With the French Open round the corner followed by the grass court season during the summer our lower limb specialist physio Alex, previously a full time physio for GB tennis player James Ward, wants to talk about some of the differences that tennis court surfaces have in terms of stresses on the body and also how the players’ training changes to accommodate them.
Training For Different Court Surfaces In Professional Tennis
Tennis is played on three main types of surface: clay, grass and hard:
Clay is the slowest of all surfaces. The ball bounces much higher and the points are much longer so the number of shots per rally increases quite dramatically. As you may all be aware, the slide is a skill that players develop playing on clay. It allows them to reach balls which on other surfaces would not have been possible. These qualities of clay have the following performance and training effects:
As the points tend to be longer, there is an added cardiovascular element to the match. Tennis mostly draws on the anaerobic system which is shorter intervals, but playing on clay taps into the aerobic a little more. This means that any CV training can be tweaked prior to the clay court season to prepare for this, and also training itself on court will consist of longer points to add that endurance element.
Due to the slide element of clay, players often find themselves in lengthened lunge type positions. This requires a different type of strength, flexibility and stability than the other surfaces. It requires 'strength in length' where the muscle is under tension for longer, and works eccentrically for longer. In preparation for this players will use slide boards and slide pads to replicate this. There is also a slight shift to more flexibility work particularly around the hips area. The knee patellar tendons are exposed to more loading due to the slide so gym exercises are tailored to heavier loading of this.
Grass is the surface with the least grip. The ball bounces lower and is faster. Points are shorter and players rely much more on their serve as a weapon. The biggest challenge on grass is footwork. As there is little grip, it makes it very hard to change direction. With this in mind, players tend to use shorter steps, especially when moving laterally, keeping the feet closer together as this will stabilise the body and allow for greater push off ability.
Grass, like clay, does also have a slide element to it, but it is not as prolonged as the clay, and is a lot less secure. You often see players on the grass slipping and this can lead to over stretching injuries. In training it is imperative to work hard on footwork, short quick steps to keep everything tight. There will also be a focus on hip mobility especially into squat position due to the low bounce so exercises in the gym will replicate this. The advantage of grass is that it is softer so the pressure on the joints is less.
Hardcourt is what we would say is the most stable surface and offers the best grip. The advantage of the hard is that the bounce is very true and more consistent than certainly the grass.
The main disadvantage of the hard court is the pressure on the joints. There is greater impact vertically through the body as it has little shock absorption. This can lead to joints feeling stiffer and more worked during training or playing on hard. It's important that the muscles are trained suitably to cope with the added load so they can protect the joint. The pressure can translate all the way up the body so areas like the back can be prone to stiffness due to the impact from the floor. Even more so than before, it’s important to look after joint health by ensuring good mobility programmes and also necessary strength work for the whole kinetic chain right from the feet up to the neck.
So as we can see, the different surfaces pose different challenges for players. The overall training doesn't hugely differ, but there are some subtle changes made in types of exercises, focus of exercises to prepare as well as possible fro the varying pressures and load on the body.
Want to talk about your tennis game with Alex? Call us on 02030 12 12 22 for an appointment.
Words by Alex Manos.