6. Surface

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6.1  Introduction 

There are many different types of surface available today including

  • Concrete
  • Acrylic
  • Rubber
  • Grass
  • Clay
  • Artificial Grass over asphalt

Most of the above have been installed in Ireland over the last 10 years with the preference being for artificial Grass over asphalt as detailed below.

All of these surfaces have considerably different playing characteristics and it is important for a club to know what they want and why they want it. The ITF Court Pace Classification Programme has been developed to assist purchasers of tennis surface products to determine the type and speed of surface most suited to their requirements. The ITF classifies surfaces into five categories according to court pace:

                                                      Category 1 (slow)
                                                      Category 2 (medium-slow)
                                                      Category 3 (medium)
                                                      Category 4 (medium-fast)
                                                      Category 5 (fast)

The ITF Court Pace Rating (CPR) measures the effect of ball-surface interaction. This concept includes: friction, which primarily determines the reduction in the horizontal component of post-impact ball velocity; and vertical restitution, which determines the time between successive bounces.

Further information on the test procedure for measuring court pace is described in the ITF Guide to Test Methods for Tennis Court Surfaces, test method ITF CS 01/02.

A surface product included on the list of ITF Classified Court Surfaces is classified purely on the basis of its court pace rating. The chart below list the CPR ratings used

Calculation of CPR

Any manufacturer, contractor or facility owner may apply for classification and inclusion on the ITF list. The ITF reserves the right to refuse an application for classification of a surface that it deems is not suitable for the game of tennis.

All ITF Classified tennis surface products are valid for 3 years, whilst the classifications of individual courts tested on-site are valid for 1 year.

Note: ITF Classification is not a mandatory requirement of the court surface selection process for any ITF tournaments and classification does not constitute any form of ITF Approval.

In January 2008, the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas regulations were amended to require the pace of courts to be used in these competitions, excluding grass and clay surfaces, to have a measured ITF Court Pace Rating between twenty-four (24) and fifty (50) inclusive. The rule applies to World Group and Zonal Group I tournaments only.

The descriptions in the ITF table below can be cross-referenced with the classified court surfaces to identify the generic court surface type associated with each product in the list. The descriptions relate only to court construction, and not to performance characteristics.

ITF Classification

6.2 Artificial Grass

The different types of artificial grass are considered below.

6.2.1Long pile

Until the early 1990’s the large majority of synthetic grass tennis surfaces installed for outdoor use in the UK were sand-filled tufted carpets with pile heights traditionally in the range of 18 to 23mm and with densities of between 20,000 and 30,000 tufts per square metre.

These early forms of synthetic grass relied upon a particulate or granular fill to be introduced into the carpet to support the pile and to form a major part of the playing surface. The fill material, usually sand, had a number of advantages; it allowed the ball bounce characteristics

to be varied; it helped to support the pile of the carpet, therefore enabling the quality of the playing surface to be more consistent over a longer period of time; it assisted the drainage of the surface; and it reduced the overall costs of an installation.

6.2.2 Medium pile

It was the sand, however, that was identified as the cause of some of the surface’s playing deficiencies - particularly an inconsistent and low bounce. This encouraged manufacturers during the early 1990s to develop shorter, denser carpets; initially 15mm in height with approximately 40,000 tufts per square metre – commonly referred to as medium pile today. These surfaces proved to be popular at many clubs for two main reasons; a slightly higher, more consistent ball bounce.

6.2.3 Short pile

The success of the medium pile carpets led some manufacturers to continue the trend towards even shorter carpets. An increasing number of short pile carpets are now on the market. These typically have 10mm pile heights and pile densities of between 45,000 and 65,000 or more tufts per square metre. The carpets are still sand-filled, but inevitably require less sand than other products. The shorter pile height generally also allows the pile to be stiffer, offering more resistance to a ball as it strikes the surface, resulting in a slower surface pace.

