How Does a Tennis Ball Bounce Differently on Different Surfaces? Credit: carine06/CC-BY-SA 2.0

Different surfaces provide varying degrees of friction or sliding force, which may affect the bounce of a tennis ball. The amount of friction that the tennis ball experiences depends largely on the coefficient of friction of the surface that it hits.

When a tennis ball bounces, it experiences two kinds of forces: sliding (or frictional) force, and normal force. Sliding force acts horizontal to the surface that the tennis ball hits. This sliding force, more commonly known as friction, is what the car tires experiences when you hit the brakes. Notice that the tennis ball travels in a curved motion, which is actually a combination of horizontal and vertical motion. As the ball hits the ground, its horizontal motion is slightly impeded by the frictional force of the surface, which affects how the ball travels as it gets back up.

Each surface has a unique and corresponding coefficient of friction, which dictates the sliding force that it puts on the ball. Rough surfaces such as clay courts have a high friction coefficient, which puts more counter force against the horizontal motion of the landing ball. On the other hand, grass courts have a low coefficient of friction, and that's why these surfaces produce fast-paced ball movements.

The second kind of force on a tennis surface is normal force, which is directed perpendicularly to the ground or surface that the ball hits. When the ball lands, some of the kinetic energy is being absorbed by the surface.

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