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Make A Smooth Transition

Surface Transition

Roddick© Getty ImagesLunging and reaching exercises can be beneficial ahead of the grass season.

With proper conditioning, players can adapt to the physical demands of changing surfaces throughout the season.

The ability to make a quick transition to different surfaces is essential for pro tennis players and proves especially important in the turnaround from Roland Garros to Wimbledon, when players have two weeks to refine their grass-court form after months of playing on clay.

Going from one surface to another can be a physically challenging affair. Playing on grass often results in greater gluteal, hip and low back pain due to the lower bouncing balls. Hard courts affect the shins, knees and feet with the higher braking forces involved. Clay may be considered a more forgiving surface than the other two, but longer points can result in fatigue, especially in the quads, and heavier balls places stress on the forearms.


To achieve maximum performance and injury prevention on the change between surfaces, ATP physiotherapists highlight the importance of preparation. “The player needs to know which muscles they are going to use differently and must condition them appropriately,” says Paul Ness.

Understanding the demands of the different surfaces can assist in proper training and a smoother transition. For example, deeper lunging and reaching exercise can be beneficial in grass-court play. Endurance work ahead of the clay season can enable consistent stroke play and ball retrieval, while a focus on hip and groin flexibility will help prevent hip flexors and groin strains. Practicing court movement patterns and strengthening the muscles around lower limb joints can help players deal with the stress caused by hard courts.

“A good preparation of strength and conditioning before the season commences provides a great foundation for a player’s body to be able to adapt to the physical demands of changing surfaces throughout the season,” says Luke Fuller.

Proper preparation for surface transitions also extends beyond conditioning. Players should wear appropriate footwear, such as a greater treaded sole on clay to optimise the ability to quickly change directions and slide, and use extra tape to reinforce joints such as the ankle. Appropriate foot care and blister management is also essential, specifically on hard surfaces.

“Blisters can be a problem going from one surface to another,” says Ness. “Hopefully a player can learn from experience and pad or tape for blisters before they happen. Prevention is much better than cure.”

Above all, ATP physiotherapists stress a gradual transition, recommending that players arrive early to practice and refine their strategy on the new surface.

“Take some time to gradually adjust to the new circumstances and turf,” says Per Renstrom. “It often takes more time from clay to grass and hard court because of friction.”

In those instances where gradual transition is not an option, solid preparation during the off-season can go a long way to ensure that the players will be ready for the different surfaces during the course of the regular season.

Dr. David Dines, the U.S. Davis Cup physician since 2000, relates how smooth transitions can be possible with proper work done in advance: “The guys all had to adapt to red clay no matter when we played in the year whenever we had an ‘away’ tie as that is what our opponents always chose. Frequently we went from hard to clay in that one week period and by the second or third day of practice most times they adapted very quickly especially since they had to go from 2-3 sets to 3-5 sets!” 

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