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View Full Version : History of the surfaces : grass, clay, wood, cement...


SgtJohn
07-01-2007, 10:32 AM
Following a suggestion by heycal, I create a thread to talk about surfaces and their history. Personally I'm interested in the history of tennis and am trying to find a way to figure out a list of 4 big tournaments for each year. All the talk about the Federer/Nadal rivalry has made me more conscious of the significance of surfaces in the concept of Grand Slam.

I know very little about this subject, that's why I invite everyone to contribute any knowledge they could have about it. My main questions are:
-which tournament were played on which surface? (there are obvious answers for the amateur Slams or still-existing tournaments (Rome, Monte-Carlo, etc.). It's less obvious for tournaments of the Pro Era for example (any big clay events aside from the French Pro?).

-how were surface perceived at different times? Was clay less significant in the 60s? more significant? Sampras's clay failures are seen today as a hole in his resume, Federer's defeats in Roland Garros put the stress on that...was the fact of being an all-court player as important a factor for greatness, in the past?...


In another thread, heycal asked about the history of clay. I found an article about this on terrebattue.org (the website of a French association aiming at defending claycourt tennis). It's in French, so I (roughly) translate it for the English-speakers:

"In 1878, the Renshaws, multiple Wimbledon winners, built grass tennis courts on the French Riviera (where they spent all their vacation time), at the "Beau Site" location, a neighbourhood of Cannes. It didn't take long for the white-clothed gentlemen to look for another surface to play their sport, due to the hot weather and the quick 'ruining' of the courts.
In 1880 they thought of covering the court with a powder that protects and gives its colour to the court. This powder came from the destruction of flawed 'terra cotta' pots in a small factory at Vallauris, where the brothers used to buy their decorative pots.
This was a success and in a year or two, 104 courts were built in Cannes alone. Then brick powder replaced the Vallauris powder, as the original factory was too small.

This new surface was much better for the sunny hot areas, as it needs no water-spraying, no mawing, etc. Only flaw, after rain showers, it was very long to dry. That's why in 1909, an English company called 'En tout cas' invented a new formula, a mix of sand and brick powder, and thus the concept of 'fast dry'. In the 1910s the concept was exported to many countries, Italy, Spain, and in the USA.
The Americans still kept experimenting new possibilities, and in 1928, H.A.Robinson created a surface based on classic clay, plus a little green piled rock. This was Har-tru (Har= H A Robinson, 'tru' =the 'true' color of a tennis court), and it soon became the Americans' favorite claycourt type."

Jonathan

Trinity TC
07-01-2007, 01:13 PM
Don't forget wooden floors, canvas and cow dung.

AndrewD
07-02-2007, 11:50 PM
In Northern Australia (Queensland), ant bed courts have been used since the game was first introduced. In Hawaii, there was a tournament that used something like coral or shell, can't remember which but it is mentioned in a few Peter Burwash books.

Very much a case of necessity being the mother of invention.


Was clay less significant in the 60s?
Absolutely not - as the European claycourt circuit illustrates. Perhaps the Americans thought otherwise during the 70's but that's not a universal opinion.

Sampras's clay failures are seen today as a hole in his resume, Federer's defeats in Roland Garros put the stress on that...was the fact of being an all-court player as important a factor for greatness, in the past?...

The key to greatness was always the ability to win, against anyone and anywhere (so, any surface). During Davis Cup play you might have to compete on grass, clay, indoors, carpet and boards. So, if you couldn't adapt, you couldn't win (Emerson, Roche, Stolle, Hoad, Rosewall, Trabert and Laver didn't win their French titles by serving and volleying).

