Tennis Technology

Is your asphalt tennis court fading, peeling, or riddled with cracks? Do water puddles remain on the court hours after it rains? Is grass thriving in jagged crevices that seem to get bigger every year? If you answered yes to any of these questions, the good news is that you are not alone. In fact, throughout the United States there are literally thousands of asphalt tennis courts just like yours. And probably just like you, owners and managers of these courts are daunted by the prospect of having to make repairs.

Most of these dilapidated courts were built during the tennis boom of the 1970's and early 1980's and are simply suffering from old age rather than neglect or improper construction. People often are intimidated not only by the potential costs to repair their courts, but also by the confusing array of potential rehabilitation methods, each of which has its own associated merits and liabilities over the long term. The purpose of this article is to help alleviate this fear by explaining what some of the more common court problems are, outlining the most common repair options currently being recommended by landscape architects, engineers, and contractors, and, finally, identifying ways to choose the ones best suited to your specific needs and budget.

The Fundamental of Asphalt Courts

Before determining which repair methods are best suited to your needs, you need to understand the fundamentals of asphalt court construction. The basic construction of a property designed asphalt court involves four components

1. A stable, compacted, and well-drained soil sub-base;
2. A six to eight inch compacted crushed stone base course;
3. A three-to four-inch-thick compacted hot asphalt pavement usually laid in two courses of a minimum thickness of 1 - 1 1/2" each and sloped from side to side of the court (not diagonally or end to end) at a slope of 0.8% -1.0%;
4. A liquid applied acrylic playing surface system squeegeed on top of the cured asphalt pavement (usually between 3 and 10 layers of surfacing).

If constructed properly, an asphalt tennis court should have an expected life of I8 to 20 years, requiring a minimal acrylic resurfacing every five to seven years, depending upon seasonal usage.

The cost for a new asphalt tennis court without lights typically ranges between $25,000 and $50,000 depending upon your geographic location, specific site conditions, the type of surface chosen, and the number of courts being built at the same time. Municipal class courts generally cost between $25,000 and $35,000, while club and competition class courts generally cost between $35,000 and 50,000 due to their more expensive surface systems and finishes. It is not unusual for a single residential court to cost $60,000 or more.

Typical Asphalt Tennis Court Problems

Most problems that arise with asphalt courts cm be attributed to three principal factors:

1. improper design or engineering;
2. improper construction, or
3. natural aging of the asphalt pavement.

The ability to recognize basic problems with your own court or courts will make you better able to discuss repair options with your professional consultant and contractor. It will also allow you to more adequately estimate the potential cost of repair and rehabilitation.

Generally speaking, problems such as the fading or discoloration of the court surfacing, or even the presence of birdbaths, are minor and can be solved relatively inexpensively. Problems such as bubbles and rust spots, while more severe, can readily be solved. The presence of alligatoring, raveling, or hair line cracks, though not excessively costly to repair indicate the possibility of more serious problems and the potential for continued degradation of the court if not repaired quickly. Structural cracks, upheavals or depressions, indicating major problems, often require more complicated, intrusive and costly repair.

Experience shows that court problem seldom occur alone. More typically, two or three of these problems are apparent upon close inspection of an aging asphalt tennis court. The more severe court problems are most often simply the natural signs of a courts old age. However, if these more serious problems occur within the first two or three years of a courts life, they can usually be attributed to poor design, construction, or faulty materials.

Varied Solutions for Your Varied Problems

Over the past several years, landscape architects and engineers, as well as contractors, have devised creative methods and taken advantage of new construction technologies to combat the most common asphalt court problems. This progress has lead to a variety of solutions that can significantly extend the life of damaged or aging courts and that can offer reasonably priced repairs without the complete demolition, removal and reconstruction of an existing court.

Because there are multiple solutions for each of the problems mentioned above, choosing the best solution for your needs requires weighing the potential advantages and disadvantages of each method with the overall cost of the repair. For example, if your court surface exhibits fading, birdbaths, alligatoring, and only a few feet of minor structural cracks, you could choose to install a fabric overlay and resurface the court. This could cost from $6,000-$7,000 and would last up to three years. For three times the cost, you could elect to install a roll-out court surface which would last almost four times as long, with the added benefit of a cushioned surface. In another case, you might have a court with multiple birdbaths and a moderate amount of structural cracking. Your options for repair might be either to install stone screenings and asphalt overlay, or mill the existing pavement and install a new asphalt pavement. The price difference between these two systems is only about $2,000-$3,000. However, with the stone screenings solution, if the structural cracks continue to move below the new pavement or if the three inch overlay pavement were to crack, which it would do with the natural aging of the asphalt, the system would deteriorate rapidly. With the milling and new pavement procedure, though more expensive, you are buying a completely new court pavement without the potential for problems from below. The lesson to remember is that you get what you pay for: a less expulsive system is generally going to offer fewer advantages than a more expensive system.

You should not always opt for the more expensive system, however, just to play it safe. If you had a court exhibiting structural cracks that were determined by your professional consultant to be reasonably stable and the result of poorly constructed pavement joints, rather than the result of heaving due to moisture or subgrade instability, a slip sheet overlay system or a geotextile and asphalt overlay might very well meet your needs. To choose a post-tension concrete slab overlay system, for instance, would be overkill. Not only would it cost you upwards of three times that of either of the two less expensive systems, but it is also unnecessary. Post-tension systems are best used with subsurface problems such as unstable base material or differential settlement.

