We get asked frequently about rolling clay tennis courts. How often? When to or not to roll? Roll in the winter? After rains? etc. To help clarify the confusion I hope the following information helps.
New courts, refurbished clay courts and winterized courts (courts that get considerable freezing and thawing in the winter months) should be rolled every day for the first 3-5 weeks. Whether that is morning, lunch or evening it doesn’t really matter. I have always found the morning to be the easiest as there are no occupied courts. Plus, the morning typically provides the roller with courts that are moist, from the nights watering and relatively smooth. Regardless, new courts and refurbished courts need to be rolled every day for 3-5 weeks. This is necessary to re-compact both the surface and sub-surface.
Assuming that the courts are established and have been in use for a year or more the amount of rolling will depend on a couple of things. First, the finish that you or your members want to play on. Some players love the clay courts to be loose and gritty. Others like their clay courts to be very firm with minimum surface material. There is no right or wrong. There is only the particular playing characteristics that they/you prefer. I fall in the middle. I like clay courts to be firm, but not hard and minimal surface granularity. This particular setup allows the courts to play slow but with good bounces and maximum water retention. Which brings up another point of rolling.
Most people assume that you only roll your courts to tighten them up and keep them firm. That is one and perhaps the most important reason. However, there is another reason. Rolled courts retain more moisture than soft/loose courts. The same was that dragging a court helps to dry a court out, rolling a court helps to keep the moisture in. That is why, especially in the summer months, I always recommend that clubs roll their courts with the front brush down (to smooth out the courts) and the back brush up (to keep the moisture in). This works the opposite in the winter and high rain months but is absolutely important in the summer/dry months.
Another important point to make is that you should try to roll you courts in perpendicular directions if at all possible. With the advent of tow rollers this has been made a little more difficult because once the net is up the standard procedure is to roll from side to side. However, this can cause an excess buildup of material along the sides of the singles, doubles and center service line. Whenever possible it is a good idea to take the nets down and roll the length of the court. Always try to turn the roller off of the lines. Turning the roller on the lines can cause the lines to twist and move, resulting in crooked lines.
So, rolling isn’t an exact science. It is a preference. If you want your courts to play firm and hold their moisture – roll them more often. If you want the courts to play loose, with more surface “dead” material, and to help dry them out – roll them less. Either way, you get the courts to play the way you want them, not the way someone else thinks you should want them.