The trees behind the Student Pavilion’s tennis courts have been taken down as the men’s and women’s tennis teams prepare to switch back to an outdoor practice schedule.
After playing out the winter months at the Legacy Center in the city’s East Falls section, the teams will begin transitioning to a different type of court with different conditions.
With the change in courts also comes a change in weather conditions, affecting how the game is played on the outdoor surface compared to an indoor capacity.
“Wind is a huge part of outdoor tennis,” sophomore Filip Stipcic said. “The ball is so small and [the wind] can make the game interesting because the ball can go anywhere. The sun plays a huge part, as well, because sometimes you can’t see to serve a ball and sometimes you are blind trying to return the ball.”
After spending almost two months at Legacy, which features slippery court surfaces that increase serve and return speeds, the teams have to adapt to the different surface at the Pavilion.
The courts at the Pavilion feature a rougher playing surface that lowers the average ball speed compared to Legacy. These conditions call for players to work hard for each point, sophomore Vineet Naran said, unlike the easier points they can earn indoors.
“Indoors, there are a lot of free points and not as many long rallies,” Naran said. “With the slower court conditions, [rallies] are much longer without many free points at all. [Slower court conditions] definitely lengthen the point … the points outdoors are earned much more than indoors.”
The men and women’s teams also have a combined total of 13 international athletes, most of whom grew up playing on slower court surfaces. Some of them see the transition as a competitive advantage.
“Most of us are from countries that play on clay courts, which are a slower surface,” Stipcic said. “For the majority of us, playing outside is so much better in all aspects of our games, because [the softer court conditions] are what we are used to playing.”
Indoors, strong players are more likely to succeed because of the speed of their returns and serves, junior Maros Januvka said. Outside, the player with the most finesse and placement of the ball on rallies has the advantage.
“A player that hits and returns big indoors will not be able to do that outdoors,” Januvka said. “The outdoor conditions will slow that person down in the strength of their balls. Outdoors, the ball is slower and it goes more vertical making it easier to put spin on the ball, which allows a more consistent shot.”
“I think that the strength of serves and returns goes down about 25 percent,” he added. “The reaction time changes, as well. Indoors, you get less time to react. That reaction time almost doubles when you play outside.”
Because the ball skips on indoor courts, players are more likely to rear back and serve as well as return with power. The strategy often makes them able to get easy points, as it gives the stronger hitters an advantage. Outdoor court play consists more of long rallies and playing deep balls from the baseline.
Naran said placement becomes an important part in serving, as well as trying to earn each point. Without the ability to serve or return big, pinpointing locations to serve and return become vital. Consistency, Naran said, is the most important part of outdoor success.
Throughout the year, coach Steve Mauro has emphasized his players be in top shape. Mauro said strong conditioning can give a player the edge outdoors by being able to move laterally amid long rallies.
“I think that my teams are better outdoors,” Mauro said. “Many of the players being international students are used to the slower surfaces. As a team, our style of play is to work the point more and indoors the point goes quickly. Playing outdoors gives us an advantage that we wouldn’t have indoors.”
Dalton Balthaser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DaltonBalthaser.