Have you noticed and wondered why most of the hard court tennis surfaces are blue in color? In this piece below we explore the history of the tennis surface color and how blue became the go-to color for most tennis courts.
2005 witnessed one of the watershed moments in tennis as it was the year when the U.S. Open changed the color of its court to blue. The Australian Open followed suit three years later and soon hard courts across the world became blue.
Here we explain the reasons why the decision was made to change the color of hard courts from green, or red in some cases, to blue, and why it became an instant hit.
First things first and a quick answer to why are tennis courts blue? It is all down to making it a lot easier for the fans and players to spot the neon yellow ball against a blue background as compared to the previous green one making tennis a more marketable sport than ever as a result.
Traditionally, tennis was played on natural surfaces like grass or clay and the color of those courts were green and red, respectively.
As hard courts emerged, the initial decision was to keep the color green, similar to grass, which was the most popular surface back then.
In fact, three of the four Grand Slams were played on grass, which included the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. However, with time, grass courts have lost their popularity and only a handful of tournaments are now played on the surface, with Wimbledon being the only grass-court major.
But during its heyday, the familiarity with the green of the grass was such that organisers of hard-court tournaments thought that it would be more apt to keep the color of the hard courts green.
They thought if the green works for grass it should work for hard courts as well. There were some countries though who even experimented with red-colored hard courts, a color similar to clay.
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Why Blue and Not Something Else?
It was in 2005, though, when the U.S. Open made the big decision to change the color to blue. The rationale? Since the tennis ball is neon yellow-green, it makes it easier for the players and fans to sight the ball.
In an article titled the “50 Moments That Mattered: US Open blue courts make their debut”, Steve Flink explained the change from green to blue provided “better visibility for the fans, making it easier for the players to see the ball and allowing television viewers to track the ball more easily on their screens.”
With the ball being hit at speeds of over 100 miles per hour, it is far easier for players to focus on the ball on a blue court than on green. It also makes it easier for spectators inside the court to follow the ball.
But the biggest difference it made was for television viewers. A significant amount of money comes into the sport from TV advertisements. So enhancing the tennis viewing experience on TV was one of the top priorities for organisers and broadcasters.
Changing the color of the court to blue addressed that issue. Now it became even easier for TV audiences to track the ball on their screen. Blue courts certainly made the ball look more distinct than green courts.
The transition from green to blue didn’t happen in a day. There was research carried out by experts at the California Sports Surfaces with an aim to come up with a color that was pleasing to the eye, provided better ball visibility to players and fans and also made it easier for fans to watch the sport on TV.
If you look at the Isaac Newton color wheel, you’d see that purple and blue are almost 180 degrees opposite the yellow on the wheel. Thus the greatest contrast is created with the yellow and the blue or purple.
Therefore, blue or purple provides a perfect contrast for the tennis ball and thus the study eventually suggested that blue courts will be the most suited option for hard courts in U.S.
The organisers settled in for Pantone blue 2965 U, which became popular as U.S. Open Blue.
While the color of the playing area was sorted they also worked on the area outside the tramlines and the baselines. They wanted a different color, particularly to make it look stand out on TV and eventually settled for Pantone 357 U which is also called the U.S. Open green.
So this gave U.S. Open a separate identity.
No other Grand Slam tournament has completely different colors for the playing and non-playing areas of the court. While the Australian Open also changed the color of the surface from green to blue, it uses a lighter shade of blue outside the playing region.
How Switch to Blue Helped USTA’s Branding
Another key reason why the U.S. Open decided to change the color of the court was “branding.”
The United States Tennis Association (USTA), which organises the U.S. Open in August-September each year, also hosts a number of other tournaments in the lead-up to the U.S. Open.
So once the organisers took a decision to change the color of the court for the U.S. Open they also decided to change the color of the courts at the U.S. Open tune-up events.
Thus all the tournaments in the United States leading up to the U.S. Open now showcased the same color. With all of them having the same feel as the U.S. Open, they became instantly recognisable as U.S. Open Series tournaments.
This gave them a separate identity and made them different from other tournaments across the world.
Why the Blue Was Criticized in Madrid?
Soon hard courts across the world started changing the color to blue or purple — surfaces that provided perfect contrast for the yellow-green ball. The red and the green hard courts became negligible.
Looking at the change, Madrid Open also experimented with the color of its clay court.
Traditionally clay courts are reddish-orange in color but in a bid to give the tournament a distinct identity, the organisers decided to change the color of the court to blue in 2012, just to make it distinct from other clay court tournaments and also to make it more television friendly.
Roger Federer and Serena Williams triumphed in Madrid that year, but the court received a lot of criticism.
Even the “king of clay,” Rafael Nadal came down hard at the organisers, expressing his displeasure, and calling it a bad decision to tinker with traditions.
Players also said the blue surface was more slippery and they were unable to stay in control while sliding. While the organisers were disappointed by the way the blue clay courts were received, they had no option but to revert to the traditional red court from the next season.
So blue and purple are now restricted only to the hard courts.
Final Words on Tennis Court Being Blue in Color
The switch to blue tennis courts has made a subtle but positive change in one’s tennis viewing experience and while clay courts have continued to remain fire-red in color, hard court surfaces look to have adopted blue as their go-to color.