How can your training influence your performance on clay vs. hard courts? Does tennis training specific to different surfaces improve performance? How do you improve your stroke performance on hard courts? While the study discussed below evaluated elite level tennis players, the concepts are applicable to the average or recreational tennis player as well, the results may even be more dramatic.
In a recent study of 24 high-level tennis players (ATP rank 1 to 63), published in Medicine and Science in Tennis (September 2007) the researchers evaluated running speed loads by evaluating the “strokes without time pressure” and the “strokes with time pressure”. The second category was further studied including running performance with regard to accuracy of stroke, running distance, number of steps to reach stroke position, and dislocation of the body while hitting the ball.
A total of 327 clay and 287 hard court service games and 8 clay and 3 hard court tie breakers from World Cup and Australian Open tournaments were included in the study. All athletes were right handed but one. Athletes were 20-33 years old.
The study found that typically a hard court vs. clay court match would require approximately 45% vs. 29% participation under “time pressure”. This is due to the greater distance run during the hard court stroke; this indicates a “raised running demand”. The count of strokes “without time pressure” were similar between hard and clay courts. The count of strokes however “with medium to high time pressure” was more than 28% higher for hard vs. clay courts. The average distance covered was 20 centimeters greater on hard vs. clay courts during without time pressure while the average running distance was shorter on hard vs. clay courts under “high time pressure”.
Additionally, the results show the greatest distances were covered under medium and high pressures on the forehand side up to as much as 4 to 5 meters. Lastly, the results showed the greatest errors ratio occurred both on the forehand and backhand sides on the clay courts. Since the greatest stress on the body comes from playing on hard courts because of the speed of the game, this also showed the greatest amount of injuries.
In general, hard court tennis is a quicker game and causes more stress on the body. Recreational athletes should be sure to prepare properly for the stress of the contest or find a local tennis facility that offers a more forgiving surface.