IF YOU are a club player in Ireland then you will be familiar with our most popular court surface – artificial grass dressed in sand over an asphalt base – it’s the staple diet of tennis players across the nation. The major selling point for these type of courts is that they drain well and therefore can still be used in wet conditions – obviously a huge plus for anyone who plays tennis all year round.
But you won’t find as many artificial grass courts in tennis playing countries that have the luxury of a dry climate and/or easy access to indoor facilities. The most popular court surfaces around the world are clay and hard. In fact almost all the tournaments on the ATP and WTA tours are played on these surfaces with the exception of the few tournaments held on grass in June and July. Check out this interesting map showing to see where and on what surfaces the major professional tournaments are held.
So why are clay and hard court surfaces preferable over artificial grass when all options are available? There’s a number of reasons:
- Artificial grass courts tend to play fast and low in wet conditions meaning shorter rallies and a lower standard of play from the baseline.
- Slower, high bouncing courts are more fun for most club players – Epic rallies > Unforced errors.
- Artificial grass courts can become very slippery in the wet especially if they are not maintained properly. They can also lack uniformity underfoot leading to slips and falls or rolled ankles when a player encounters an unexpected dry patch.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of Ireland’s favourite court surface is the disadvantaged position developing players find themselves in as they move up through the levels of the sport. Many have had less of an opportunity to develop the physical and strategic skills required for longer rallies on a clay court. Conor Niland, Ireland’s best player in recent times, has commented on this. Judy Murray, who has raised two grand slam champions and has had similar experiences with tennis in Scotland, echoed Conor’s sentiments recently when she visited Sutton LTC as part of the opening ceremony for their new dome.
But there is no use dwelling on circumstances you can’t control, instead let’s look at the best options to overcome the problem…
Unfortunately not much can be done to affect the speed and bounce of the courts apart from proper court maintenance and seeking out the best balls (this is a trade off – with increased playability comes reduced durability). However, something can be done to improve grip leading to better footwork, movement and balance.
The shoe marketed for play on artificial grass courts is referred to as an omni shoe. As these shoes are tennis specific they offer optimum support for the directional movements of a tennis player. However, while the grip provided might do the job for a lower level player who doesn’t rely as much on their movement, they are hardly suitable for players of a higher level who are able to cover the court more athletically. You can imagine how well a hockey or AstroTurf soccer boot with similar grip would sell relative to what’s currently on offer.
So why has a tennis shoe that provides better grip for artificial grass courts not been developed?
The issue seems to be with the relatively small market for these types of shoe, coupled with the fact that most club players assume that any tennis shoe will do the job. It’s unlikely that there is a revolutionary artificial grass court tennis shoe on the horizon.
What are some other options?
Pros – Reasonable support, great grip
Cons – Tend to be bulky, overly aggressive thread can make them feel “sticky” on court
Football astro boots
Pros – Lightweight, decent grip
Cons – Minimal lateral support, thread wears out fast
Trail running shoes
Pros – Wide range to choose from
Cons – Minimal lateral support, lighter models wear out fast / tougher models can be bulky and “sticky” on court
In the end decide what’s right for you, the most important thing is to consider your options and not to always choose what is being marketed to you. It could give you the edge which might be the difference between winning and losing.