How Surfaces Can Influence the Result

The Impact of Surfaces

One of the most important factors when betting tennis is the playing surface itself. Of course, it goes without saying that some players perform better on clay, grass, or hard courts. These tendencies are usually reflected in the betting odds, but you’ll need to know where a player performs best before you can even begin to handicap a tennis match.

In modern tennis, there are fewer true specialists than in previous years. For instance, even supposed clay-court specialists have proven that they can perform well on other surfaces. For an obvious example, take Rafael Nadal; once seen as an excellent player who was truly exceptional on clay, he eventually proved his ability to win on any court.

Instead, handicappers who want to take advantage of the way players perform on various surfaces must do more subtle analysis. In the case of elite players, you’ll need to understand that these players are dangerous on any surface, even if they’re not on their favorite court. That said, don’t discount surface entirely even for the all-time greats; Nadal is difficult to beat anywhere now, but he’s overwhelmingly dominant on clay, and your handicapping should reflect this.

Outside of the elite, changes in surface often have a more significant effect on how you should handicap a tennis match. For players who are good, but not generally in contention at Grand Slam events, gearing up for the major events played on their favored surface is the best way to maximize their results and make a deep run into important tournaments.

For instance, a player ranked in the top 30 in the world who plays particularly well on grass will likely try to reach their peak form in June, when Wimbledon is played. They will likely play in at least a couple of “warm-up” events on grass in the weeks before they head to London. Given that their conditioning will be at its peak, you may even expect to see a carryover effect in the weeks after Wimbledon, even on surfaces other than grass (though you must still take into account that they are now playing away from their favored surface).

Evaluating How Surfaces Affect Players

Each of the three major surface types – clay, hard courts and grass – tends to favor a different type of player. For established professional players, it’s simple enough to look at a player’s record on each surface to see where they perform best. Put special emphasis on how the player has performed at Grand Slam and Masters events, where the level of competition will be highest.

For weaker players who have not faced much top-level competition, or for those new to the professional tours, you can make some estimations on how they’ll play on each surface based on their playing style. In general, each court type benefits certain types of play, as follows:

Clay Courts: Due to the fact that balls tend to bounce higher on clay, the play tends to be slower on clay than on other surfaces. This makes for longer rallies, as players will tend to get to more balls and hit fewer winners. In order to be a successful clay court player, one must have excellent stamina and be able to play from the baseline – either defensively, or by hitting powerful topspin shots. Another skill that is important on clay is being able to slide properly on the surface.

Grass Courts: In contrast to clay, grass courts tend to play very quickly due to the low bounce the ball will take. Serve-and-volley players therefore do quite well, as powerful serves can be very difficult to return on grass. Speed is also essential, as it can be difficult to reach balls, and adjustments may need to be made for bad bounces, which are quite possible on the natural surface. It’s worth noting that the most famous grass court tournament in the world, Wimbledon, has slowed their courts somewhat by using rye grass; this has lessened (if not entirely eliminated) the advantage held by grass-court specialists, causing the surface to play somewhat more like clay.

Hard Courts: Hard courts are very fast when compared to clay, though not quite so fast as traditional grass courts. In some ways, hard courts are balanced between the two extremes of grass and clay, though they do have their own unique properties, as well; for instance, balls tend to bounce quickly off of hard courts, putting speed at a premium as players will have less time to position themselves for return shots. Without other knowledge on a player, American professionals can usually be assumed to be hard court specialists, as hard courts are by far the most common courts in the United States.