Tennis is played on hard court, clay and grass and it is the only sport that is played on several different surfaces. The different surfaces have an influence on how the players and the ball moves, adding a unique aspect to the game, according to the International Tennis Federation. The standards for tennis courts are rather strict and consist of being 78 feet long and 27 feet wide for singles and 36 feet wide for doubles. Courts are also generally positioned in a north-south direction, in order to minimize the sun's interference on players, according to the International Tennis Federation.
Hard courts are the most popular courts in the United States, and is the surface of the US Open, which is the fourth and final Grand Slam of the season. Ontennis.com reports that hard courts are considered to be an equalizer for players because they are faster than clay courts but slower than grass. Most of the hard courts in the US are DecoTurf, which Ontennis.com explains as a acrylic hard court, but the Australian Open and most of Australia's hard courts are made of Rebound Ace, a synthetic substance. The Rebound Ace is softer and absorbs the bounce of the ball more, thus slowing down the speed of play. Because the game is faster on hard courts, players try to keep the rallies to a minimum.
The game of tennis that we know today was conceived as lawn tennis and played on grass courts in the United Kingdom. Forbes.com reports that originally, three of the four Grand Slams were played on grass, but today Wimbledon is the only one remaining. Grass courts play very quickly and points are usually kept short. Ontennis.com reports that grass courts are similar to golf greens, and they require extensive maintenance to keep the quality of the courts intact. Forbes.com reports that most of the United States existing grass courts are on the East Coast, and they make up less than 1 percent of all tennis courts in the country.
Clay courts are most prevalent in South America and Europe, most notably Spain. The French Open is played on clay courts in Paris every May. Clay courts are the slowest of all the tennis court surfaces, and therefore require different skills from hard and grass courts. Clay demands a greater sense of athleticism, as rallies tend to be long and professional matches can last upward of three to five hours. Ontennis.com reports that clay court players tend to stay in the back of the court at the baseline during rallies and play more defensively. Additionally, the ability to slide is required when playing on clay because players generally slide into shots rather than running and stopping when reaching the ball. The best professional clay court player as of September 2010 is Spain's Rafael Nadal.