Tennis Player-Surface Interaction: Load Cells Measure the Strain

Published On: April 19 2017


The summer tennis season is almost here, with players battling for top prizes at the French Open, the WTA Internationaux de Strasbourg, the ATP Bavarian International Tennis Championships and the ATP Aegon Queens Club Championships.  All of those will test the stability of footwear to the max.

Why a firm footing is important in tennis

Almost any fast sport relies on the players switching direction and position rapidly and shifting body weight accordingly.  Unlike many sports played on relatively unstable surfaces, top tennis players play in trainers with relatively little grip.  Interaction between the tennis player and the ground they are playing on is crucial, and load cells have been helping determine the forces affecting them.

Tennis can be played on a number of different surface types including clay, rubberised hard court, and the most unpredictable of all, grass.  Tennis players don’t use the studded footwear that help give football, rugby, and track-sports athlete’s help with stability.  Faced with that disadvantage, professional tennis players have to know how far they can trust their footwear.

Load cells and lawn tennis

Load cells have been used to study the relationship between the interfaces. This research allows sports scientists, coaches, and players to map dynamic response to changes to load. While there are differences between clay and grass playing surfaces, they are both dominated by frictional forces. Deflection, impact velocity, pressure, and friction can all be measured using load cells to develop better footwear and better playing techniques.

Better shoes, better shots

Thanks to the flexibility of load cells, designers can look at how a player’s footwear interacts with the play surface and what changes can be made to allow fast switching of position and stance.  Research has shown that play speed and therefore player reactions differs significantly depending upon whether it is played on grass, clay, or hard court, with grass offering the least amount of support for fast movements.

By applying load cells strategically, engineers, trainers, and coaches can map the forces applied during a game and improve footwear design to compensate.  This in turn reduces slippage and subsequent ankle, knee, and thigh damage as a player loses traction on the unstable surface.  

So, while we may all enjoy seeing the slips, slides, and falls during a rainy day match day at Wimbledon, thanks to load cells, these unplanned acrobatics may soon be a thing of the past.