How to prevent injuries when switching between different tennis court surfaces?

This is a great opportunity to learn from the pros. It is no coincidence that the tennis year is divided into a hard court, grass court and clay court season. Each surface sets different demands on the material and playing techniques. Learn how pros prepare specifically for each season to prevent injuries.

This AISTS Sport Medicine podcast is created by AISTS Class of 2019 Jidong WANG and Mari MIKI under the supervision of Professor Boris Gojavonic, MD.

Mari: Hey Jidong, Have been you following tennis recently? The French Open final was fantastic between Thiem and Nadal.

Jidong: Yeah, I was watching the final on TV and you know what? Nadal’s top spin on the clay was just insane, and it crushed everything!!

Mari: Exactly, his top spin is his biggest weapon on the clay as the spin really gives all of his opponents a hard time returning the shot.

Jidong: Ture, I was at Roland Garros early this month, and by watching those top players play closely, you will notice that the ball bounces much higher on the clay than on the other surfaces, such as grass and hard court. 

Mari: Correct, that is due to the nature of those three different surfaces. As you may know, the clay court has the highest absorption and lowest friction. That’s why the ball bounces higher than the other two.

Jidong: Then I assume the grass court is entirely the opposite, and the hard court is in between, right?

Mari: In general, it is true, However, the hard court is more complicated than you imagine but I won’t go into any more details.

Jidong: By the way, the grass season is on, and all the players are working hard to make their way to Wimbledon, my favourite grand slam.

Mari: Why? Have you ever been to Wimbledon in person?

Jidong: Yeah, it was last year, and compared with Roland Garros, the game rhythm is much faster, especially in the gentlemen’s game.

Mari: That’s because the ball speed is the highest among the grand slams and as the ball bounces lower, it is the most challenging court to play on defence.

Jidong: And it is not easy to move on the grass without getting yourself injured. I still remember watching Wimbledon back in 2012. A bunch of top players, like Sharapova, Azarenka, all slipped and got injured that day and withdrew from the games. 

Mari: It is even tough for the top players to switch between different surfaces and get themselves ready in a short time without getting injured.

Jidong: As a professional tennis player, or even for us amateurs, injury prevention is always crucial, no matter if it is for winning more trophies or just for better enjoying tennis.

Mari: Of course, in tennis, most injuries, like 85-90 percent of them, are muscle or tendon injuries, and among them, most are lower extremity injuries, such as ankle sprain, knee ligament sprain or other foot injuries.

Jidong: And most lower extremity injuries are related to surface changes. Let me ask you a question, which surface do you think has the highest injury rate, clay, grass or hard court?

Mari: Definitely hard court.

J: Why? I thought it would be grass.

Mari: Well, hard court, namely, has the highest stiffness, which puts much pressure on your lower extremity, especially your feet and knees. According to ATP, 75 percent of the injuries happen in the hard court season.

Jidong: which is the longest season throughout the year. Also, sliding on clay court helps to reduce the impact on their body, which contributes to the low injury rate on the clay.

Then the players must come up with some ideas to better protect themselves from those injuries when switching to a different court.

Mari: Since I used to play on all three different surfaces, based on my experience, I would suggest focusing on the training method first. For example, prior to the clay season, players will do the sliding training specifically to get themselves ready for the clay.

Jidong: or for the grass court, players will focus more on balance and flexibility training as their bodies tend to stay low most of the time.

Mari: Another key factor to injury prevention is your foot core strength, which plays a key role in postural control and is very important to stabilise the foot and maintain balance during single leg stance.

Jidong: According to the research, the main exercise will be the “short foot exercise”, during which you just need to simply contract your intrinsic foot muscle in order to raise the foot arch.

Mari: Apart from the training method, tennis shoes also play a crucial role in injury prevention. Do you remember that famous battle of surfaces between Federer and Nadal?

Jidong: Half Grass Half Clay?

Mari: Yes, but do you notice what they were doing during the break?

Jidong: They changed their shoes right?

Mari: Correct, for top tennis players, they always have different shoes for different surfaces.

Jidong: The small difference in the shoe design could have a big impact on their performances and injury control on court. For example, one symbolic design of clay tennis shoes is the outsole.

Mari: If you watch tennis, you will notice one common move of those players on the clay, that is, after every point, they will use the racket to strike the shoe in order to get the clay out of the shoe outsole to maintain the grip.

J: However, on the court, the shoes need to have more cushioning and bounce-back which could significantly reduce the shock to your body.

Mari: But for us amateur players, if you don’t play on the tournaments, a pair of all-court tennis shoes will be adequate.

Jidong: One last thing to remember, always have a smart schedule for yourself.

Mari: Even though we are discussing injury prevention when switching between surfaces, we still suggest to lower the frequency of doing that. As your body does need some time to get used to different surfaces.

Jidong: Absolutely, some players they do take some time off when the season first begins, in order to train more on the new surface and get themselves better prepared before stepping onto the court.

Mari: For us amateur players, even though the intensity is much lower compared with the professionals, still, being aware of the differences between the courts will help to minimise your risk of getting injured.

Jidong: I hope those recommendations could help anyone who is listening to enjoy tennis on different surfaces without getting injured.

Mari: And now it’s time to grab our tennis rackets and put on the right tennis shoes.

Jidong: We will see you next time.

You can find more AISTS Sport Medicine podcasts on our Soundcloud channel or on the Apple Podcast app. To learn more about the AISTS Master of Advanced Studies in Sport Administration and Technology, visit

Recent articles

Experience the world of sport in the Olympic Capital

Participants attend several full-day workshops throughout the programme to experience sport. These sessions are delivered by the sport organisations and federations themselves and provide a unique hands-on experience and well as an ideal opportunity to connect to our alumni and experts working in the industry.