As the U.S. Open nears, tennis players have the obstacle of playing on a third surface in less than two months. Shuffling between these surfaces creates key variations for players to compensate for. Players are constantly switching their timing of shots, style of play, strategy and even footwork. Perhaps the most significant alteration comes in equipment. Here are some tips to use when moving from surface to surface.
Clay/Har-Tru courts tend to slow the game down, promote longer rallies, magnify spin, and demand proper sliding. The string to match this surface is a thicker gauge string with texture and you should experiment with lower tensions than normally played with. The thicker string will hold up with the abrasive clay as the tension gives more power to counter the slow courts. Use a racquet with a more open string pattern and slightly larger racquet head where the lower density of string adds spin to get a Nadal-like domination on the dirt. You will need clay court-specific shoes with a tight herringbone tread pattern on the bottom. This specific shoe tread allows you to get a grip on the clay for agility, while also allowing you to reduce friction when needed to slide. A final adjustment could be made in racquet length.
Hard courts are the national surface of the United States and probably the most common surface encountered. The hard court is faster than clay where speeds vary upon the amount of sand sprinkled on top to give grit during construction. An important attribute of the hard court surface is that it gives the truest bounce. The string choice here should be thinner gauges incorporating full string beds of polyester or hybrids (half-polyester and half-synthetic/natural gut). Give higher tension strings with dense string patterns a try on mid- or small-racquet head sizes. This combination blends well with true bounces on hard courts so players can unload on higher predictable balls. Find a shoe with heavy reinforcement (Kevlar or added padding) at the toe to increase durability on this surface which eats shoes alive.
Grass courts are a rare surface to encounter, with lightning-fast play, low bounces, inconsistent terrain, and typically, soft net cords. These courts are so arduous to maintain that most grass court clubs are very strict on equipment. Wimbledon and other major grass facilities are changing the density of the grass where players are starting to call it “Green Clay.” Nonetheless, the court still produces agility-demanding serve and volley net play. Natural gut strings of thinner gauges are the number one choice for this surface. Test lower tensions where the ultimate goal on this surface is feel and touch during net play and low bounces. Grass court-specific shoes have pegged cleat-like soles that provide extra grip and protection for the hallowed grass courts, but for those of us who don’t frequent the grass enough, a clay court shoe will work too.
These insights will definitely help you match your equipment to the surface. We all know it’s the carpenter, not the tools. However, when you improve timing, feel, movement, consistency, power and everything else; you become a better carpenter.
<p>Roman Prokes has perfected his art of gripping by traveling with the most finicky players like Agassi, Haas, Sharapova, Berdych, etc. He has traveled the world over not only to string rackets, but to also put on customized grips. He has produced several grips which are world-renowned, like RPNY Artificial Leather, RPNY Tacky and RPNY Cushion Perforated. For more information, call (516)759-5200 or visit <a onclick="window.open(this.href,'wwwRPNYtenniscom','resizable=yes,location=yes,menubar=no,scrollbars=yes,status=yes,toolbar=no,fullscreen=no,dependent=no,status'); return false" href="http://www.RPNYtennis.com">www.RPNYtennis.com</a>.</p>