Saturday School: Why are some hard courts slow, some fast?

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In the first two rounds of the US Open 2017, Roger Federer has showcased a performance of mixed fortunes. Every winner he hit was followed by an unforced error in the next couple of points. For someone like Roger who is a 5-time US Open champion and has a consistent record at the Flushing Meadows, the shaky start has indeed been surprising. Many tennis pundits and fans believe that the slowing down of the Arthur Ashe court has affected Roger’s gameplay, who usually enjoys faster hard courts.
When ladies’ World No.1, Karolina Pliskova was asked by Mats Wilander as to how she felt the court’s speed was compared to the previous year, Pliskova said that she didn’t find much of a difference.
Subtle changes take place on hard courts of every tournament each year. More precisely, the changes are made within a thickness of 3 millimetres of the court surface. In general, 6 layers make up a hard court. Three of them are fixed, the other three undergo renovation every year. So what exactly determines the speed of the hard court? The answer lies in one the six layers.
First Layer: Asphalt
The base is made of asphalt. On this asphalt base, sand is added so that any flaw in the first layer is corrected. The sand also helps in the appropriate binding of the second layer to the first layer.
 
Second layer: Rubber
The court gets its cushioning from this layer. Three coats of rubber are applied. The rubber particles are relatively bigger and are spread across the asphalt.
Third layer: Rubber
Yet another layer of rubber is laid down. Though, this time, the rubber particles are finer and they fill in any gaps or spaces created by the second layer. This layer contributes in smoothening and softening of the court.
Fourth layer: Acrylic-Silica formula
This layer is what differentiates the faster and slower hard courts. More the acrylic-silica formula, more will be the speed of the ball and higher will be the Court Pace Index. Besides the formula, this layer also contains color pigments that are in sync with the court’s color.
Fifth Layer: Finishing Layer
This layer contains only color pigments that determine the color of the surface. No sand is added in this layer.
Sixth Layer: Lines layer
The final layer lays down the lines which contains the same acrylic-silica formula so that the courts are homogenous. This layer also eliminates skidding of the ball.
The last three layers are the ones that undergo a renewal every year. The entire court is vulnerable to excessive buildup of the coating layers. Hence, once in few years, the entire court (till the asphalt) will get renewed.
Due to advanced tennis surfacing systems, these courts whether fast or slow, are durable and provide an even bounce for the players to display their game play.
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Hello tennis lovers, I am Balraj Shukla from Ahmedabad, India. My love for the sport is directed not only by viewing the current scenario but by tracing the steps back to the roots of the game we call Tennis. Upon reading my content I hope you further widen your perspective of the game by knowing things out of the box. Twitter and Facebook links mentioned will help you in contacting me for healthy discussions, questions, and analysis.

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