Designers fine-tune U.S. Open courts for top performance using plastics

Technology |  2 min. read

Djokovic?  Federer?  Nadal?  Or one of the young rising stars?

We don’t know who will win the fourth and final Grand Slam championship on the tennis circuit — but we do know that whoever does win the U.S. Open later this month will be the Prince of the Polymers.

And that — is because the U.S. Open is played on courts made something like this…

(Diagram from California Sports Surfaces)

…in layers.  In the case of the U.S. Open, that system of layers is called DecoTurf®.

The starting point is a layer of asphalt (and the starting point for asphalt, incidentally, comes from the same refining process that produces gasoline, diesel and jet fuel).  An acrylic resurfacer blended with sand goes on top of that, and then two courses of acrylic with rubber particles.

Then comes the secret sauce – acrylic and urethane paint that is resistant to UV radiation (from the sun) and mixed with sand.  More sand, or bigger grains of sand?  That slows the ball.  Finer sand or less sand — the ball moves faster.  Also part of the sauce — the color:  blue, in the case of the Open courts.

Finally, on top of that — more layers of acrylic/urethane paint to seal the courts against weather, brighten the color and to lay down the lines on the court. Oh, and those lines, they’re acrylic/urethane paint too.

No other major sport is like tennis in that way.  There are four Grand Slam tournaments in tennis, and each one has a different surface.  At the French Open, it’s clay (which is actually a mix of gravel, crushed rock and brick dust).  At Wimbledon, the tennis is played on grass.  And at the Australian Open, the surface is a different version of layered court called Plexicushion®.

Clay is the slowest, grass is in the medium category, and the synthetic surfaces range from slow to fast (the U.S. Open is in the same medium-fast speed category as the Australian), depending on the composition.  And the “polymer” part (no, we didn’t forget about that) — acrylics and urethanes are types of polymers, plastics — made, after some time in the chemistry lab, from the petrochemicals propylene for the acrylic and benzene or toluene for the urethane.

So to be the Prince of Polymers, and win the U.S. Open, you not only have to be playing well, you have to playing well on that particular surface.  And maybe it IS the surface, but more different players have won the U.S. Open over the last decade, than any of the other Slams — although putting your money on Djokovic or Federer or Nadal, is still pretty safe.

And on the women’s side.  Who knows?  Since Serena won her third in a row, back in 2014, a different woman has won the U.S. Open every year.  And each of the other three Slams this year, has been won by a different player.  So, stay tuned.