Research leads towards new standard tests for tennis courts

Tennis players can adapt their movement/playing style in response to subtle differences in court constructions, according to new research by engineers at the University of Sheffield.

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The findings – published online in the Journal of Sports Engineering and Technology – are the first steps towards setting international standards to characterise the interaction between shoes and surfaces.

Working with the International Tennis Federation and colleagues at the University of Exeter, the Sheffield team developed a test machine which applies large forces to a surface to mimic the impact of elite tennis players on tennis courts. This impact can be up to four times the bodyweight of a player.

They used the machine to measure the friction on an acrylic (hard) court in dry conditions and two artificial clay court surfaces in both wet and dry conditions.

The team found that on clay surfaces the size of the sand particles in the clay affect the friction, particularly when the surface is wet. With smaller particles, the surface becomes more slippery as it gets wetter, as would be expected. However, with larger particles, the player’s grip can actually increase on a wet court, making sliding more difficult.

The research also found why some players are able to slide across acrylic hard courts, a technique that has mostly been reserved for clay.

Lead researcher, Dr James Clarke, from Sheffield’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, explains: “We found that that if a player is strong and daring enough to apply a high enough force at the right angle, then it’s actually easier to start sliding on a hard court than a clay court.”

Insufficient, or too much, shoe/surface friction may influence the risk of injury in tennis. The extreme athleticism of today’s top players has increased the necessity for playing surfaces with the appropriate level of friction. Only last year Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal threatened to boycott the Madrid Masters should the tournament continue to be played on a new blue clay surface. They complained that it was too slippery, and consequently unsafe.

Principal Investigator Dr Matt Carré, from the Human Interactions Group in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Sheffield says: "The level of friction between the shoe and surface clearly affects the style of play. Understanding what causes this level of friction can aid in standardising the quality of courts that will ultimately help the players perform better.”

The research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and is being continued with support from the International Tennis Federation. The next step is to link the results from the machine to how players themselves perceive the surface. The aim is to create standards which can be applied internationally to competition surfaces to better inform players about the court.

Additional information

The development of an apparatus to understand the traction developed at the shoe-
surface interface in tennis, James Clarke, Matt J Carré, Loic Damm and Sharon Dixon,
Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part P: Journal of Sports Engineering
and Technology published online, DOI: 10.1177/1754337112469500, http://pip.sagepub.com/
content/early/2013/01/24/1754337112469500

The Faculty of Engineering
The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield - the 2011 Times Higher
Education’s University of the Year - is one of the largest in the UK. Its seven departments include over 4,000 students and 900 staff and have research-related income worth more than £50M per annum from government, industry and charity sources. The 2008 Research
Assessment Exercise (RAE) confirmed that two thirds of the research carried out was either Internationally Excellent or Internationally Leading.

The Faculty of Engineering has a long tradition of working with industry including Rolls- Royce, Network Rail and Siemens. Its industrial successes are exemplified by the award winning Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and the new £25 million Nuclear
Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC).

The Faculty of Engineering is set to ensure students continue to benefit from world-class labs and teaching space through the provision of the University's new Engineering Graduate School. This brand new building, which will become the centre of the faculty´s postgraduate research and postgraduate teaching activities, will be sited on the corner of Broad Lane and Newcastle Street. It will form the first stage in a 15 year plan to improve and extend the existing estate in a bid to provide students with the best possible facilities while improving their student experience.

To find out more about the Faculty of Engineering, visit: http://www.shef.ac.uk/faculty/
engineering/

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800m a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change.

The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via research Councils UK.

ITF
The ITF is the world governing body of tennis and beach tennis, responsible for the rules of both sports and maintaining the integrity of tennis. In addition to its administrative role, the ITF is the owner and international rightsholder of the two largest annual international team competitions in sport, Davis Cup by BNP Paribas and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas. The ITF also manages the Olympic Tennis Event on behalf of the IOC. Through its Science and Technical Department, the ITF closely monitors both equipment and technology, while its Officiating Department oversees the education and advancement of officials worldwide.

The ITF organises over 1,000 weeks of men’s and women’s professional tournaments on the ITF Pro Circuit and coordinates the rapidly growing ITF Beach Tennis Tour. Through its Tennis Development Department that oversees the development of tennis worldwide, the ITF manages the ITF Junior Circuit and team competitions for elite juniors as well as international tennis events and programmes for wheelchair and senior players. The ITF also manages the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme on behalf of the sport and is a partner in the Tennis Integrity Unit.

Contact

For further information please contact:

Amy Stone
Media Relations Officer
0114 222 1046
a.f.stone@sheffield.ac.uk