Clay surfaces are making a significant comeback in community and grassroots tennis – thanks to a new generation of hybrid and artificial clay products.
Of the three Grand Slam tennis playing surfaces, clay provides by far the slowest court pace. This makes it a great coaching surface, as the slower play encourages players to improve their skill and stroke strategy, rather than simply relying on a big serve or groundstroke winners.
In the UK, the benefits of clay surfaces have always been compromised by the maintenance needs and prolonged periods of courts being unavailable due to adverse weather. It’s no secret that, without an experienced groundsman, a traditional clay court is difficult to run.
Those limitations and concerns can be overcome, thanks to the development of surfaces which offer the benefits of clay – but with less maintenance and minimal down time.
There are two types of courts which do a great job in producing “clay-like” playing conditions – artificial courts (synthetic surfaces that have the appearance of clay) and hybrid surfaces, which have a top dressing of clay, stabilised using a carpet matrix.
In the UK, the majority of recent clay installations have been of the artificial variety, but hybrid systems are also available.
Encouragingly, some of the clay-like courts are proving to be very durable, with some over 10 years old already. The courts drain well and quickly, with less moisture pick up when compared to an artificial grass surface. Frost can be broken up using a drag brush or net and a court will only be out of action if the surface is frozen or buried under snow.
There is now evidence to show that, of all the surfaces available for tennis, some of the artificial clay surfaces will in fact provide least down time over the course of a year.
Artificial clay courts are proving to be a very popular option for playing tennis in the UK and were recently used for an ITF seniors tournament in Kent.
Tim Freeman, SAPCA Tennis Chairman