The Net Effect
The right tennis nets and net posts are details that you can be sure your players will notice.
There is a saying in the design world: “It’s all about the details.” This seems to be true in the world of tennis as well. How often have you played tennis at an otherwise attractive facility only to find that the net is sloppily installed or the posts are leaning and the surface around the footings are cracked and peeling?
When it comes to making the right impression on your customers and members, it is often the little things they seem to notice. It’s easy to do this with the right tennis nets and posts. Since there are a variety of options to choose from, here are some pointers for making the right choices for your facility.
A Good Foundation
Obviously net posts are an important part of the game, after all, they hold up the nets. What many people fail to appreciate is that post installations are only as good as the footings that support them. Since the footings aren’t readily visible, they tend not to be carefully considered. A net-post footing needs to be properly designed and sized to resist frost heave (if you live in a cold climate), resist movement when the net is tensioned, and not crack the court surface (if used on a hard court). This is why a good net-post footing should meet the following criteria: w It should be wider at the base than at the top to resist upward movement under freezing conditions. w Its base should be below the average depth of the frost line in your region. w It should have flat sides to provide maximum lateral ground support under tension. w If you have hard courts, the footings should have a round top to prevent the development of radiating cracks in the pavement surface.
Net posts have changed over the years, but many clubs have not updated their equipment. Old-fashioned tennis net posts, which rely on external, winch-type or lever-action mechanisms to tension the net cable, can be a hazard to players. The sharp teeth of the external winches can catch fingers and clothing. The winding handles can also snap back during winding, causing injury. The crank handles and locking devices can be dangerous protrusions for players running close to the net. The exposed crank handles are often too much to resist for children, vandals or overly enthusiastic players who may tend to over-tighten the net cables, causing damage to the posts or footings.
Today’s state-of-the-art net posts make use of internal-wind mechanisms to provide the tension on the net cables. The newer post designs provide round, oval, or square post shapes. Since the winding mechanisms are concealed within the posts, the posts have a cleaner look.
The internal-wind posts are equipped with removable or folding crank handles that can be removed or secured in place once the net tension is set, making tampering with the net virtually impossible and player injury less likely. The newer posts, which can be fashioned from steel or aluminum, are also supplied with welded lacing rods that allow the net to be installed tight to the post, without unsightly bulging of the net ends. If it is nostalgia that you are after, there are also net posts fashioned from wood in the shape of the historic Wimbledon posts.
Net posts can be installed permanently or in sleeves to allow for other uses on the tennis court. When buying removable net posts, be sure to get post sleeves and sleeve caps from actual post manufacturers to ensure proper fit. Metal sleeves tend to keep their shape better during installation of concrete footings, but they can rust over time if not properly treated. Rusted net-post sleeves can lead to staining of the court. PVC net-post sleeves that don’t rust are also available, but they can deform during installation if not properly handled, making subsequent post installation difficult, if not impossible.
When selecting post finishes, go with a heavy-duty, baked-on enamel finish rather than just a painted finish if the post is steel, and an anodized finish if the post is aluminum — it is a chemical bond and is much more durable than regular paint. Remember, the good thing about an aluminum post is that it won’t rust.
New posts come in a variety of colors. A well-coordinated court will have net posts that match or are coordinated with the colors of the light poles, windscreens, and fencing. Dark green and black are the most common net-post colors.
There is a dizzying array of options for tennis nets. Nets can be fabricated from polyethylene, polyester, nylon, or steel mesh. Polyethylene mesh is perhaps the most commonly used material since it resists fading and weathering. The better net meshes make use of braided rather than twisted cording. The braided cord, though more expensive than twisted, provides greater shock resistance, forcing the ball to drop more quickly rather than bouncing back from the net.
Steel mesh nets are typically only used at institutional, low-maintenance facilities exposed to high levels of vandalism. Since metal mesh nets more closely resemble chain-link fencing than the traditional fabric-style nets, they are rarely seen at upscale facilities. The metal netting also causes the ball to bounce back much farther than the fabric-type nets.
Net headbands, side bindings and bottom bindings can be fabricated from PVC-coated polyester, nylon, or canvas, or simply uncoated polyester, nylon, or canvas. Generally, the coated banding materials shed dirt and debris more easily, are more mildew and rot resistant and are more washable. These maintenance considerations are important especially if you have fast-dry courts. A drawback of the coated headband material is that the ball tends to skip off the surface and graze over the net. Uncoated materials, meanwhile, provide increased friction, keeping more balls from sliding over the net.
Two innovations in nets over the years have gone a long way toward neatening up the appearance of tennis nets: shortened nets and tapered nets. A regulation tennis net is supposed to be 42 feet long for a doubles net and 33 feet long for a singles net. Unfortunately, regulation doubles net posts are supposed to be spaced 42 feet on center, while regulation singles net posts are supposed to be spaced 33 feet on center. Therefore, when you take into account the distance between the net posts, a regulation net ends up being too wide to fit between the net posts. The extra mesh width causes bunching that looks sloppy. Most net manufacturers now make nets slightly shorter than regulation widths to solve this problem posed by the regulations.
Since tennis regulations also call for a net to be 42 inches above the surface at the ends and 36 inches above the surface at the center strap, a straight net ends up bunching up at the center strap. Again, innovative net manufacturers have created tapered nets that eliminate the extra fabric at the center. A properly tensioned tapered net that is slightly shorter than regulation length to take into account the width of the net posts really looks as if it has been installed with care, without the droopiness of a traditionally shaped net.
Picking the right equipment is only half of the equation. You also need to make sure that you install the nets and posts properly so that they look and perform their best. When installing removable net posts in sleeves at the start of each season, be sure to remove any water in the sleeve first to avoid staining the court surface with rusty water that may have been sitting in the post sleeve over the winter. When installing tennis nets, don’t over-tension the net cable, so you won’t damage the posts, footings or court surface. When fastening net ends, install the net tight to the post. Nets that bow away from the posts look more like poorly rigged sails than professionally installed athletic equipment. Some nets come with dowels and sleeves at the net ends to keep the edge neat. Properly lacing the net to the post using the lacing rods also keeps the net ends looking even. It goes without saying that you should always check that the net is installed to the proper heights both at the posts and at the center strap.
Most facilities make use of the standard doubles position for the posts, then use singles sticks for singles matches. For tournament and center-court locations, you may want to consider a more finished look by providing two sets of removable net posts — doubles posts and singles posts, with each set-up provided with its own net. The four-post layout really gives a court a championship feel.
The careful selection of tennis-court nets and net posts is an important part of a well-designed facility. If you choose your nets and posts well and install them properly, they will provide years of service. You can easily replace a court’s nets and posts for as little as $400 or $500. It is a fairly inexpensive makeover that really gets noticed.
Remember, the little things often make a lasting impression, and a good impression is good for business.
See all articles by Andrew R. Lavallee
About the Author
Andrew R. Lavallee , ASLA, is a Senior Associate at Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, PC located in New York City.