What makes tennis such a unique sport is the number of different surfaces on which it can be played, other than the ability to play it both, indoors and outdoors. However, among the types of surfaces tennis is played on, one surface, carpet, has been long erased from its lexicon and question many tennis aficionados often ask is why is tennis no longer played on carpet courts.
In this article, we will try to drill down into a bit of a history of carpet court tennis competitions and the reasons why carpet was discontinued as a playing surface for the sport.
Before we get down to explaining the reasons behind the discontinuation of carpet courts, here’s a quick one.
Why is tennis no longer played on carpet courts? There are multiple, possible reasons why carpet is no longer used as a playing surface in tennis but the biggest one is the fitness concerns for players associated with the surface.
Let’s dig deeper into this as we also explore what are the other possible reasons behind this move.
First things first though.
What is a Carpet Court in Tennis?
A carpet court, much like the kind of carpets we have at home, is type of a surface which can be removed at the end of the day or at the end of the tournament.
The International Tennis Federation or the ITF described a carpet court as a “textile surface of woven or non-woven nylon, or a polymeric or rubber material, typically supplied in rolls or sheets”.
There ae two different types of carpet surfaces; those used for outdoor tournaments and the ones used indoors.
The outdoor carpet court is an artificial turf that uses sand as an in-fill and was typically used where they wanted to play on quick surfaces without the need to maintain a surface like grass.
The other type of carpet courts, i.e. the indoor carpet courts have nylon or rubber matting on a base of concrete.
Since carpet courts were synthetically produced, tournament organizers at the highest level often recognized such courts by the material used – this could be Greenset, Tarafle or Supreme.
Carpet courts, as mentioned earlier, are very quick to play on and some reckon they play as fast as grass on occasions. Their easy maintenance, as compared to grass, had made them very popular in the times gone by but over time carpet was phased out of competitive tennis.
Now that we have a basic understanding on carpet courts in tennis, let’s dig right into the reasons behind the removal of this surface from the highest level.
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Carpet Court Tennis History
The Paris Masters, one of the biggest tennis tournaments outside of the Grand Slams, was played on carpet between 1968 and 2006. It was then shunted to indoor hard courts for good.
Competitions like the World Championship Tennis Finals, U.S. Pro Indoor, European Community Championship in Antwerp, Kremlin Cup and Zagreb Indoors in Croatia have all been played on carpet as well on the men’s circuit.
On the women’s tour, Quebec City has hosted WTA tournaments more recently, which is the only city to have used that surface in over a decade. In 2009, a Fed Cup tie was also held on carpet in Czech Republic.
Why is Tennis No Longer Played on Carpet?
There are multiple reasons why carpet is no longer used as a surface at the highest level. We have already spoken about one in brief above but we dig deeper in the sections to follow.
Injuries were Attributed to Carpet Courts
As spoken earlier, there had been complaints of injuries and fitness woes associated with carpet courts.
ATP and WTA organizers reckoned the artificial turf led to friction with the players’ skin and that in turn led to burns and abrasions for those competing in those tournaments.
There were other fitness issues too. According to an article on the Washington Post, there were health hazards associated with the recycled chemicals which had been used to prepare the synthetic grass blades for such courts.
Unlike a surface like clay, players weren’t able to slide on carpet and that made it that much difficult for them.
Other injuries, like knee issues or ACL-related problems had a higher chance of happening on carpet courts than any other tennis courts.
All of this led to the ATP and WTA taking a call to ban carpet courts from being used at the highest level.
Organizer Unhappiness over Speed
One salient characteristic about carpet courts is the speed associated with the rallies; it is comparable with grass.
The difficulties in maintaining grass has implied there aren’t a lot of grass court competitions in the world but that issue was taken care of on carpet, which is easy to maintain and can be plugged and played on whenever needed.
What that meant was there were quite a few tournaments played on carpet and at most of them, matches would end up getting over quickly.
That scared organizers as it meant huge servers had a distinct advantage, the general game-play was heavily biased towards such players and shorter rallies became a norm. This wasn’t something audiences enjoyed too much as strategy went out of the window.
Better Rackets Made Life More Difficult
During early days of carpet court usage, rackets weren’t as technologically advanced as they are right now and there were still longer rallies as a result.
With that advancement taking place, it became more and more difficult for the receivers of serve. As a result, rallies started getting shorter thanks to the quick courts and unreliable and low bounce.
The hope was that on a surface which isn’t as quick as carpet and one on which the bounce is more predictable, it would become a lot easier for players to get longer rallies in and as a result add to the spectator fun.
Which is why, as a part of a tour-wide strategy to homogenize conditions, to slow things down and prevent injuries, tennis opted out of carpet courts.
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When was Carpet Discontinued from Use in Tennis?
While a select few tournaments on the ATP Challenger circuit are still played on carpet, the ATP competition organizers discontinued its use from the highest level in 2009.
One of the last ATP tournaments played on carpet was in 2008 at Lyon, while there were three Davis Cup ties in 2009 which were hosted in carpet before it was completely discarded.
Quebec hosted the last women’s carpet court competition on the WTA circuit with the organizers ending its stint in 2018.
A Taipei Challenger competition for women was held on carpet in 2019 but it was cancelled because of Covid in 2020 and wasn’t held in 2021. A few lower-level tournaments are still hosted on carpet on the women’s circuit as well.
Below is a video of the highlights an old tennis match played on carpet.
Why is Carpet Still Used as a Tennis Surface?
While the ATP and WTA organizers have banned carpet from use at the highest level, it is still used at lower levels of tennis. There are two main reasons behind using carpet at the moment.
In climates which are bitterly cold, it becomes far easier to use carpet than any other surface given it’s easier to maintain than the rest. Despite the conditions, tennis can continue without too many problems.
Even in other climate conditions, carpet is easier to change as a surface if it gets damaged. That allows organizers to continue using carpet surfaces even today, especially on the Futures and ITF tour.
How Many Carpet Titles Have Federer, Nadal & Djokovic Won?
Roger Federer has featured in six ATP finals which were played on carpet and won two titles.
His first such final came in 2000 at the Swiss Indoors and he lost to Thomas Enquist in the title-decider. Federer then went on to win his first carpet title in February 2001 at Milan Indoor, before adding a second and last such tournament win in 2006 at the Swiss Indoors.
Neither Rafael Nadal, nor Novak Djokovic have reached the final of any carpet court competitions at the highest level but they have played on the surface on the Challenger tour.