Tennis Industry magazine

 

Cracking Up?

All hard courts will crack eventually, and when they do, have a professional evaluate the situation and suggest a remedy.

By Mary Helen Sprecher

All hard courts will crack eventually, and when they do, have a professional evaluate the situation and suggest a remedy.

Cracks in tennis courts aren’t too different from zombies in horror movies. No matter what you do to them, they just keep coming back. It’s a problem that can drive court managers and pros to distraction, and cause plenty of complaints among players who want a smooth, unblemished surface for their game.

court repair

What might surprise everyone is the fact that the cracking itself isn’t actually the problem. It is just a symptom. Another surprise? There are different types of cracks, indicative of different problems and conditions. Despite the fact that to the layperson, these cracks may look similar — or even identical — they require different forms of repair. A tennis court contractor is the best person to examine a court in order to determine the cause of cracking, but a manager should understand what will affect a court surface and cause certain conditions.

There are two general types of hard surface tennis courts: those made of asphalt and those made of concrete. All courts will eventually show wear, and may even have different types of cracks. Generally, cracking as seen on tennis courts falls into two categories: Surface cracks, which are relatively minor, and pavement or structural cracks, which are more serious. (For a detailed and illustrated description of various types of cracking, see the adjacent chart. Information on cracking, as well as other surface conditions, can also be found in “Tennis Courts: A Construction and Maintenance Manual,” from which the chart is taken. See the box at right for more information on this manual.)

Surface Integrity

Asphalt courts, no matter how well-built, are going to crack. Whether indoor or outdoor, as the pavement ages, it becomes brittle. And unlike roads, parking lots, driveways and so forth, a tennis court pavement gets only foot traffic. It lacks the constant weight of vehicle traffic, which, contrary to what might be expected, serves to keep asphalt pliable and delays the formation of cracks.

“Asphalt tennis courts typically last for 20 years or so before reconstruction or some type of overlay system becomes necessary,” notes Colin Donovan of Renner Sports Surfaces, based in Denver. In many cases, he adds, the causes for the cracking are beyond any contractor’s control.

Concrete courts, many contractors say, are harder and less likely to crack. In particular, facilities made of post-tensioned concrete will hold without cracking for years because of the compressive force being applied to the concrete slab.

How often cracks will appear, however, is not the point. The most important factor is to keep up the integrity of the surface by making sure that cracks, when they do occur, are evaluated by a professional, who can recommend a remedy.

The one thing a court owner should not try, say contractors, is the do-it-yourself approach, since it can result in more harm than good. Because of the advances in tennis court repair products, there are a variety of treatment options open to contractors that may be considered, depending upon the extent and cause of the crack problem.

Repairing Cracks

“Almost any size crack can be repaired with a membrane product,” says Dave Baird of Industrial Surface Sealer Inc. of Cleveland. A membrane system is comprised of several layers of fabric adhered to the court surface with bonding material that may be reinforced with fiberglass. Once the membrane is in place, the court has to be coated with surfacing before it is again playable.

These membranes, Baird explains, act much the same way a drywall repair does. There are several brand-name systems on the market; Baird notes that his company has found a specific product, and has worked with it for six years. “The customers love it,” he says, “because prior to that repaving was the only option. The break-even or cost justification on individual courts is that if a court has less than 800 lineal feet of cracks, it is best to repair with a membrane. If the court has other issues such as bad drainage or delamination, then paving and repair is the suggested method. If a court is sound, drains well, no peeling, no delamination, and just has a few cracks, then the membrane is the way to go.”

Membranes, however, are not the only methods on the market, as Carvin Pallenberg of RiteWay Crack Repair and Cushion Tennis Courts in West Haven, Conn., explains.

“Whatever the cause (of cracks), there are many ways to repair them,” says Pallenberg. “If they are surface cracks, a good coat of acrylic resurfacer with sand may solve the problem, depending on the depth of the cracks. If cracks are deeper, such as cracks along playing lines caused by the temperature difference between the colored court and the white lines, builders may want to fill with court patch binder made of sand, cement and latex, and buff smooth. Some contractors use a fiberglass mesh set in acrylic to cover spider cracking, which is when there is a lot of cracking in a given area. These methods are usually good for a couple of seasons.”

With more serious structural cracks, Pallenberg notes, there are different repair options. “A temporary repair is to clean out the crack and fill with court patch binder, buff smooth and re-color, or fill with some kind of caulking. This, however, is temporary, and the cracks will return in a short time — days or weeks. A more permanent repair is an overlay system, and these methods have been around for years and have been proven successful. Another method is an asphalt overlay, which can be just asphalt on the existing court or used over fabric or stone dust, etc.”

Foundation Work?

“If the court has large structural cracks, it is time to think about replacing the foundation,” says Richard Zaino of Zaino Tennis Courts in Orange, Calif. “Overlay the court with a post-tension slab, or remove and replace it.”

Overlays might also include covering the cracked surface with a mat of synthetic turf, interlocking modular tiles or others.

Inevitably, there are going to be some markets, say builders, in which customers want to save money by employing stopgap fixes. It might be a residential court where a nervous homeowner is trying some belt-tightening, a club anticipating an off-season or a municipality that hasn’t budgeted for major tennis court work. In those cases, repairing cracks on a court might appeal more.

Ellen Brattlof of Armor Crack Repair System in Farmingdale, N.J., has seen explosive growth of requests for crack repair products over the past year, and she says she expects that growth to continue.

It all comes back to one truth, however: Many cracks will come back. The best tennis court managers can do, say contractors, is to stay on top of the situation. Do a regular walk-through of the facility and keep a diagram of each court, noting the date it was inspected and any imperfections on the surface. Carry a camera to document any specific areas of concern; the photos can be e-mailed to the contractor for a quick consult, if necessary.

You can’t prevent cracks, but you can be proactive about treating them, say professionals. And that’s half the battle right there.


It’s In the Book

Tennis Courts: A Construction and Maintenance Manual,” jointly published by the American Sports Builders Association and the USTA, has the stated purpose of promoting quality construction, maintenance and repair of tennis court facilities. The book is written in a user-friendly format that appeals to tennis players and the general public, as well as to construction and design professionals. The book costs $44.95 plus postage and handling, and is available from the ASBA by going to sportsbuilders.org, or by calling 866-501-ASBA (2722).


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About the Author

Mary Helen Sprecher  is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.

 

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