Why Your Favorite Tennis Player Wins: The Secret Role Of Court Surfaces

Written By Walter Yuhl on May 8, 2024
Three AP photos of tennis court surface types. Text says tennis court surfaces: clay vs. hard vs. grass.

Tennis is a truly international sport. In professional tennis, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) are the stages for the world’s best players.

These global events span six continents and 30 countries. The ATP plays 71 tournaments in 30 countries, and the WTA plays 74 tournaments in 29 countries.

Regardless of where the match is played, the playing surface creates a unique experience at courts worldwide – especially on clay.
As the French Open approaches, it is probably not surprising to avid tennis fans that countries with the most clay courts produce the most clay-court winners.

Our research led us to other interesting tennis data, as well.

Map showing types of tennis court surfaces used around the world

Key takeaways

  • Professional tennis is a hard-court game, with over half of the tournaments on hard courts, about a third on clay, and just over 10% on grass.
  • Unsurprisingly, countries with more clay courts produce more winners on a clay surface.
  • California produces the most champions (25%) in the US, followed by New York and Texas (10% each).
  • The United States has the most tennis courts, about 270,000 in total. That represents about 16% of all courts worldwide.
  • There are significantly fewer grass courts than the other surfaces, and Australian and American players dominate the grass courts.

 Tennis court surfaces win and lose matches

Tennis is “a game of inches,” as the saying goes, but the truth is that the court surface has as much influence on a match’s outcome as how the game is played.

Most of us are familiar with grass, clay, and hard courts, but tennis courts come in many different surfaces:

  • Acrylic
  • Asphalt
  • Hard (concrete)
  • Artificial Clay
  • Red clay
  • Green clay
  • Hybrid Clay
  • Artificial Grass
  • Grass
  • Carpet
  • Wood
  • Modulars such as tiles

The ATP and WTA tours are primarily played on hard, clay, or grass courts. Each surface has its own challenges and requires different strategies and styles of play.

Because the different court surfaces are one of the players’ greatest challenges, different players perform better and win more often on certain surfaces. Countries produce players who win more often on particular surfaces.

How the court surface changes a tennis match

The biggest factor in how the surface changes a match is how the ball and the player move across it. The ball on grass courts has a fast, low, and erratic bounce. Additionally, grass is slippery, and footing can be a challenge. Clay courts slow the game, allowing players to slide to the ball. Hard courts provide a fast, high, consistent bounce and sure footing.

The choice of court surface isn’t random. The difference in bounce and footing requires different styles of play. Fast-paced grass courts favor aggressive play, rapid serve-and-volley, and shorter points. Clay courts are ideal for long baseline rallies and strategic play. Hard courts span the extremes of grass and clay and can accommodate serve-and-volley or baseline games and aggressive or strategic play.

Hard courts are by far the most common surface. Today, most tournaments are played on hard courts.

Surface Number of tournaments*
ATP WTA
Hard 39 40
Clay 22 25
Grass 8 8

*Some tournaments take place at multiple sites, on multiple surfaces.

Physical impact and player preferences

Tennis is a hard sport on athletes’ bodies; each surface affects the body differently. Hard courts are often concrete, which has more impact on joints, particularly the knees, and can lead to long-term injury. Grass lends itself to falls and twisted ankles. Sliding on clay stresses muscles and tendons that players don’t experience otherwise.

Top ATP and WTA players understand how a surface affects their play. Most players have a preference, as they tend to win more on a particular surface. Most interesting is that a player’s home country influences surface preference. Countries tend to produce more winners on certain surfaces because some countries have more of one type of surface.

Tennis court surfaces vary by country preference

On the ATP and WTA tours, the court’s location indicates the type of surface used.

Of the 29 countries on the ATP tour, only five—Austria, France, Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland—play on two different surfaces. Only two, Germany and the USA, have tournaments on all three surfaces.

Germany has the most tennis courts in Europe, and the United States has the most tennis courts worldwide. With so many tennis courts, it’s unsurprising that there aren’t more courts on each surface.

