis Federation (ITF) – world governing body of tennis – rules, a competition tennis court must be rectangular in shape and be 23.77 meters long. However, the width differs for doubles (10.97 meters) and singles (8.23 meters).
Looking at a tennis court from the top, the two parallel lines drawn horizontally across the width of the tennis court are called the baselines while the vertical lines across the length of the tennis court are called the sidelines.
Top view of a tennis court.
Photo courtesy of 2013 Getty Images
Since almost all tennis courts in the world are marked for singles and doubles matches, separate sidelines for singles matches are drawn inside the doubles sideline markings.
This forms two lanes, each 1.37 meters wide and 23.77 meters long, on either side of the tennis court. Lanes are outside the playing area for singles matches but inside the playing area for doubles matches.
There is a 1.07 meter high net, suspended parallel to the end lines, which divides the pitch into two halves. Each team/player defends one half during a match.
In each half, there is a service line drawn 6.40 meters from the net. The service line, however, only extends to the sideline marking in singles.
The midpoints of the two service lines are then connected by a vertical center service line, which forms two rectangular boxes, called service zones, adjoining the net in each half of the tennis court. This area is crucial when serving.
In a tennis match, a player must stand and serve beyond the baseline. They can serve from the left or right of the center mark (a small mark marking the center point of the baselines).
The player’s serve must clear the net and bounce inside the diagonally opposite service box in the opposing half of the court to be considered a legal serve. Failure to do so is counted as a foul. Two consecutive faults constitute a double fault and the opponent gets a point.
It should be noted, however, that the service areas are the same for singles and doubles matches and do not extend into the side lanes.
In addition, service zones are only in play during the service. All subsequent shots, including the return of serve, are legal if the ball crosses the net and first bounces inside the playing area.
If the ball crosses the net but bounces outside the service area without touching the opponent’s racket or body, this is called an out and a point is awarded to the opponent.
Types of tennis courts – grass, clay and hard
Although the measurements of all tennis courts are the same, the variety of surfaces on which matches are played can be divided into three main types: grass courts, hard courts and clay courts.
Grass courts are the most traditional tennis courts. Tennis gained its popularity by being played in the gardens and lawns of the ancient British aristocracy, and is therefore often referred to as lawn tennis.
Many current tennis tournaments, including Wimbledon – the oldest and most prestigious of the Grand Slam tournaments – is still played on grass tennis courts.
On grass surfaces, the ball skids and can see unpredictable bounces, while maintaining its speed. Grass matches are therefore fast-paced and favor players with immaculate technique, concentration and speed.
This type of court is the fastest and favors the serve and volley style of play.
Players like Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Serena Williams, Margaret Court and Billy Jean King have excelled on grass pitches.
A dirt court is usually made of crushed shale stone or brick and other unbound mineral aggregates. There are two types of clay courts that are commonly found.
The most common red clay courts are popular in Europe and Latin America. The French Open The Grand Slam, for example, is played on red clay courts. They are mostly made of tamped crushed bricks with a top layer of loose material, giving it a reddish color.
Balls generally tend to stick on these surfaces and bounce high, making it difficult to hit quick winners. They are much slower than grass courts and lead to longer rallies.
Consequently, matches on clay can push a human body to its limits and are often determined by a player’s stamina and ability to outwit their opponent with trickery.
With the high rebound, a good top spin can be a very powerful weapon on clay courts, where beating opposing tennis players through power and placement alone becomes difficult.
Basic players (who can defend well from the baseline) like Rafael Nadal, Björn Borg, Chris Evert and Justine Henin have had great success on the clay courts. Nadal, with his record 14 Roland-Garros titles, is often called the “king of clay”.
Less common green clay courts are made of crushed metabasalt topped with green clay. These are slightly faster and harder than red clay courts and are found in parts of the United States and Canada.
Hard courts are usually made up of synthetic or acrylic layers laid on a concrete or asphalt foundation. Resin and rubber are also used in some constructions.
Speed on hard courts can vary depending on the amount of sand present in the top layer, but is generally faster than clay courts but slower than grass courts. The U.S. Open and australian open Grand Slam tournaments are currently played on acrylic-covered hard courts.
Balls tend to bounce high on hard courts. Versatile players like Novak Djokovic generally tend to do well on hard courts, given their balanced nature.
Tennis courts at the Olympics
Olympic tennis was played on all three types of tennis courts – grass, clay and hard – according to the site.
With the exception of London 2012, which was played on grass, six of the last seven Olympic tennis events have been played on hard courts. The last Olympic clay tennis event was held in Barcelona in 1992.
In addition to the three main types of tennis court surfaces used in Grand Slam tournaments, carpet courts have also been used in high level matches at some point. These are textile or polymer materials supplied in rolls or sheets that can be laid on any flat concrete or sand surface to make a tennis court.
However, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) – the governing body for top-level men’s tennis – stopped using these courts after 2009.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) – the governing body for top-level women’s tennis – meanwhile continued to hold events on mats until 2018, but stopped from 2019. Le Tournoi de Québec 2018 in Canada was the last professional event held on mats.
Carpet courts are generally faster than hard courts but slower than grass courts.
Any of these land types can be in an outdoor or indoor location. Weather conditions play an important role in outdoor matches while they have a limited effect on indoor matches.