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Clay Court Tennis Around the World

The Surface of the "French Open" - One of the Four Grand Slams 

The Roland Garros tennis tournament, held each summer in Paris, France, and known in the US as the "French Open", is played on red clay. The French call this type of surface "terre battue", or  "beaten earth or ground". In the Spanish speaking world it is called either "tierra batida" (beaten earth) or "arcilla" (clay). 

Around the world, the actual color of this type of tennis court surface varies according to the qualities of the local clay used to surface the courts and how the clay is prepared before it is laid on the tennis court. In Roland Garros, for example, crushed bricks are used to produce the clay. Since the bricks are originally produced by firing clay, their courts have a deep red color, both soothing and full of energy, reminiscent to some of Frank Lloyd Wright's Cherokee Red.

Here in the US, we call a surface like that of the French Open "red clay", to distinguish it from the most frequent kind of clay court in the US, which is made from crushed dark green stone and trademarked as "HarTru". American HarTru courts have similar playing characteristics as red clay courts, although they look very different and they require more maintenance.

Clay Courts and World Leading Performance

Spain and Russia, which only in the last two decades have risen to become tennis powerhouses, are seen to have a large proportion of their tennis courts in clay. In contrast, predominantly hard court countries which used to dominate world tennis in the past like the United States and Australia are no longer by themselves at the top of the game. 

Each year there are female and male championships by country, known as the Fed Cup (3) and the David Cup (4). We can look at the Fed Cup and Davis Cup winners and runners up through the years to see how countries with high proportion of clay courts have risen in the ranks of world tennis.

Fed Cup winners (5) vs percentage of clay courts (1):



Davis cup winners (6) vs percentage of clay courts (1):



France not favored to win French Open!
Interestingly, although back in 1960, 84% of the tennis courts in France were surfaced with clay, today 50% of their courts are in porous concrete and only 14% are in clay (1).
No wonder French players are not favored to win their own Open!

Clay Courts Around the World
Around the world, there are many countries in which clay courts far outnumber other types of surfaces.  This is not only due to the performance benefits of playing tennis on clay, but also to the lower cost of clay tennis courts in the long term. Clay courts last indefinitely with proper maintenance, which can average 20-30 minutes of daily grooming, whereas hard surface tennis courts like concrete or asphalt need to be resurfaced every 5-7 years and require major restoration work every 12-15 years (2).

Percentage of clay courts vs total tennis courts per country (1):

  • Argentina: 99%.

  • Chile: 96%. 

  • Germany: 95%.

  • Austria: 95%.

  • Belgium: 87%.

  • Mexico: 87%.

  • Spain: 84%. 

  • Russia: 75%.

  • Italy: 73%. 

  • Japan: 40%. 

  • Canada: 37%. 

  • France: 15%.

  • United States: 13%.

  • Great Britain: 1%.

  • Australia: 1%.


(1) l'Association pour le Développement de la Terre Battue (ADTB) (Association for the Development of Clay Courts), Bénesse-Maremne, France. Website:
(2)Lee Tennis. LLC.  Advantage HarTru. Website; 
(3) Official Website:
(4) Official Website:
(5) Wikipedia:
(6) Wikipedia:

Compiled by José Mieres


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  Web Content: José Mieres and S Hirtle
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Last modified on: February 6, 2010