How to Build and Maintain a Clay Tennis Court

By Avery Lewis , last updated February 24, 2011

Building and maintaining a clay tennis course can be time consuming and expensive, but having your own playing surface can do wonders for your game. Clay tennis courts gained prominence in the early 1900s in Europe as an alternative to grass. Today, clay courts are also common in Latin America and are slowly gaining recognition in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Clay is preferred by many players because of its surface and texture. The softer surface allows for less pressure on joints and muscles during the game, while the texture slows down the ball making it highly favorable for recreational tennis players.

Select the Site

Select the best location where the court will be constructed. The area must be level, on firm ground and must satisfy the dimensions of a typical doubles-based tennis court, which is 36 x 78 feet with 60 x 120 feet as ideal space outside the lines. If space is limited, outside space of 54 x 114 feet is acceptable. If multiple courts are to be built, they should be separated from each other by at least 12 feet with 24 feet as the preferred distance. For courts that are to be used most of the time in a day, north to south orientation is recommended.

The proposed site must also be sheltered from prevailing winds and away from noises and other forms of distraction. A dark and solid background is preferred and the location should be free from buildings, trees and other structures that would cast shadows on the court.

Choose the Type of Clay

There are three types of clay: Red clay which is slower and made of crushed brick; green clay or “Har-Tru” which is slightly harder and faster and commonly found in the US (thus called “American” clay); and synthetic clay which is made of synthetic rubber, polyurethane, and polypropylene textiles. Choosing the type of clay for your court depends on your geographic location. For instance, if you are located in a dry area, red clay is not advised as it needs regular watering so it will not dry up and form cracks.

Prepare the Clay Surface

Prepare the surface based on the specifications of the clay type selected. A professional is required as clay courts are made of multiple layers composed of different materials. Red clay, for example, has five layers consisting of crushed red brick on top, 5-cm thick limestone, iron ore slag, crushed stones, and a base layer that will be leveled. A synthetic court, on the other hand, is constructed on top of a layer of pavement.

Maintain the Court

Tennis courts made of clay require a lot of maintenance. Clay surfaces need to be compacted once a week with a heavy roller. Before and sometimes during play, all playing lines must be brushed. After playing, clay courts (other than synthetic ones) should be meticulously and evenly watered to eliminate dust and keep the court stable. Once a month more thorough maintenance is needed that includes removing the net, adding 1-2 bags of clay to the baseline, brushing the court several times and removing excess debris.

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