Sampras's failure (it was always seen as the hole in his record) is to never have been a genuine factor in the French Open. Federer, at least, has been twice runner-up. Of the long-term #1's, only Lleyton Hewitt has a worse record than Sampras at the French.

chaognosis
07-03-2007, 05:38 AM
Roland Garros is an interesting historical artifact, as the court was built for one purpose only: to favor the game of the Four Musketeers (and especially the baseliner Lacoste) over that of Tilden. The Musketeers had been winning majors for a while, and took some big wins off Tilden, but it was their (curiously unexpected) 1927 Davis Cup victory over the Americans that everyone considered their greatest triumph. The prestige of hosting the Davis Cup challenge round in France led to the construction of the new venue, and of course they designed the court to favor their own team as much as possible when Tilden and the Americans inevitably returned to try to reclaim the cup in '28. The slow clay came in handy later against Vines, serving to dull his legendary service. I read that in the '32 challenge round, the French authorities watered the court down so much in anticipation of the Vines-Cochet match that play had to be delayed while the court dried off (I believe Borotra-Allison were actually scheduled first). I know this isn't exactly sort of detail you were looking for, but hopefully it's interesting nevertheless for anyone who doesn't already know it!

urban
07-04-2007, 12:23 AM
As far as i know, the British invented Lawn tennis as opposite to real (royal) tennis, and Wingfield gave the new game rules. When the game was spread around the Empire first, it was played on grass. Even on the European continent, as in Germany, the first clubs, founded by British people, played on grass, like in Baden-Baden. On the continent, however, the clay courts (or sand, hard or ashes courts) were laid down. I don't know about the exact date of changing to clay in France, but i think people like Max Decugis or Otto Froitzheim played mostly on clay. Clay courts came to prominence in the early 20s, when the World hard court champs were held at Paris, St. Cloud, or Brussels or Antwerp. They were played and won by Tilden and others. Not to forget the role of the Olympics, which were played mostly on clay. The most prominent figure of spreading the clay court game was Suzanne Lenglen, who made the Riviera circuit a spectacle. The most famous match of the era, the encounter with Helen Wills in 1926, was played on clay at Cannes. The musketeers with their Davis Cup campaign lead to the building of Roland Garros Stadium. Tilden's struggles with Lacoste (his 1927 final at RG became a classic) and Cochet at French or Davis Cup gave further prominence to the clay court game. The French defended the Davis Cup until 1932, when they watered down Vines' game, and betrayed Allsion in his deciding match with old Borotra. In 1930 the Italian went international, and around the time, also the German champs became important. In the seedings by Wallis Myers, however, the lawn tennis players mostly were ranked above the clay court experts. So he ranked Crawford a long time over von Cramm, although the German had the better overall record. After WW II, most of the Aussies and Americans (with the exception of Kramer) played the French, Italian and German champs. Patty, Trabert, Flam and Larsen were very good clay courters, challenging the Europeans like Drobny, Asboth and others as Chilean Ayala. With Pietrangeli and Santana (and Gimeno) the first real European clay stars emerged, who competed against the top Aussies like Rosewall, Emerson and Laver. Even in this era, a Paris-Wim double was the hardest thing to do: Rosewall skipped the French quite often, to focus on Wim, and Santana did the same in 65-67.
Clay became the preeminent surface in the middle 70s, when virtually all US events were played on har tru.Then the USTA changed to cement, to enhance the chances of their own boys. Cement as a surface was invented on the West Coast. I think, already MacLoughlin was raised up on cement, certainly Vines and Budge grew up on the Californian cement courts. Indoor tennis on wood or linol was played in Europe since the 20s: Borotra became the first great champion of indoor play.In Europe the King's Cup (in memory of the King of Sweden), a team event was held in the winter, the Skandinavians dominated it. The pros enhanced the status of indoor play with their US tours, which mostly started at the old Madison Square Garden. On the more exquisite surfaces: Newcombe tells in his book his experience of playing on ****: In a Davis Cup tie with India in 1973 at Madras, the Aussies had to play on dry cow pasture. It didn't do well for the clothes neither for the noses. The old pros often had to play on ice rinks, with carpets laid over the ice. They took hard falls and cold feet.

Trinity TC
07-04-2007, 01:02 AM
-how were surface perceived at different times? Was clay less significant in the 60s? more significant?

It was quite signifigant in the US as Davis Cup losses to Italy, Mexico, Spain, Brazil and Ecuador created a stir within the USTA. For example, Arthur Ashe lost both of his singles matches to relative unknowns Pancho Guzman and Miguel Olvera while the US also lost their doubles match against Ecuador in 1967. Edison Mandarino of Brazil defeated both Cliff Richey and Dennis Ralston in 1966. Juan Gisbert of Spain defeated Ralston and Frank Froehling in both his singles matches while Santana won his singles and teamed with Jose-Luis Arilla in doubles to defeat the US 4-1 in 1965.