Some Helpful Hints

Understandably, deciding upon how to rehabilitate an ailing court is difficult, but you don't have to go it alone. Talk to other tennis court owners and find out what they have done to solve their problems. Do not hesitate to engage a qualified, experienced tennis court consultant to act as a project designer on your behalf or to assist your local engineer or landscape architect with the repair process. Because tennis courts are not like roadways or parking lots, and because they have specific structural requirements and unique problems, they should be handled by a specialist who is familiar with the latest technology and techniques of court rehabilitation. When talking to contractors, be sure to ask for a range of estimates to solve your problems. Do not rely on a contractor who gives you only one option for fixing your court: he or she may not be sufficiently experienced in or capable of carrying out a more appropriate solution. Also be wary of the contractor who claims to have a simple solution for a complex problem: for example, repairing cracks in asphalt courts. Unfortunately, there are no simple solutions. The only way to repair a crack in an asphalt tennis court successful is to replace the pavement. Barring this, you can only temporarily cover the problem, which will eventually reappear.

Perhaps the most fundamental lesson to take away from this discussion is that if your current tennis court problems or their underlying causes are allowed to persist for an extended period of time, they will only worsen, leading to more severe problems and, inevitably, increased costs for rehabilitation.

Preparing for an upgrade

As the movement toward a more aesthetic tennis atmosphere continues, club and facility owners and managers find their complexes in need of repair and upgrade. A recurring list of improvements includes everything from fencing and backdrops to amenities such as water fountains, landscaping and seating for spectators.

Some upgrading can be done at minimum investment, while others require extended time and money. Nonetheless, following is a checklist of ideas for improving your facility to make the tennis experience more enjoyable.



Availability for the use of high tech equipment is appearing on many courts. Power for video equipment, ball machines, and computers is becoming integrated on site, along with sprinkler systems, telephone lines, and video lines for use on the court. This technological integration is valuable, both for maintenance crews and pros who teach on the court.


Acceptance and impressions of a facility are often created even before players step onto the court. Amenities and a pleasing atmosphere are reasons people love to return to certain golf courses, and should be the reason for players to return to your courts. Trees, flowers, and shrubbery need to entice your guests and members from the time they leave their car until they reach the courts. Take care to avoid improper shading and growth, as light and shadows on a court are distracting. Shadows will limit the drying ability of your court. Keep also grass and weeds away from the courts and always keep your grounds neatly manicured.

Added Amenities

For increased participation and enjoyment of your tennis community, seats, benches, and bleachers that provide shade make for a pleasant viewing atmosphere and creates a more modern facility. On-court benches with awnings, along with drinking fountains between pairs of courts, are good places for players to rest between matches.

Nets, Posts, etc.

Pay close attention to worn nets, center straps, net ties, tighteners, and anchors. No one wants to play on courts with poor equipment.

Because many of the courts built during the tennis boom of the'70s are now needing help, renovation, if not new construction, is a serious undertaking that requires solid planning. Consider some lessons learned by many facilities and clubs during their upgrading.

In whatever way you decide to improve your tennis facility, detailed specifications for upgrading are available from:


720 Light Street

Baltimore, MD 21230-3816

Telephone: 410-752-3500

Or visit their website at


Today, more than ever tennis club operators recognize the importance of maintaining an attractive, modern facility to attract players. Providing players with the proper amenities can dramatically affect the success of a facility. Given the growing demand for leisure time to fit the consumers schedule, tennis club operators must make sure their facilities are equipped to handle play day and night.

Lighting systems are an integral element of a modern tennis facility. Traditionally, courts have been illuminated with floodlights. However, floodlight style luminaries can be uncomfortable because the player is often looking directly into the fixture as he tries to watch the ball. Higher poles are required for floodlights' distribution, which also makes them difficult and expensive to service.

Today, more and more court contractors recognize the advantages of sharp, cut-off luminaries, with high intensity lamps, as the most effective light source for courts. The advantages of a sharp cut-off lighting system versus the traditional floodlighting systems include:

Sharp cut-off lighting systems have a rectangular light fixture, an upsweep or straight arm, plus a 20-70 22 foot-high foot high pole. These fixtures project light across the court, perpendicular to the players normal line of sight, eliminating the direct glare as players watch the hall. Thus, placing the poles and fixtures on both sides of the court is critical to the system's effectiveness. The low mounting height allows for easier servicing and is aesthetically more pleasant to the eye.

For the best quality, look for sharp cut-off luninaries constructed from aluminum and mounted on a steel or an aluminum pole with brackets. System components should be pre-finished by the manufacturer for added durability. Polyester powder coating is generally accepted as the preferred method of protecting lighting equipment that will be exposed to the outdoor elements. Manufacturers of powder coated tennis lighting systems offer equipment in a variety of colors, with black or green being the most popular. Nonetheless, for added aesthetics, light equipment can be coordinated with the fence, windscreen, court surface, or facility colors.

For optimum illumination, the 1000-watt metal halide lamp is the best lamp source for the sharp cut-off system. Metal halide gives the best combination of color output, electrical efficiency, and lamp life. The 1000-watt version is the optimum choice because it offers a rated life of 12,000 hours, four times that of the 1500-watt metal halide lamp. Metal halide's color rendering properties ensure that a player, tennis ball, and surroundings retain a natural appearance at night. Other light sources, such as high pressure sodium or mercury vapor, tend to dull and distort certain color.


Sweep or blow clean Weekly
Rinse As needed
Trim Grass As needed
Remove leaves/needles Autumn
Repair cracks
And remove stains
Wash winter debris Spring

by Andrew R. Lavallee, ASLA and Sheldon Westervelt, P.E.