Understanding How to Handicap Different Court Surfaces for Tennis Picks

João Mourato

Wednesday, November 25, 2015 2:32 PM UTC

Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015 2:32 PM UTC

Before choosing your tennis picks, it's important to understand several issues. We'll analyze the different court types, how they affect the game conditions, and changes theyv'e suffered in recent years.

When compared with other sports, Tennis has some specific features that makes it different from the majority. The first thing that becomes clear is that it is an individual sport, but that’s not the only characteristic to keep in mind when analyzing the betting odds for your betting picks. On this article we’ll analyze the different court types, how they affect the game conditions and the changes they have suffered in recent years, so that you have a clearer idea of how will the court impact your profits when betting with your sportsbooks of choice.


Tennis is played on a variety of surfaces, and players can experience drastic changes on game conditions from one week to another. There are four main types of surfaces where tennis matches are played:

Clay – considered the slowest surface providing longer rallies. It’s also known for causing a higher bounce of the ball. Consistent baseline game, kick serve and heavy top spin are the most effective game style for these courts.

Grass – these courts provide a lower bounce and are usually very fast. The grass courts can also produce unpredictable bounces, depending on the grass conditions. Big serve, serve & volley and slices are the best shots for these courts.

Hard – the game speed on Hard courts is usually faster than clay but slower than grass. The bounce is very predictable while the speed of the court depends on the usual material to build the court. Counter punchers and consistent baseliners are players that perform better on these courts.

Carpet – From the four surfaces mentioned, Carpet is clearly the one that provides faster game conditions, however the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has reduced the number of tournaments on that surface over the years. Currently this surface is only used in lower level tournaments such as ITF and Challenger events.

Some tournaments are also played in Indoor conditions, most of them use Hard court as surface, but there are also some clay courts played on these conditions. Wimbledon center court has also the possibility of playing under the roof in case of rain, and this is the only grass court that can be played in Indoor. When playing on Indoor, the game speed usually increases; however, the speed depends in large part from the court type used.


Taking a closer look on the several surfaces, we can see that according to ITF there are 9 types of court surfaces and also 5 court pace ratings:




Textured, pigmented, resin-bound coating

Artificial clay

Sand-dressed and/or rubber-dressed surface with the appearance of clay

Artificial grass

Synthetic surface with the appearance of natural grass


Bitumen-bound aggregate


Textile or polymeric material supplied in rolls or sheets of finished product


Unbound mineral aggregate


Cement-bound aggregate


Natural grass grown from seed

Hybrid clay

Clay-dressed systems supported by a carpet matrix


Tennis has suffered several modifications in recent years, one of them being the game pace. If we look at tennis 20 years ago, the game conditions were much faster than today. The players used serve & volley very often which leads to shorter points. In the search of longer rallies and tremendous baseline battles, ITF has tried to homogenize the surface speeds with a general reduction.

The change in Australian Open surface in 2008 is a good example of this process. The first Grand Slam of the year used a surface named Rebound Ace from 1988 to 2007, however in 2008 changed to Plexicushion surfaces. This change caused a significant reduction on the game speed and is one of the reasons for Novak Djokovic's tremendous success on this event.

Grass is known for being a very fast surface but the game pace on Grass has also decreased in recent years. The friction on Wimbledon Grass has increased in past years in order to reduce the ball's velocity after hitting the surface. A study was made to compare the surface friction in Wimbledon from 2003 and 2008 using Roger Federer's serve. There were significant differences in how the ball reacted once it made contact with the court surface. Using an example, in a serve from Federer at 126 mph, in 2003, the ball reached his opponent at 52 mph; while in 2008, it bounced higher and reached his opponent at 43 mph.

Although there are clear differences between the several courts types, we can conclude that the game speed has reduced in recent years. The surface type is the most important factor that influences the game speed, but isn’t the only one, and we’ll take a closer approach on the others in a future article.

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