It is the dream of every tennis lover to step out of the house and on your own tennis court. However, owning a tennis court is not all play. To keep the court free of cracks and damage, you need an aggressive maintenance schedule. If you want a clay court, the maintenance has to be daily. A clay tennis court, just a quarter inch thick, needs 30 tons of clay. You have to care for every pound. However, by following a list of procedures, your clay tennis court will play and look great.
Before beginning, you need some basic maintenance equipment. One of the first tools you need is a “lute-scarifier”. The novice can easily confuse this with an ordinary rake. They both look similar. The lute-scarifier loosens and levels the surface, while removing any loose granules of clay. The blade is concave. This allows the blade to “float” along the surface without grabbing or digging in the clay. An “Aussie Clean Sweep”, also known as a “drag brush”, is the next piece of equipment you need. This is a hand-operated sweeper that serves two purposes. With the teeth in the up position, it serves as a leveler. With the teeth in the down position, it can remove leaves and debris that liter the court. If you’ve ever been to a baseball game and seen the grounds crew run around the infield pulling a mat, you’ve seen the equivalent of an Aussie Clean Sweep. Grounds crews use something called a “steel drag mat”, but they are basically the same. A “line scrub” almost looks like an ordinary kitchen mop. It is a big brush on a long stick. Heavy bristles removed “caked-on” material that sticks to the boundary lines. The final piece of equipment you need is a “roller”. All rollers are large steel drums that help flatten out the surface. However, depending on how much money you want to spend, you can get a hand powered roller or one that is pulled by a small motorized cart. A small hand roll can cost $600. A “rider roller” can cost up to $7000.
Your daily maintenance routine starts with an inspection of the court. First, remove any weeds or garbage that may have gathered. Make sure the net and center strap are tight and set correctly. You should also be on the lookout for any divots. Just like in golf, a divot can cause awkward movement if the ball were to hit it. If you come across one, you will need to use the lute-scarifier to level out the hole. Check out the boundary tape to make sure the lines are square and straight. Usually, nails secure these lines. You should replace any loose nails. Once you finish the physical inspection, it’s time to pull out the Aussie Clean Sweep. You want to sweep the entire court using wide turns. This will keep the clay from piling up. Once you finish the sweeping, you need to clean the boundary with the line scrub.
You can use your roller next if you wish. You don’t have to use a roller everyday, however the more you roll, the better the results will be. There are other benefits as well. Rolling your clay on a regular basis will keep moisture in the clay, keep the court firm and fast and lessen the potential for surface erosion. After using the roller, you may want to sweep the lines again. Using your line scrub after rolling will give you a cleaner looking line.
After play finishes for the day, you will need to water the court. A properly watered court will keep the clay from drying up and cracking. It will also control clay dust that could blow around. Before pulling out the hose however, you might want to use the lute-scarifier to smooth the surface. Each night you do this, you will want to alternate the direction you brush the court. You may need to spend extra time around the baseline areas. These sections of the court take the most beating during a tennis match. So it is not unusual for “ruts” to form around the baselines after a long day of tennis action. When watering the court, you want to make sure you give the court a thorough, uniform watering. If you have a choice of nozzles, you will want to pick one that produces a fine spray. This will cover more of an area and will be easier to control the water the court gets. There is no set time length to water. You just want to make sure you water enough so the clay is moist, but not so much that puddles start to form. Ideally, you want to keep enough moisture until the next maintenance period.
When the tennis year is over, you will need to perform a few end-of-season maintenance items. First, you want to remove the net and net posts. Before storing them away for the winter, look them over to see if any repairs need to be made. Cover the post holes to prevent water and debris from filling up the openings. Clean and remove all the line tape. If the nails are in good shape, then save them. These nails are aluminum to keep them from rusting. That makes them an expensive item, about $80 for a court’s worth. Wash and inspect your lute-scarifier, your Aussie Clean Sweep and your line scrub. If there is any damage to them, now is the time to start looking into repairs. For your roller, check the manufacturer’s instructions to see how to care and store the individual parts.
It’s a lot of work to keep your clay court in good shape. However, follow these rules and your tennis court will provide you with years of use.