Acrylic Tennis Surfaces

History

Of the four Grand Slam® tournaments two are played on acrylic surfaces. In addition, around half of the ATP and WTA Tours are also played on indoor and outdoor acrylic surfaces.

The Australian Open is played on Plexicushion and the American Open on Pro Deco Turf. Both surfaces are of the “cushioned” acrylic type and like all acrylics comprise specially formulated layers.

According to the LTA, “The surface [impervious acrylic] encourages and rewards good playing technique and so is also ideally suited for all levels of coaching and training.

The steady growth in the numbers of impervious acrylic surfaces in the UK has been driven in part by the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) recognising the impervious acrylic as an “LTA Preferred Performance Surface”. This increase in court numbers for impervious acrylics has been mainly for indoor use. For outdoor applications porous acrylics are more suited to the UK climate.

Acrylics are sometimes referred to as the players’ choice because of the very consistent ball bounce, reaction to spin, grip underfoot and pace of play surface characteristics. Court pace is rated by the ITF (International Tennis Federation) as 1 (Slow), 2 (Medium-Slow), 3 (Medium), 4 (Medium-Fast) and 5 (Fast). By varying the components in the top coat all these differing paces are achievable for acrylic tennis court surfaces.

Although acrylic surfaces can be cushioned they are also installed with no cushioning layer. This type of court is often referred to as a “hard” court. In the US, this type of court is called an “American Cement” court.

It is also possible to add a permeable cushion layer under the playing surface and with an open textured asphalt base, the resulting surface is porous and can be used after rain.

The cushioned acrylic surface is noticeably more comfortable for competitors. The shock absorbance of the surface mitigates fatigue and the long-term effects on leg joints. Cushioning layers typically utilise recycled rubber and/or plastic and are genuinely termed “environmentally friendly”.

The Australian Open. Image courtesy of Plexipave (UK) Ltd

The Aesthetics

Modern acrylic tennis courts feature bright vibrant colour combinations.

Traditionally courts in the private and public sector were simply green or two-tone green with court and surround in contrasting shades of the same colour.

With time however we now see bright shades of purples, pinks, blues, bright greens, yellows, reds and terracotta.

Lines are white in the main and have exactly the same grip, force reduction and ball bounce as the rest of the court surface.

Porous Cushioned Acrylic. Image courtesy of Trevor May Contractors Ltd

The Technology

Typical cross-section of a cushioned acrylic tennis surface

The substrate that an impervious acrylic tennis surfaces is applied to is either concrete or dense asphalt (macadam).

Tight tolerances for surface levels and high standards of specification and workmanship are essential for the successful installation of these surfaces in the damp UK climate.

Foundations must be strong, carefully compacted and protected from water ingress to prevent settlement or frost damage.

A well-built non-porous acrylic should only need a recoat of top acrylic layers periodically to maintain appearance and restore court surface pace. The surface has less grip and becomes faster as the textured surface is worn smoother.

Near year-round play is possible, dependent on weather conditions. The impervious nature of the surface does mean that on outdoor courts, surface water or puddles may form. These may prevent safe play continuing and must be cleared using squeegees or similar tools.

Maintenance

Acrylic surfaces should be kept scrupulously clean, to preserve their playing characteristics and prevent unsightly stains or discolouration. Generally, this means removing leaves and other detritus from the surface and regularly washing the surface to keep it clean.

As always, if there are any unusual causes for concern the contractor who installed the surface should be consulted for advice on how to proceed.

Detailed notes on the construction and maintenance of acrylic tennis courts may be found in the SAPCA Code of Practice here: https://tinyurl.com/tennis-cop

This feature first appeared in the August 2018 issue of Tennis Threads.

Trevor May Contractors Ltd Ltd are leading tennis court constructors. For more information, please click [here]
Plexipave (UK) Ltd are the exclusive UK installer for Plexipave. For more information, please click [here]

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