Only four of the 30 countries on the WTA Tour—Germany, Italy, Mexico, and the USA—host tournaments on two surfaces.

The surface-country connection

Direct information on the number of courts in each country by surface type is not readily available. However, we can see how much better each country’s players perform on each surface.

According to SB Nation, South American players, except for Venezuela, are clay court players. North Americans are hard court. Asian players slightly prefer hard courts. Northern Europeans prefer hard courts, while Southern Europeans opt for clay courts.

Top 10 hard-court countries:

  1. Venezuela
  2. Slovenia
  3. Israel
  4. Canada
  5. South Africa
  6. Ireland
  7. Hungary
  8. Australia
  9. USA
  10. Finland

Top 10 clay court countries:

  1. Argentina
  2. Spain
  3. Serbia
  4. Kazakhstan
  5. Portugal
  6. Chile
  7. Colombia
  8. Italy
  9. Morocco
  10.  Austria

We evaluated 38 players with 10 or more clay court titles. Three-quarters came from clay court countries, and only 25% from hard-court countries.

We then evaluated the top 38 grasscourt title holders. Grass courts are few and far between, so there is no list of grass court countries. However, Australian and US players dominate grass court titles, followed by the U.K., at a distant third.

How hard courts are represented in the US

The United States has the most tennis courts, about 270,000 in total. That represents about 16% of all courts worldwide.

Of this vast number of courts, only 27 are grass:

  • California: 2
  • Florida: 2
  • New York: 3
  • Missouri: 3
  • Oregon: 4
  • Rhode Island: 13

Clay courts are more common in the US than in many other countries but represent only about 15% (40,500) of all US courts.

The ATP holds 10 tournaments in the US each year. Eight are held on hard courts, one on clay, and one on grass.

State                     Court surface

California Hard
Florida (2) Hard
Georgia Hard
New York Hard
North Carolina Hard
Rhode Island Grass
Texas Hard
Texas Clay
Washington D.C. Hard

The WTP plays host to 10 tournaments in the US. Nine are on hard courts, and one is on clay.

Host                       Court surface

California (2) Hard
Florida Hard
New York Hard
Ohio (2) Hard
South Carolina Clay
South Carolina Hard
Texas Hard
Washington, D.C. Hard

Given the popularity of hard courts in tournament play, it’s unsurprising that the US produces many hard-court players.

States with the most ATP winners

Next, we looked at the states that produce the most ATP winners. Of the 100 players we analyzed, 25% came from California, and 10% each came from New York and Texas.

Top 5 states with the most ATP overall career win/loss percentage players:

California 25
New York 11
Texas 9
Florida 7
New Jersey 6

American players are almost exclusively hard-court players. Rhode Island has the most grass courts in the US but did not produce any top ATP players.

The ATP and WTP tours are hard-court games

Today’s professional tennis is a hard-court game on both the ATP and WTP tours worldwide. More than half of the tournaments are on hard courts, about a third on clay, and a token, just over 10%, on grass.

In the US, the difference is more pronounced. Of the 20 ATP and WTP tournaments (10 each) played in the US, 10% (2) are on clay, and 5% (1) are on grass

The surface changes the game.  While hard courts are the lion’s share of surfaces, countries with more clay courts produce more winners on a clay surface. The fast-paced, aggressive grass game contrasts with the slower-paced, strategic clay game. Hard courts may have become the surface of choice because they give players more choices and the fans more excitement.

Methodology

We evaluated data from 11 sources and included: US tennis player birthplaces, tournament locations and types of court surfaces.

We counted the tournaments, cities, and countries listed on the ATP and WTA sites. The actual number of each differed from the number stated on the ATP and WTA sites. We used the actual numbers, not the published numbers.

Court surface and country

Taken from SB Nation, the full list of players’ AB-generated surface factors was pared down to players with at least 100 career matches in the database. Each player’s clay surface factor was subtracted from their hard surface factor to show each player’s relative surface preference and averaged relative preferences for countries with at least 16 players.

Point values were set from 0 (highest clay court preference) to 100 (highest hard court preference).

