You quite often hear the tennis commentators on TV comment as to what the players think of the court conditions at various tournaments. At the U.S. Open, you may hear something like, “the courts are playing faster here in New York than they did in Cincinnati or New Haven.” Or how the weather conditions at the French Open are affecting the speed of the court and the bounce of the ball. And let’s not forget the ever-changing conditions of the grass courts during the fortnight at Wimbledon.
Whether we are talking hard courts or clay courts, a court is not just a court.
The majority of tennis courts in Florida are clay courts, which are generically known as Har-Tru. Har-Tru is a stone material that is actually crushed basalt.
In Europe most courts are red clay, aka terre battue, like you see at the French Open, which is actually crushed brick. There is a distinct difference in the way these two types of clay courts play, both in how the ball bounces, as well as how much or how little a player can slide on the surface.
Maintenance requirements of the two surfaces also vary.
Many of the European red clay courts are still brushed and top watered by hand. The texture and thickness of the amount of the red clay on the court encourages players to slide into their shots. See Photo 1, where Rafael Nadal slides into a shot at the French Open.
Most Har-Tru courts in the states are brushed utilizing a utility cart, and are watered by an underground watering system called HydroCourt. The concept of the HydroCourt watering system is to attempt to keep the court material at a constant moisture level. Most Har-Tru courts with HydroCourt watering systems keep the surface a bit more wet than red clay courts, which actually somewhat limits our ability to slide.
Because of all of this, correct and continuous court maintenance is vital to a court playing properly!
Lee Ross is the court maintenance specialist at the Racquet Center. Lee has been with the Racquet Center for the last eleven years, and does a fantastic job of keeping our courts in great shape. Lee has attended clay court maintenancetraining seminars at Welch Courts, Inc. Welch is an industry leader in court construction and court maintenance in the State of Florida.
The year round proper maintenance of clay courts is something that must be dealt with on a daily basis. This daily nurturing assures that the playability of the courts remains consistent as weather conditions change. With the daily rains in summer, and the dry climate in winter, it can be quite a challenge to assure that the courts are always in tip-top playing condition.
For a clay court to play properly, it must have the correct amount of material on the court. The amount of material on the court can be affected by both the wind and rain, as well as the level of humidity in the air.
Lee monitors the proper application of material, as well as the proper amount of water that needs to be applied to the courts on a daily basis, to make sure the playability of the courts remains consistent.
It is also important that the court be brushed correctly to assure the material is evenly spread across the playing surface. See Photo 2, where Lee brushes a Har-Tru clay court.
In addition, because of our climate, we are constantly dealing with mold and mildew, which can affect the quality of the playing surface of the court.
I regularly receive compliments from visitors from around the world that these are some of the nicest courts they have ever played on! The quality of the upkeep and daily maintenance by Lee assures that our courts are the best playing Har-Tru courts around.
OK, now let’s talk hard courts. For the most part, hard courts are considered to be maintenance free. However, as with any court, there are maintenance issues with things such as proper net height. In Photo 3, Lee makes sure that the nets are at proper height.
Windscreens are often in need of repair from high winds during our frequent summer thunderstorms. On occasion it is required that they be rolled down in preparation of a possible tropical storm or hurricane.
With the growing popularity of pickleball, our hard courts at the Racquet Center are now used on a daily basis.
As we all know, for a large part of theyear we have daily rains here on Marco. In both tennis and pickleball it is very hazardous to attempt to play on a wet court. The main problem is that when a court is even just slightly damp, the painted lines provide a different grip than the painted court surface, and if you are running and plant your foot on a wet line, it is like the proverbial banana peel, and you are going to slip. So it is important to dry the court using a squeegee.
There is a misconception by many players on how to properly squeegee a hard court. The objective of efficiently drying a court is to not just push the water that is standing in puddles off the playing surface, but to spread the water out as thin as possible and allow the water to evaporate so the court can dry out evenly.
The best way to accomplish this is to lightly glide the squeegee over the court surface applying very little pressure on the squeegee, and again spread the water out as thin as possible. In Photos 4, 5 and 6, Lee demonstrates the correct way to squeegee a hard court.
And finally, the last issue with court safety is lightning. Florida is the lightning capital of the world! We have more lightning strikes here on a yearly basis than anywhere else on the planet. Lightning can often be as much as 20 miles away from an actual rain event. The City of Marco Island has done a great job of providing lightning alarms on the island, which give us plenty of time to seek shelter. So my suggestion is when the horn goes off…game off!
Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 23 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at the Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001. The Racquet Center offers clinics, private and group lessons for both tennis and pickleball. Coach Wayne’s Island Kids Tennis juniors program runs year-round and has classes for players from kindergarten through high school.