Stratigraphy

Here is an example of the stratigraphy a tennis clay court. The picture above is taken from the site https://www.cremoninisrl.it/. Before talking about clay, it is better to start from the base on which it will be placed. A tennis court needs a specific foundation in order to perform correctly. The stratigraphy, starting from the bottom, is usually divided into three layers:

  • Loose stone foundation with variable thickness from 20 to 30 cm and grain size 40/70 mm;
  • Crushed aggregate with an indicative thickness of 5 cm and grain size 3/15 mm;
  • Drainage ground layer, also in this case with an indicative thickness of 4 cm and with a grain size of 0/15 mm.

Subsequently we will add:

  • Tennis under-layer for at least 4 cm of thickness;
  • Tennis top layer, just enough to cover the entire playing area like a veil. Usually no less than 4 quintals, equal to 16 bags of 25 kg.

How much tennis under-layer is needed?

Assuming that a classic tennis court has the size of 18×36 m, to obtain the 4 cm thickness of clay as per the technical data sheet, we will nned about 35/38 tons of it. How did I come up with this quantity? With the rule of 12.

The rule of 12

12 kg of tennis under-layer are required to raise the surface of 1 square meter of court by 1 cm. So once the area of the surface to be worked has been calculated, which is 18×36 m, we multiply the result by the 12 kg of tennis under-layer and we get the amount witch we needed to thicken the court by 1 cm. To complite the calculation, let’s then multiply by the 4 cm of thickness that a standard court requires. The result is 31 tons (31.104 to be exact). At this point I add a variable: the compaction of the clay. In fact, once wet and pressed, tennis under-layer loses volume from 15% to 20%. This means that at the end of the process the final thickness  that you will obtain could vary from 3.4 cm to 3.2 cm, which are not the 4 cm assumed at the start. To be congruous I must therefore add more tennis under-layer, and the 380 tons mentioned above would allow me to get this result.

4 cm unpressed tennis under-layer

What is the tennis top layer for?

Tennis top layer:

  • Has an aesthetic function;
  • It allows the player to “slide controlled” during the game;
  • Slows down the premature damage of the court;
  • Limits water evaporation, keeping the playing surface more elastic.

What is the difference between tennis under-layer and tennis top layer?

Tennis under-layer is composed of crushed brick with the addition of raw clay, while tennis top layer is only crushed brick. The raw clay therefore has “binding” characteristics that tennis top layer does not have. Basically it is enough to know this on the subject in order not to get confused, but in reality there would be much more to learn.

How to proceed with the laying of the tennis under-layer?

The layers of the loose stone foundation, crushed aggregate and drainage ground, must be suitably pressed and leveled to obtain the flatness required before adding  tennis under-layer. A 0.5% gradient from the center of the court towards the side, must be respected like shown in the picture below (taken once again from the site https://www.cremoninisrl.it/),to help the drainage of rainwater and avoid stagnation on the playing surface, which would lead to a stop of the game with relative loss of money. For obvious reasons, the perimeter fence is mandatory. Without it, the clay would speed outside the area, compromising the integrity of the court over time.

perimeter fence

At this point, with the help of flat-base aluminum slats from 4 to 5 cm high (which is the thickness we need to recreate, “tracks” are created) the clay will be poured into “tracks”, which will be subsequently leveled using aluminium or wood float. The surface that will be formed will respect the natural starting slope of the fund. It is essential to check that this is optimal before starting to thicken the court. The drafting of the tennis under-layer must always be done than it is dry. The wet tennis under-layer is difficult to spread and once dry it creates imperfections. I suggest to work in full sun and in any case to carry out the work having good weather days available. Any rain would create problems.

Starting surface must comply with the required slopes

Tracks

Aluminium and wood float

first the court gets wet

Then adds the tennis under-layer where there isn’t

Rolling

The first rolling must be performed after having thoroughly wet the entire surface of the court. Wet it properly means saturating it with water and to do so you don’t need to be in a hurry. It can even take hours. The roller suitable for this type of processing must be at least 300 kg, but with the possibility of ballasting it up to 500 kg. Obviously better, if it is a motorized roller and not a hand one. If the roller cylinder does not remain wet during the advance, it means that the court is not wet enough and it is not working well. It is therefore necessary to stop and start again with the hose. At the end of the first roll, the surface will highlight any low areas that must be recovered by adding more tennis under-layer until flatness is restored.

Italian electric roller

The court after the first rolling

Add tennis under-layer where needs

Water, pressure and sun

The above is all that is needed to have the consolidation phase of the court under control. The continuous passage of the roller compacts the surface and the raw clay present in tennis under-layer performs its function as a binder. The evaporation of excess moisture thanks to the sun and heat, results in an elastic but stable court. The court needs a running-in phase before making it play intensively. Usually you start by having tennis schools or simple setters play. To follow all the others.

Surface maintenance

It is essential to follow the classic maintenance rules for a clay court if you want it to last over time. Water several times a day every day, roller as needed and restoring the holes represent the “ABC” of the maintenance technician. Afterwards, with experience, the techniques and tricks will be refined so that the court make the most of it with the minimum effort. One step at a time guys.

Note

As always, this document represents my point of view based on my acquired skills. I am not a builder but a maintainer and with this article I am going to answer specific questions that have been asked to me by Sanket, from India and which I greet.