May Tennis Diary 2007

Laurence Gale MScin Tennis

Tennis courts ludlowThe recent spell of dry weather will have caused a lot of heartache for many Groundsmen, with watering now high on their agenda.

Without the facility to water efficiently your clay soils will begin to dry; if they dry too quickly they will shrink and crack leaving you with surface that will be difficult to maintain.

The dry weather will have a bearing on the performance of your courts during play. The key to achieving the required pace and bounce is in the preparation of the courts, particularly with the timing, weight and type of rolling undertaken.

Trying to get enough water into the profile is not always an easy task especially when water resources are limited. Many groundsmen are resorting to watering late into the evening to avoid too much loss through evaporation, and rolling early in the morning.

Soils, when allowed to dry out, are often difficult to re-wet , the use of covers or flat sheets will also help control the loss of soil moisture.

Rolling will be a priority, it is important to build up the rolling frequencies and gradually increase the weight to achieve maximum consolidation. However, it is important to note that we do not want to over roll or adversely compact the soil to the detriment of root growth, surface water drainage and active microbial populations.

Firstly, roll across the court followed by rolling down the length of play. Timing of this operation is vitally important. Trying to roll when soil conditions are wet or too dry will not achieve the desired effect. Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil be in a state of plasticity or "plasticine".

Mowing frequency will be dependant on a number of factors - grass growth, sward type, level or standard of facility, resources (staff & machinery), but generally it will vary from three days a week to weekly. Cutting height should be coming down towards 8-9mm (tournament height). Inspect the sward before mowing to remove any debris. Stones or sticks can damage bottom blades and cutting cylinders. Poorly adjusted mowers will result in poor presentation and damage to the grass plant, making the plant more prone to disease.

tennis courtPrior to mowing, the surface should be thoroughly brushed. Continue to brush courts daily to remove moisture from the grass surface, stopping the spread of disease and facilitating an improved quality of cut on the dry grass. Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.

With the development of mowing technology most fine turf mowers have cassette fitting attachments that offer additional maintenance operations, such as grooming and verticutting; operations that effectively remove thatch and side shoot growth enabling the promotion of an upright plant and denser turf growth.

Fertiliser treatments and turf tonics can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results. Apply a spring fertiliser when conditions allow. Fertilisers can be applied in liquid or granular forms.

In May you would be using a 14/2/4 fertiliser or similar or, towards the end of the month, apply a slow release fertiliser to see you through to June and July. However, the choice of material and how well it works can be dependant on factors such as soil type, weather etc., with moisture and soil temperature being the catalyst for growth.

The performance of slow release fertilisers can be influenced by the weather, often producing a flush of growth when you least expect it. Some grounds managers will use straight compound granular or liquid fertilisers which activate when in contact with moist soil conditions, effectively stimulating grass growth within days.

Prepare your line marking machines, there is nothing worse than leaving it to the last minute, and suddenly finding the marker is damaged or fails to work properly. Keep it clean, wash it down or, in the case of pressure jet markers, clean the pipes out after use.

To ensure accurate lines, consult the Lawn Tennis Association's rules and regulations and use approved line marking materials, set out base lines and side lines using the 3,4,5 method. There are many types of line markers available for overmarking; choice will be dependant on budget or preference. High level facilities such as Wimbledon tend to use a wheel to wheel transfer system on grass because it gives a sharper line.

Other tasks

Seeding sparse or bare areas can be continued. Any rise in soil or air temperatures will help germination. Use germination sheets to aid this process but remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless.

It is important to remove any weeds from the playing surface, as they can affect ball bounce and performance of the court. Weeds can be removed by hand, or controlled by the application of chemicals, usually a broadleaf selective weed killer. Best results are achieved when the soil has warmed up and the grass is actively growing.

Artificial playing surfaces

There are now many other different types of tennis playing surfaces to manage and maintain - tarmac, acrylic, shale, clay and artificial grass. Contrary to a general view, these surfaces are not maintenance free, they all require different levels and types of maintenance.

The following problems are associated with poor maintenance of artificial pitches that, in time, will affect the performance and wear of the court:-

Problem/Symptoms Cause


Poor drainage and surface water ponding Lack of brushing and keeping the pile open, no rejuvenation programmes, Little or no maintenance. The sand migrates down into the bottom of the carpet and begins to compact.

Regular brushing, carpet revitalisation / rejuvenation programmes to relieve compaction.

Infill contamination.

Surface becoming dirty, top 5-10 mm affected.

Debris, chewing gum, litter, soil brought onto playing surface by users and wildlife.

Litter bins, signs, paved clean access areas, regular cleaning brushing / hoovering.

Algae and moss build up will make surface look unsightly, prevent drainage and create a slippery surface. Shade and wet conditions, lack of regular brushing. Recent wet climate conditions favour algae & moss growth. Regular brushing, treatments with approved algae & moss killers.

Infill compaction.

Compacted layers will affect ball bounce and playability, the surface over time will become harder and may cause injuries to players. The infill material is driven into the carpet by use and climatic conditions, coupled with a lack of regular brushing and cleaning, lack of sand movement, lack of rejuvenation cleaning programmes. Regular brushing after games, annual rejuvenation programmes.
Lines fade; seams joints wear and tear. Regular use, joints and seams come loose or damaged by vandalism Repair and repaint as necessary.
Pile damage, bending over of pile, defiberation of pile (splitting of grass pile). Too much sand, the carpet will wear. Too little sand the fibre will bend over and flatten causing slippery surface and pile damage. Correct sand levels, regular brushing and rejuvenation programmes.
Slippery conditions. Players have little traction and control. Too much sand. Contaminated sand; moss and algae on surface.

Clean off algae and contaminated sand, apply herbicide, moss/algae killers.

Player safety. Players may experience injuries through slipping. Lack of maintenance, no top dressing, algae and moss will cause a slippery surface Regular brushing and cleaning.
Excess sand

Over dressing with sand. Sand should be within 1-2 mm from pile tip, surface sand will damage and wear down the carpet pile and may cause a slippery surface.

Keep levels within manufacturer's recommendations, regular brush sand.
Lack of water on non-sand filled systems. Break down of irrigation systems.

Surface cannot be wetted; surface playability will be affected, players may get injuries

Keep irrigation systems repaired.

Inconsistent infill levels. Sand can be blown away by wind. Poor sand levels will affect playability and damage carpet pile. Top dress with sand to restore levels.

Cleaning and maintenance options

Tennis Courts Ludlow Regular treatments.

This will include hoovering, brushing and sweeping to keep surface clean and free of debris, top dressing with sand to maintain levels. Non-filled systems require watering prior to use. All systems require appropriate maintenance to control moss and algae, both of which can have a detrimental affect on the playability of these surfaces. Water based systems require regular watering to achieve playability.

Brushing/sweeping. The use of a SISIS Zig Zag brush or similar should be used on a weekly basis to keep the sand agitated, and prevent the build up of moss and algae. Any foreign debris, litter, leaves, soil and other extraneous materials should be removed from the playing surface.

The cost of these operations are dependant on how much time is allocated to the tasks and the initial cost of the cleaning equipment. A specialist rotary vacuum brush can be hired to remove surface debris and ideally should be used on a monthly basis. This will ensure that the facility remains clean and free of debris.

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