The US would later get it's revenge 5-0 against Ecuador by playing the 1968 Davis Cup matchup at home on fast indoor carpet.

heycal
07-29-2007, 10:42 PM
Thanks for creating the thread, SgtJohn. Interesting stuff.

Gorecki
07-31-2007, 10:06 AM
Don't forget wooden floors, canvas and cow dung.


And also the world famous Punta Cana Open wich is played in sand.

:-D :-D :-D :-D

Wuornos
08-08-2007, 03:26 AM
I put it down to her career stradling the amateur / open eras. Without doubt in my mind one of the very best.

Q&M son
09-17-2008, 04:36 PM
The Americans still kept experimenting new possibilities, and in 1928, H.A.Robinson created a surface based on classic clay, plus a little green piled rock. This was Har-tru (Har= H A Robinson, 'tru' =the 'true' color of a tennis court), and it soon became the Americans' favorite claycourt type."

Jonathan

Actually, only Houston remains on this one, no?

heycal
09-17-2008, 04:43 PM
Actually, only Houston remains on this one, no?

Timely post.

Not sure what you mean, but green/gray har-tru is now found all over America, while red clay has become very scarce. (Never mind the fact that I personally had the pleasure of playing on red clay about six hours ago.:))

GS
09-18-2008, 04:32 PM
Alot of posters here dislike playing on artificial grass. I think that it's great, with true bounces and decent footing, alot better than real grass. I always thought the Aussie Open made a mistake by initially switching to Rebound Ace (a recycled car-tire surface that tended to get sticky during their hot weather and cause ankle injuries), than going with artificial grass, which would become a great 4th surface in the Slams' modern times. At least they tore out Rebound Ace and went with another carpet surface recently....

TennisExpert
10-06-2008, 10:58 AM
Don't forget wooden floors, canvas and cow dung.

What the heck are this surfaces???? Somebody? It looks fast, but...

TennisExpert
10-06-2008, 10:59 AM
Actually, only Houston remains on this one, no?

Yep, only ATP tournie with green clay actually

BTURNER
11-20-2010, 08:06 PM
bumping for a better read when I can concentrate on the material.

BTURNER
11-21-2010, 05:28 AM
A snippet on Greenset on wood http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/tennis-wooden-courts-to-encourage-fairer-contests-1129037.html"Wood, the fastest indoor surface on which to play tennis, used to be the dread of players facing the big servers of yore, such as the American player Ellsworth Vines. Nowadays, a wood base coated in synthetic material provides a medium-pace surface that is fair to both baseliners and serve- volleyers.

The surface, GreenSet On Wood, was introduced at the ATP Tour Championship here last year, when two Spaniards renowned for their expertise on clay contested the final, Alex Corretja
defeating Carlos Moya. This week, while advancing to today's semi-finals without conceding a set, Andre Agassi mastered the Latin American backcourt skills of Nicolas Lapentti and Gustavo Kuerten and the attacking game of his compatriot Pete Sampras."

timnz
11-21-2010, 08:43 AM
Indoor tennis on wood or linol was played in Europe since the 20s: Borotra became the first great champion of indoor play.In Europe the King's Cup (in memory of the King of Sweden), a team event was held in the winter, the Skandinavians dominated it. The pros enhanced the status of indoor play with their US tours, which mostly started at the old Madison Square Garden.

What was the indoor surface before the 20's ? For instance on what did Wilding win the world covered court chapionship in 1913? Or the british covered court champs before that?

Limpinhitter
11-21-2010, 11:33 AM
My understanding is that modern tennis arose from a game called "Court Tennis" which was, and still is, played on an indoor court with a higher net and walls. A tennis book I have refers to Pierre Etchebaster who was the world champion from 1928-1954. Check out these sites:

http://www.uscta.org

http://basque.unr.edu/09/9.3/9.3.48t/9.3.48.06.etchebaster.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Etchebaster