Synthetic grass carpets are generally of a higher standard now than they were during the early 1990s. Better polymers have been developed to produce harder-wearing and longer-lasting fibres, and more attention has been paid to the choice of sand used, following the early problems of compaction and drainage. Being a permeable surface, synthetic grass can be played on in most weather conditions, and can be used for twelve months of the year. Short pile carpets should only be installed above 6mm diameter open grade surface

6.3 What is it made of?

A synthetic grass court is basically a tufted synthetic carpet laid on a base usually constructed from porous macadam. Correct installation of the base is critical if the court is to perform satisfactorily for the duration of its life, and the specification used should be tailored to the individual site. The carpet is loose laid in pieces, and seamed, either by sticking or

gluing to a backing tape. ( it is very important to ensure that the backing tape and glue is suitable for Irish environmental conditions with respect to rain and temperature)

6.4 Minimum design requirements

Sand filled grass carpet

Carpets are produced in a range of widths, usually between 4.0m or 5.0m. The greater the carpet width, the lower the number of seams required in the court, which reduces the risk of premature failure of the surface – this is important because seams may wear faster than other areas of the carpet, as sand filling may not be as good in that area, or the seam area may not be as even.

The playing lines are nearly always permanently inlaid, and can either be incorporated into the carpet during manufacture, or cut and glued into the surface once it has been laid. The overall layout of the carpet sections should be carefully designed, especially when lines are to be introduced during manufacture, to ensure that the finished surface is acceptable both aesthetically, and in terms of its performance. Surfaces are increasingly being laid in kits, rather like jigsaw puzzles, which reduces the installation time required.

6.5 Sand infill

Once the carpet has been installed, dry weather conditions are required to fill the surface with sand. The choice of sand itself is vital if the court is to perform well. Many of the earlier surfaces experienced over-compaction and pollution of the sand, which led to drainage problems and inconsistent bounces, and so these days larger rounded sand particles are usually preferred. Typically, installers will recommend filling the carpet with sand to within 2 or 3mm of the top of the pile, but in practice this can be seen to vary considerably. Different players may also have their own preferences for the level of sand maintained, according to the playing characteristics and the visual appearance required.

During the first few months of a courts life, the sand will compact to some degree, and should be topped up as necessary. It is important that not too much of the pile should be exposed, as otherwise it will flatten and can then be very difficult, if not impossible, to raise. This can cause excessive wear and tear of the fibre, and reduce the life of the carpet. Correct on-going maintenance is also vital to keep the surface in optimum condition (see How do I look after it- 6.8 below? )

6.6 How does it perform for the player?

Since the mid-1980s there has been significant growth in both the range and installation of synthetic grass surfaces in clubs, with most new  courts being synthetic grass. The surface has proved to be popular with many club players, mainly due to its shock absorbing qualities, ability to allow play in “all weathers” and the surface’s aesthetic appeal. However, the variation in speed and playing performance of, particularly long and medium pile, synthetic grasses (such as ball bounce), means that the surfaces are less well-suited for higher standards of play or coaching. It is, therefore, increasingly difficult to generalise about the characteristics of synthetic grass as a single type of surface, and it is very important that anyone choosing a synthetic grass court play tests all products under consideration.



Playing Characteristics


Speed of court: Medium slow to very fast, according to type of product age & condition

Height of ball bounce: Medium to low

Trueness of bounce: Variable depending on carpet design

Ball Spin

Topspin: Little

Slice:      Yes


Footing: Generally firm footing, but can have partial slide depending on type of product and condition.

Traction: Mainly non-slip but can be variable and slippery when dry or badly maintained

Shock Absorption: Most sand-filled products have reasonable shock absorption qualities


6.7 Player Testing

It can be a difficult task to compare the quality and performance of the many different products currently available on the market. Prospective purchasers must rely largely on their own inspection and play testing of different courts, although this can also be difficult when comparing examples of surfaces of varying age and condition. Buyers should be particularly careful when play-testing older, well-worn installations of artificial surfaces, as the performance of courts can change significantly from when they were new.

Most court contractors act as agents for different manufacturers’ products, and it is important to ensure that surfaces inspected are the same as those offered, as products may vary whilst still having the same trade name. An increasing number of manufacturers are now having their products assessed using test procedures adopted by the International Tennis Federation. Whilst not attempting to replace player evaluations this data does allow potential purchasers to make desktop comparisons of products to shortlist for further consideration.

6.8  How do I look after it?

The maintenance procedures are designed to ensure:

The playing surface is kept scrupulously clean, to preserve its playing characteristics.

That the pile remains supported to prevent flattening leading to inconsistency in ball    rebound, foot friction and poor drainage.

That the free drainage of surface water is maintained throughout the  life of the court.

That the tennis court should look attractive and well kept at all times.


See section 15 On Maintenance