Middle States

Backyard Tennis

How a tennis fanatic turned his backyard into a tennis oasis.


Love tennis, but don’t have many courts near your home?


This was Mark Abel’s situation 15 years ago. He found a way to solve it.


An avid tennis player and part-time coach, Abel hand built a court in his property’s backyard in Orwigsburg, Pa.


He dug out every inch of soil and moved every rock by hand. He built his own sifter and spent days working through the soil. What did it unveil?


Seemingly perfect, smooth red clay. 


“If I knew how long it would take, I never would have done it,” he said with a smile. “I feel like I spent every day of that first year moving rocks and sifting.”


It’s become easier since then. Abel said the upkeep on his court is surprisingly low compared to what many assume (he rolls it two or three times per year and takes care of it with basic maintenance after each use). 


It all started when a friend of Abel’s took a look at the clay-based soil on his property and pointed out the potential that was under the grass. He began digging and didn’t look back.


Each year since the court’s inception, he’s made slight improvements with details like bushes and a stone wall. His wife, their friends, and even some of his students play on the courts regularly.


This past summer, Abel offered his court up for Berks County Tennis Association, which was running its King of Clay Comeback Classic event in the area. 


Abel has been an active tennis player in the Middle States section for years. When he was more active as a player, he competed in Interdistricts and USTA League. His focus recently has been more on teaching tennis, and also teaching inside the classroom at Penn State, where he is an assistant professor.


“I’ve always loved tennis. Always been involved,” he said. “It’s great being up here with all of this space and we obviously feel really fortunate to have access to a court like this.”


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