We looked at the 38 players with 10 or more clay court titles. Of those 38 players, 31 were identified as coming from either clay-court-dominant or hard-court-dominant countries. Of those 31 players, 74.19% were from clay-court-dominant countries, and 25.8% originated from hard-court-dominant countries.

We then evaluated the top 38 grasscourt title holders. We were unable to locate information on grass court distribution by country. However, the number of grass court title holders is concentrated in Australia and the United States.

Country           Grass court titles

Australia           11

USA                 9

UK                   3

Spain               2

Germany          2

Sweden            2

One each:

Argentina, France, India, Italy, Netherlands, South Africa, Russia, Serbia, Switzerland.

States with the most winners

We identified the birthplace of 100 US players. We selected the players from the ATP’s overall career win/loss index list for the first 100 American players sorted alphabetically. For foreign-born US players, we used the state they resided in. Some foreign-born players claim two state residences.

Sources used in evaluating tennis surfaces

ATP Tour

SB Nation

Evolve Tennis Academy

International Tennis Foundation

USTA

Perfect Tennis

Perfect Tennis

Racquet Industry Research Group

Tennis Court Supply

Tennis Europe

Tennis.com

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ATP tournaments and surfaces guide

TOURNAMENTLOCATIONSTARTENDSURFACE
United CupBrisbane, Adelaide & Sydney28/12/202307/01/2024Hard
Brisbane InternationalBrisbane, Australia31/12/202307/01/2024Hard
Bank of China Hong Kong Tennis OpenHong Kong, Hong Kong01/01/202407/01/2024Hard
Adelaide InternationalAdelaide, Australia08/01/202414/01/2024Hard
ASB ClassicAuckland, New Zealand08/01/202414/01/2024Hard
Australian OpenMelbourne, Australia15/01/202428/01/2024Hard
Open Sud De France-MontpellierMontpellier, France29/01/202404/02/2024Hard
Davis Cup QualifiersMulti City29/01/202402/02/2024
Cordoba OpenCordoba, Argentina05/02/202411/02/2024Clay
Dallas OpenDallas, Texas, USA05/02/202411/02/2024Hard
Open 13 ProvenceMarseille, France05/02/202411/02/2024Hard
ABN AMRO OpenRotterdam, Netherlands12/02/202418/02/2024Hard
Argentina OpenBuenos Aires12/02/202418/02/2024Clay
Delray Beach OpenDelray Beach, Florida, USA12/02/202418/02/2024Hard
Rio Open Presented by ClaroRio De Janeiro, Brazil19/02/202425/02/2024Clay
Qatar ExxonMobil OpenDoha, Qatar19/02/202425/02/2024Hard
Abierto De Tenis MifelLos Cabos, Mexico19/02/202425/02/2024Hard
Abierto Mexicano Telcel Presentado Por HSBCAcapulco, Mexico26/02/202403/03/2024Hard
Dubai Duty Free Tennis ChampionshipsDubai, UAE26/02/202403/03/2024Hard
Movistar Chile OpenSantiago, Chile26/02/202403/03/2024Clay
BNP Paribas OpenIndian Wells, USA06/03/202417/03/2024Hard
Miami Open Presented by ItaúMiami, USA20/03/202431/03/2024Hard
Millennium Estoril OpenEstoril, Portugal01/04/202407/01/2024Clay
