With the French Open and Indianapolis 500 taking center stage over Memorial Day weekend, Fox Sports looks at the distinct surfaces at those two events, plus five others that make up the most famous surfaces in sports.
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Parquet floor (Boston Garden)
The floor at the Boston Garden was laid after a World War II lumber shortage, which led to the use of a hodgepodge of Tennessee oak and red pine pieces that were stripped in different ways to maximize the product and, in turn, created the famed alternating pattern. There were 264 pieces of wood measuring 5x5 feet and held together with nearly 1,000 screws.
All of this led to random dead spots in the floor, thanks to both the wood and the uneven cement base that was cracked after trains rumbling into North Station, just below the court. The ball would bounce true and then - thunk - hit a spot that would cause it to bounce a couple of inches lower than usual, almost like it was taking the air out of the ball. The Celtics were said to have taken advantage of this but the Boston athletes denied it. Huh; wouldn't be the last time, I guess.
Grass courts (Wimbledon)
Tennis originated on grass, so it's only fitting that the most famous court in tennis, at the world's oldest tennis tournament, has the same. There are few things as evocative in sports as players dressed in white, hitting a yellow ball on green courts, a gorgeous contrast in the most beautiful game.
The differences between grass court and hard courts are more blurred than ever, however. Before, grass was so fast that the game was basically serve-return-winner (if it even got that far). It's different now. Despite the playing height being a uniform 8 mm for the past 20 years, Wimbledon courts have slowed, leading to a homogenization of court speed that robs tennis of one of its singular quirks. Might that change in 2017? After watching what Roger Federer did on some quick courts in Melbourne, Indian Wells and Miami, it wouldn't be surprising to hear that the courts are playing a little bit faster at Wimbledon too - maybe some more rolling, a little less water. Use your imagination.
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Bricks (Indianapolis 500)
Back in 1909, the idea of car travel was still in its infancy and when the folks in Indianapolis decided to make a track for racing, they decided that crushed rock and tar would make for a good surface. It did not. Weeks later, 3.2 million bricks were laid on the course and in 1911 the first Indy 500 was run, with a winning average speed of 75 mph. (Even a Prius goes faster than that, but wouldn't because nobody in a Prius has ever driven above 60 mph, anywhere, anytime.) In the '30s, some bricks started to be paved over and by 1961 all were gone, except for the famed yard of bricks that serves as the start and finish line at the most famous speedway in sports.
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Glass-like greens (U.S. Open)
The USGA always keeps the putting greens at the U.S. Open blazing but given the right (or wrong, depending on your view) conditions, they can get up to a 15 or higher on the stimpmeter, which is basically like putting on a marble floor.
But what's good for the goose isn't good for the high-handicapped gander. USGA CEO Mike Davis says that while the greens at next month's Open at Erin Hills will be quick, "this arms race to get fast greens is not a good thing for the game of golf.” But it's sure fun for watching it.
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Cobblestones (Rome Marathon)
In one of the most electrifying moments in Olympic history, Ethiopian Abebe Bikila ran past the competition at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, traversing the cobblestones of the Appian Way barefoot - the style he'd grown accustomed to in his home country. Even today, the cobblestones are still very much a part of the Rome Marathon, with over half the court covered in the bumpy, ancient road.
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AstroTurf: Erased from existence and out of mind, regarded as a relic of the '70s -- like 8-tracks and Jimmy Carter. But it played an important role in sports and was the precusor to the field turf that dominates grass fields now -- whether indoors or out.
The Astrodome was the first major arena to get the surface because it was the first major dome on the planet (known as the "8th Wonder of the World" when it opened). But growing grass proved difficult because, you know, it was under a roof. Thus, turf. It then became a popular, cheaper, knee-ruining carpet for much of the '70s and '80s all over the sports world. Diving on Astroturf was slightly like diving on very smooth concrete.
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Clay courts (French Open)
The red clay of Roland Garros is perhaps the greatest, most unique, surface in sports. How did it come about? Practicality, mainly. While grass was the norm in England and France, tennis court in the south of France often burned out because of the sun. One day in the late-1800s, William Renshaw applied a layer of red crushed brick over the grass, which he got from grinding down clay pots from a nearby town. And thus, clay courts were invented.
There's not nearly as much clay on the court as you might expect on the clay courts of Europe. The depth of the red clay on top of the surface measures no more than two millimeters thick. And while we all call it red, the French say the color of the court is ochre, which is a pale yellow-brownish color that doesn't really resemble what's the court (red ochre fits better).
Clay is the slowest surface in tennis. The ball checks up and gives players just a little more time to get to the ball. But, as mentioned above, both the change in surface and a different approach to the game (crush the ball with accuracy) have negated some of the more interesting parts of the crushed red brick - I mean, ochre.