A group of engineers from the University of Sheffield has collaborated with the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to develop a portable, handheld device, which could determine the amount of friction produced by players on tennis courts.
The current generation of tennis players like Djokovic, Murray and Nadal not only run across the court, but also slide around it. Such sliding movements give these professional players a competitive edge over their rivals, and at the same time, are also appreciated by amateurs and audiences alike.
In an effort to entertain the audiences and keep the players informed, the Sheffield study is aiming to help tennis players to understand and determine the effects of friction on tennis courts, thus ensuring that the best players in the world can achieve success.
In clay courts, such as those at Roland Garros, sliding is relatively easy because the surface has a low friction. While on hard courts, friction is significantly higher, making it difficult to slide on the surface to meet the ball. Such movements, including those at the ITF, attracted a great deal of attention from expert observers, who wanted to explore the effect of this new movement on the players.
Daniel Ura and Dr Matt Carré at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Sheffield, have teamed up with the ITF to study the amount of friction created by players when they move across the court in order to develop a portable and easy-to-use hand-held device for friction measurement.
Research has shown that the act of sliding is, perhaps counter-intuitively, better for an elite player like Djokovic who will take every advantage to win. The slide enables them to change direction and quickly position themselves on the court to return the ball, and set off for the next return.
“We are working with the ITF to create a handheld device to test friction. This will help them to develop a series of guidelines and parameters for elite tennis courts, ensuring that they prove enough grip for players to play their natural game and to slide in a controlled manner,” he added.
Although the latest study is presently dedicated towards the professional game, it will soon make an impact on recreational and amateur players as they try to mimic the sliding movements of tennis professionals. The new device operates by simulating the frictional parameters involved in the complicated interactions between the surface, the player, and the shoe. These factors include the force of the player, the type of surface, the orientation and speed of sliding shoe during key player movements requiring optimum performance, such as the slide and the push off.
Our role in the process is to develop a test that is quick and easy to use, but is based on evidence. The purpose is to ensure that courts reach the standard required for elite play, and enable all players to play to the best of their abilities.
In addition to ensuring a level playing field, the study can benefit tennis shoe producers to develop innovative shoe designs, which will optimise the ability of players to control their sliding movements. Surface manufacturers who develop the tennis courts would also be involved in this field, which is developing rapidly, and could work jointly across the sport to benefit both players and audiences. The study could make a major impact, particularly in sports where winning can make all the difference between a slip and a slide.
ITF’s Jamie Capel-Davies explained how the test will be utilized and what it means for the sport custodians. “The ITF already classifies surfaces by their speed of play using court pace rating, which involves firing a ball at the surface and measuring its speed before and after the bounce. We know that the interaction between the shoe and the surface is also important to players. Our aim is to have a standard test that will enable us to develop a ‘sliding scale’ for surfaces. Surfaces can then be rated by their propensity for sliding, e.g. high, medium, low, giving players – as well as court owners and tournament organisers – more information on what the court is like to play on.”