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Measurements of the horizontal and vertical speeds of tennis courts


Tennis courts are normally classified as fast or slow depending on whether the coefficient of sliding friction (COF) between the ball and the surface is respectively small or large. This classification is based on the fact that the change in horizontal ball speed is directly proportional to the COF if the ball is incident at a small angle to the horizontal. At angles of incidence greater than about 16° it is commonly assumed that the ball will roll during the bounce, in which case one can show that the ratio of the horizontal speed after the bounce to that before the bounce will be 0.645 regardless of the angle of incidence or the speed of the court. Measurements are presented showing that (a) at high angles of incidence, tennis balls grip or ‘bite’ the court but they do not roll during the bounce, (b) the bounce:speed ratio can be as low as 0.4 on some courts and (c) the normal reaction force acts through a point ahead of the centre of mass. An interesting consequence is that, if court A is faster than court B at low angles of incidence, then A is not necessarily faster than B at high angles of incidence. An exception is a clay court which remains slow at all angles of incidence. The measurements also show that the coefficient of restitution for a tennis ball can be as high as 0.9 for an oblique bounce on a slow court, meaning that the ball bounces like a superball in the vertical direction and that slow courts are fast in the vertical direction.

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Correspondence to Rod Cross.

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Cross, R. Measurements of the horizontal and vertical speeds of tennis courts. Sports Eng 6, 95–111 (2003).

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  • court speed
  • coeffcient of friction
  • coeffcient of restitution
  • bounce