Farnam Street helps you make better decisions, innovate, and avoid stupidity.

With over 400,000 monthly readers and more than 93,000 subscribers to our popular weekly digest, we've become an online intellectual hub.

The Physics of Grass, Clay, and Cement



Jonah Lehrer reports:

Amid all this punctiliousness, however, the rulebook contains one glaring omission: There are no rules about the surface of the court. While the boundaries of the space are carefully specified — it must be a rectangle, 78 feet by 27 feet, with a one-inch-wide center service line — there are zero references to the different materials on which the game can be played. It’s as if clay, grass, and hard court don’t exist, as if the composition of the playing field doesn’t matter.

This oversight has profoundly shaped the development of the sport. Because there are no rules about court surfaces, modern tennis is played on a stunning variety of materials, from the crushed brick of Roland Garros to the manicured lawns of Wimbledon. In fact, the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the regulatory body overseeing the sport, currently recognizes more than 160 different kinds of tennis courts, including surfaces made of carpet, clay, gravel, concrete, wood, asphalt, and fake grass.

Continue Reading

Jonah Lehrer is the author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist.

Read what you’ve been missing. Subscribe to Farnam Street via Email, RSS, or Twitter.

Shop at Amazon.com and support Farnam Street