Why Are Clay Tennis Courts Red? (Solved)

Tennis is played on different surfaces and there are a lot of them. The famous three types are hard, grass and clay.

Clay courts are iconic and by far the most used in the world, thanks to their low construction cost.

But so many people ask why are clay tennis courts red and not blue or green? Here is the answer.

Clay tennis courts are red because the dressing layer is made from crushed bricks that have the same red color, which comes from the presence of iron oxide (rust) with the chemical formula Fe2O3, during the firing process of the bricks.

The higher the percentage of iron oxide in the bricks the closer to red the court gets.

What Are the Components of a Clay Tennis Court?

To make a clay tennis court is no easy job. You need to know the different layers that help create that reddish dusty and slippery surface.

For the best quality, bricks are carefully selected and burned to a specific temperature in order to obtain a good red color and a strong composition.

The same thorough selection is applied to the other layers for the highest quality.

When we speak about quality, it automatically comes to mind the famous Roland Garros courts, which are considered the best clay courts in the world.

According to rolandgarros.com, their courts are layered from top to bottom as follows.

1Crushed bricks (Red)0.039 to 0.079 in1 to 2mm
2Notch (pounded limestone)2.36 to 2.75in6 to 7cm
3Clinker (coal residue)2.75 to 3.15in7 to 8cm
4Crushed Stones>11.81in>30cm
5Drain (Bigger stones)>11.81in>30cm

How Is a Clay Court Made?

To construct a clay tennis court, the club owner should hire a works company specialized in tennis courts. The process takes around two months in normal conditions and consists of the following steps.

Grading

grading of clay court
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In this phase, the soil is prepared for the construction of the court’s different layers. Workers generally make a hole in the same dimensions or a little more than the court.

Watering and Drainage System

The necessary pipes are laid underground to help water the courts and drain it to the sewer pipes.

Drain Layers

clay-court-drainage
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Big rocks are used in the first layer. We usually put one to two feet in thickness. The rocks serve as a drain because of the high porosity.

After that, another thick layer of crushed stones with a smaller diameter are laid at the top to help make the transition to the clinker. (the clinker elements can’t fill the holes between the big rocks)

Clinker Layer

clinker in clay court
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Now, the workers put a black cake of 3 inches in thickness. This layer helps for water retention and filtration so that the court is more flexible.

Limestone Layer

limestone-layer
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The workers put around 2 inches of pounded limestone at the top of the clinker. It constitutes the main foundation of a good and playable clay court. The limestone helps for better flexibility and resistance to pressure.

The workers ensure correct compaction and leveling of the layer.

Lines

The white lines made of PVC are carefully installed in the desired position to respect the dimensions of the playground.

They are scraped down to the limestone layer and compacted to be fully immovable.

Crushed Brick Layer

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This is the final step. One to two inches of crushed fired bricks are evenly distributed to cover the limestone. They help:

  • To give the iconic red color for the courts
  • To prevent from sunlight reflection against the white limestone
  • To enable good sliding and playing flexibility

How to Maintain a Clay Court ?

Clay courts need to be taken care of. Otherwise, they lose their smoothness and become bouncy and grippy, which is dangerous for the players.

You should distinguish between three types of court maintenance. The daily maintenance, the periodic maintenance, and the yearly maintenance.

Daily maintenance

Clay courts need regular maintenance more than any other type of soil. This is what you have to do on a regular basis if you play tennis on clay. You can have a technician do it or do it by yourself to save some money.

  • Sprinkle water every day. This step helps clean the dust, cool the surface and restore the court characteristics that are good sliding and a high and regular ball bounce. Clay courts normally dry quickly.
  • Sweep a clay court before and when playing, so that you redistribute the dressing material and you remove step marks.
  • Brush the lines to make them visible and less slippery.

A daily clay court maintenance shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.

Periodic maintenance

It should happen every two or four weeks.

After a few days of heavy play, you can notice worn-out spots and uneven ground levels in several zones. You will have to add materials there when it is needed.

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Also, the drainage pipes need to be cleaned to avoid clogging and to restore their porosity.

This operation can take 30 to 60 minutes.

Yearly maintenance

A total reconditioning of a clay court has to be done once a year. It consists of the following.

  • Cleaning debris and leaves
  • Removing the tape lines
  • Uncompacting and reconditioning of the limestone layer
  • Releveling to have a uniformly distributed cake
  • Compacting and rolling the court several times
  • Reinstalling the lines
  • Shoveling the final red layer for a beautiful look
  • Watering and sweeping to have the court ready

This operation usually takes 2 days for a single court in good weather.

Are There Clay Courts in Other Colors?

Clay courts’ colors range between orange and brown nuances depending on the brick quality and also the TV colors. But in general, they appear to be of a red shade.

However, a surprising color has been used once in a famous tennis tournament.

In 2012, The directors at the Madrid Open Masters 1000 used BLUE CLAY in their courts, by accomplishing a chemical process twice as expensive as for regular clay.

After the first match, all the players complained about the courts being very slippery. In addition, the ball bounced really high and was difficult to maneuver.

Despite the critics, the director of the tournament refused to make changes and the tournament was played until the end with blue clay.

Only a talented player who can quickly adapt his game to the newer surface could clinch the trophy and this player was the great Roger Federer.

It was the first and the last official tennis tournament when another color was used for the clay.

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