Grand Prix Hassan IIMarrakech, Morocco01/04/202407/01/2024Clay
Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court ChampionshipHouston, USA01/04/202407/01/2024Clay
Rolex Monte-Carlo MastersMonte Carlo, Monaco07/04/202414/04/2024Clay
Barcelona Open Banc SabadellBarcelona, Spain15/04/202421/04/2024Clay
BMW Open by American ExpressMunich, USA15/04/202421/04/2024Clay
TBDBucharest, Romania15/04/202421/04/2024Clay
Mutua Madrid OpenMadrid, Spain24/04/202405/05/2024Clay
Internazionali BNL D’ItaliaRome, Italy08/05/202419/05/2024Clay
Gonet Geneva OpenGeneva, Switzerland19/05/202425/05/2024Clay
Open Parc Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes LyonLyon, France19/05/202425/05/2024Clay
French Open, Rolland GarrosParis, France26/05/202409/06/2024Clay
Libema OpenS-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands10/06/202416/06/2024Grass
Boss OpenStuttgart, Germany10/06/202416/06/2024Grass
Terra Wortmann OpenHalle, Germany17/06/202423/06/2024Grass
Cinch ChampionshipsLondon, England17/06/202423/06/2024Grass
Mallorca ChampionshipsMallorca, Spain23/06/202429/06/2024Grass
Rothesay InternationalEastbourne, England24/06/202430/06/2024Grass
The Championships, WimbledonLondon, England01/07/202414/07/2024Grass
Hamburg European OpenHamburg, Germany15/07/202421/07/2024Clay
Nordea OpenBÅSTAD, Sweden15/07/202421/07/2024Clay
EFG Swiss Open GstaadGstaad, Switzerland15/07/202421/07/2024Clay
Infosys Hall of Fame OpenNewport, Rhode Island, USA15/07/202421/07/2024Grass
Atlanta OpenAtlanta, USA22/07/202428/07/2024Hard
Generali OpenKitzbuhel, Austria22/07/202428/07/2024Clay
Plava Laguna Croatia Open UmagUmag, Croatia22/07/202428/07/2024Clay
Olympic GamesParis, France27/07/202404/08/2024Clay
Citi OpenWashington D.C., USA29/07/202404/08/2024Hard
National Bank Open Presented by RogersMontreal, Canada05/08/202411/08/2024Hard
Western & Southern OpenCincinnati, USA11/08/202418/08/2024Hard
Winston-Salem OpenWinston-Salem, USA18/08/202424/08/2024Hard
US OpenNew York, USA26/08/202408/09/2024Hard
Davis Cup Semi Finals Group StageMulti City12/09/202415/09/2024
Chengdu OpenChengdu, China18/09/202425/09/2024Hard
Zuhai ChampionshipsZuhai, China18/09/202425/09/2024Hard
Laver CupBerlin20/09/202422/09/2024Hard
China OpenBeijing, China26/09/202401/10/2024Hard
Kinoshita Group Japan Open Tennis ChampionshipsTokyo, Japan26/09/202401/10/2024Hard
Rolex Shanghai MastersShanghai, China02/10/202413/10/2024Hard
European OpenAntwerp, Belgium14/10/202420/10/2024Hard
Astana OpenAstana, Kazakhstan14/10/202420/10/2024Hard
Swiss Indoors BaselBasel, Switzerland21/10/202427/10/2024Hard
Erste Bank OpenVienna, Austria21/10/202427/10/2024Hard
Rolex Paris MastersParis, France28/10/202403/11/2024Hard
Moselle OpenMetz, France03/11/202409/11/2024Hard
Stockholm OpenStockholm, Sweden03/11/202409/11/2024Hard
Watergen Gijon OpenGijon, Spain03/11/202409/11/2024Hard
Nitto ATP FinalsTurin, Italy10/11/202417/11/2024Hard
Davis Cup FinalsTBD19/11/202424/11/2024Hard

