Have you ever found yourself watching the US Open, listening to the incessant squeaking of trainers twisting and turning on the surface, and thought to yourself: “what on earth is that court made of?”
If you haven’t, you certainly have now. Head to the grass greens of Wimbledon or the clay courts of the French Open and there’s really not too much mystery about what they’re made of (the clue is, after all, in the name), but things do get interesting from a surfacing perspective when you start talking about hardcourts.
Roger Federer loves a hardcourt, and two of the four Grand Slams tournaments use them, so they must be pretty good. But what goes on behind the scenes to ensure those blue surfaces are up to scratch?
Types of coatings
From a hardcourt perspective, there are four types of surface coating you need to know about:
- Non-porous acrylic: this is the stuff you’ll find at the pro tournaments like the US and Australian Open. The foundation of these courts is entirely concrete, but the top playing surface is the non-porous acrylic. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to know the acrylic is recyclable, which is good news considering the top layer is often replaced after each major event.
- Porous acrylic: while non-porous acrylic is undoubtedly the best surface for indoor courts, outdoor courts can’t afford to have an impenetrable surface when it’s going to rain half the time. Porous acrylic is best for rainy conditions as it allows surface water to drain – just don’t expect to be getting the same bounce down your local park as at Flushing Meadows.
- Porous Kushion Kourt (PKK): the best material for additional on court cushioning and increased longevity, PKK is the right choice for recreational courts where injury prevention is a priority. Thus, you’ll often find it on training and amateur courts.
- Asphalt: certainly not as kind on the knees but offering more bounce, asphalt is a competent all-weather surface that you’ll often see in parks and schools due to its affordability.
Maintaining the court
The benefits of hard courts lie in their exceptional bounce, affordability compared to grass or clay and ease of maintenance.
Where maintenance is concerned, normal owners of a hardcourt cannot simply tear up and replace the top layer every year as they do at the elite level. Instead, there are a few simple steps to ensure longevity of a typical hardcourt:
- Regular removal of any debris from the hardcourt surface.
- Avoidance and swift removal of any surface water on the courts from irrigation sprinklers, spills or rain showers.
- Maintaining a “sterile”, non-grass area of at least one foot around the court as to avoid any unwanted straying of grass or plants onto the court.
- Ensuring the surrounding area to the court is lower than the court to encourage surface run off.
- Looking out for and removing any mould or mildew that can build up shaded areas of the court.
A tennis court is pretty much useless without proper markings, so it’s essential any court is refreshed occasionally, even if just to reduce the number of on-court in/out disputes between friends.
Generally speaking, court markings should be refreshed once every 5-10 years depending on visible wear. As for what you use for the markings, the answer is specialist floor paint, which is decidedly more durable and damage resistant than a typical wall paint equivalent.
And there it is, everything you need to know about tennis court flooring.