Ever wondered? Maybe. Probably not. But maybe.
Here’s a post from Tennis Warehouse that I dug up. It’s from 2008, but the ones that I’ll list are the same today. First, the ITF classification:
Category 1 – Slow
Category 2 – Medium-Slow
Category 3 – Medium
Category 4 – Medium-Fast
Category 5 – Fast
Gerflor Taraflex (Lyon, MS Paris): 5 – Fast
Greenset (Old MS Madrid) : 3 – Medium
Plexipave (Stockholm): 3 – Medium
Rebound Ace (Former AO): 4/5 – Medium-Fast / Fast
Premier Court: (Not listed)
Plexicushion (AO): 3/4 – Medium / Medium-Fast
Decoturf (USO): 4 – Medium-Fast
With what else I’ve been able to dig up, the World Tour Finals at the O2 arena and the Shanghai Masters are also both held on DecoTurf, as is the entirety of the US Open Series. Oh, and for the record, the France/Argentina tie will be held in the Lyon arena (Gerflor Taraflex), but the actual 250 event itself has been re-located to Montpellier, held at the same time and on indoor hard courts, though I have no idea which specific type. Interestingly enough, the ITF site now has the Gerflor (Paris Masters) as a 3 (medium-fast), so I’m curious if the classification was changed later. Keep that in mind.
So what’s the difference? First, check out the ITF site. There’s a few surfaces out there, no? And don’t be confused by Decoturf (medium) and Pro Decoturf (fast). The “Pro” one is the one used at the US Open. Let’s start with Plexicushion. (There are different types of Plexicushion, manufactured by the Plexipave company. The specific one at the Australian Open, and presumably the best, is Plexicushion Prestige.)
The always reliable Wikipedia describes consisting “of a Plexicushion substrate (which is a blend of latex, rubber, and plastic particles) and the 100% acrylic Plexipave Surface. The substrate forms a layer which absorbs body shock and reduces muscle fatigue.”
The Australian Open originally used Rebound Ace (back when it was green), an Australian company. Players complained that the surface retained moisture and became dangerous when it got really hot out.
This article is down right hilarious. The chief executive of AO (also in the previous article) states how he is confused about the surface switch that cost millions of dollars.
Plexicushion was rushed onto Melbourne Park with Tennis Australia claiming the surface would reduce injuries through less heat retention while providing a faster, lower and more consistent bounce.
Evidence shows that the courts pretty well stayed the same, in terms of stickiness and heat retention (from what I read), and McNamee was likely spot on when he said injuries are “inevitable on any hard court”. People were also pissed that it was changed to an American company, not the Australian Rebound Ace, and would be closer to the Decoturf surface that had been used (and still is) at the US Open for decades. Of course the ITF has Plexicushion as a medium-fast, and Decoturf as fast, so that’s clearly not the case.
Well, guess what? Plexicushion, having the word “cushion” in its name, might have helped with better traction on the court on hotter days, fine. But cushion equals bounce, and anyone who knows anything about tennis means that’s likely going to be MORE bounce and a bit slower speed, not “providing a faster, lower and more consistent bounce” like Tennis Australia eventually called for (though the surface itself is supposed to have incredibly consistent bounces). Which makes me wonder if a match like the high flying Rafa/Fer semi of a year ago might have happened at say, the US Open. Or even on the old Rebound Ace.
Next up, Decoturf. Bring me my Wikipedia! “DecoTurf is a tennis hardcourt comprising layers of acrylic, rubber, silica, and other materials on top of an asphalt or concrete base.” Slightly different from the “latex, rubber, and plastic” of Plexicushion. Noted.
Decoturf is most definitely a reliable surface. From what I’ve read, the ball bounces slightly lower and gets slightly less traction, meaning it moves faster, hence the ITF category 4 classification. Ironically, it is now compared to the old Rebound Ace, from what I read (though it, like Plexicushion, is under medium-fast in the ITF listings).
How about Gerflor Taraflex? Here’s something interesting from the Taraflex site. “Excellent abrasion resistance compared to resins/hard courts”. The DecoTurf info page on ITF specifically notes that it is a resin, and I’m assuming Plexicushion is too (combination of plastic etc.) Which is why I originally posted the thread from 2008 up top.
In it, there’s some confusion as to whether or not the Paris tournament is carpet or not. The surface was the same from 2007 to 2008 – still Gerflor, though it did change colour. It is also classified as a fast, not medium-fast court. In other words, the court might play different from a “traditional” resin based hard court, however, isn’t quite the classic, gross ass carpet that you don’t really see any more. However, the ITF information shows that it is clearly a resin based hard court. It still seems strange, however, that it would be once listed as carpet, and the Taraflex site would say that there’s a difference between “traditional” resin based hard courts (unless that’s a different type of Gerflor product). Confusing eh? You guys might not care, but I find it interesting. If anyone has any more info on that, hit me.
Overall, the differences between hard courts remain subtle, and there are many, many other types, some of which are used in other pro tournaments. The Australian Open change to Plexicushion, and it’s difference from the US Open is what intrigues me most, however. Maybe there are other reasons beyond exhaustion and injury as to why Rafa has had more trouble at the US Open than the Australian Open. Perhaps that little added speed helped make some of the difference in Delpo/Fed between AO and USO. Minute differences, sure. But when we’re talking about the highest level of play, combined with power and ball bounces, it can make a difference. The neutral surface? I’ll let you decide.
Overall, this thing is a bit sprawling and insane, but I hope you guys learn something and find something interesting about it. Clay and grass are both “natural” surfaces, and make sense. Hard courts, however, are artificial, and therefore must have differences between types and makes. So this was my little research project on them, going into the big summer hard court swing. Feel free to comment with anything you know about them, anything I might have messed up, or any other thoughts.