 WTA tournaments and surfaces guide

TOURNAMENTLOCATIONSURFACE
United CupSydney and Perth, AustraliaHard
Canberra 125Canberra, AustraliaHard
Brisbane InternationalBrisbane, AustraliaHard
ASB ClassicAuckland, New ZealandHard
Adelaide InternationalAdelaide, AustraliaHard
Hobart InternationalHobart, AustraliaHard
Australian OpenMelbourne, AustraliaHard
Thailand OpenHua Hin, ThailandHard
Upper Austria Ladies LinzLinz, AustriaHard
Mumbai OpenMumbai, IndiaHard
Translyvania OpenClub-Napoca, RomaniaHard
Mubadala Abu Dhabi OpenAbu Dhabi, United Arab EmiratesHard
Qatar TotalEnergies Open 2024Doha, QatarHard
Dubai Duty Free Tennis ChampionshipsDubai, United Arab EmiratesHard
Puerto Vallarta OpenNuevo Vallarta, MexicoHard
San Diego OpenSan Diego, CA, United StatesHard
ATX OpenAustin, TX, United StatesHard
BNP Paribas OpenIndian Wells, CA, United StatesHard
Charleston 125Charleston, SC, United StatesHard
Miami Open presented by ItaúMiami, FL, United StatesHard
San Luis OpenSan Luis Potosi, MexicoClay
Megasaray Hotels OpenAntalya, TurkeyClay
Credit One Charleston OpenCharleston, SC, United StatesClay
Copa ColsanitasBogota, ColombiaClay
Open Internacional Femení SolgironèsLa Bisbal D'Emporda, SpainClay
Porsche Tennis Grand PrixStuttgart, GermanyClay
Oeiras Ladies OpenOeiras, Portugal
Open Capfinances Rouen MétropoleRouen, FranceClay
Mutua Madrid OpenMadrid, SpainClay
L'Open 35 de Saint MaloSaint Malo, FranceClay
Catalonia OpenLledia, SpainClay
Internazionali BNL d'ItaliaRome, ItalyClay
Parma Ladies OpenParma, ItalyClay
Trophée ClarinsParis, FranceClay
Internationaux de StrasbourgStrasbourg, FranceClay
Grand Prix De Son Altesse Royale La Princesse Lalla MeryemRabat, MoroccoClay
Roland GarrosParis, FranceClay
Open delle PuglieBari, ItalyClay
Makarska OpenMakarksa, CroatiaClay
BBVA Open Internacional de ValenciaValencia, SpainClay
Libéma OpenS'hertogenbosch, NetherlandsGrass
Rothesay OpenNottingham, Great BritainGrass
Veneto Open promoted by Confindustria Veneto EstGaiba, ItalyGrass
Rothesay ClassicBirmingham, Great BritainGrass
Berlin Ladies OpenBerlin, GermanyGrass
Bad Homburg OpenBad Homburg, GermanyGrass
Rothesay InternationalEastbourne, Great BritainGrass
The Championships, WimbledonWimbledon, Great BritainGrass
Grand Est Open 88Contrexeville, FranceClay
Nordea OpenBastad, SwedenClay
35° Palermo Ladies OpenPalermo, ItalyClay
Hungarian Grand PrixBudapest, HungaryClay
Prague Open 2024Prague, Czech RepublicClay
Hamburg European OpenHamburg, GermanyClay
Mubadala Citi DC OpenWashington DC, DC, United StatesHard
National Bank Open presented by RogersToronto, CanadaHard
Western & Southern OpenCincinnati, Oh, United StatesHard
Abierto GNP Seguros 2024Monterrey, MexicoHard
Tennis in the LandCleveland, OH, United StatesHard
US OpenNew York, NY, United StatesHard
Jasmin Open TunisiaMonastir, TunisiaHard
Guadalajara Open Akron presented by SantanderGuadalajara, MexicoHard
Korea OpenSeoul, KoreaHard
Ningbo OpenNingbo, ChinaHard
China OpenBeijing, ChinaHard
Wuhan OpenWuhan, ChinaHard
Zhengzhou OpenZhengzhou, ChinaHard
Kinoshita Group Japan OpenOsaka, JapanHard
Galaxy Holding Group Guangzhou OpenGuangzhou, ChinaHard
Toray Pan Pacific Open TennisTokyo, JapanHard
Jiangxi OpenNanchang, ChinaHard
Mérida Open AkronMérida, MexicoHard
Hong Kong Tennis OpenHong Kong, ChinaHard
WTA Finals RiyadhRiyadh, Saudi- ArabiaHard
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Walter Yuhl Avatar
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Walter Yuhl

Walter (Way) Yuhl is a freelance writer and business professor. Way has written for the Arizona Daily Sun, Flagstaff Business News, Bangkok University, and Shandong University of Science and Technology as well as edited content for the U.N., Thailand International airports, and other organizations. He has worked with Cantena Media since 2019.

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