For the traveler, New York City always has been a Mecca that offers just about everything—except a reasonable place to play tennis. Oh, there are tennis courts in the city—quite a few, in fact. And some of them, at least during the summer months, are even free. Of course most of these courts have barbed-wire nets and a surface of a unique composition: a film of ground glass over a pocked asphalt base.
The indoor court situation is quite different, but not much better. For about $20 an hour you can play in Midtown at one of those bubble facilities where balls from adjacent courts come ricocheting at you every few seconds. These places are usually booked solid, and even with a reservation it is difficult to get inside them. Because of the high air pressure needed to keep the bubble inflated, it often takes two or three strong people just to get through the revolving door and onto the courts.
For the Fila and Tacchini crowd and anyone else who can afford to adopt a cavalier attitude toward money, there are better indoor courts with spacious locker rooms and indirect lighting. Unfortunately, during prime time these courts can rent for as much as $40 an hour.
But now, especially for the traveler, there is an alternative to broken glass and busted bank accounts that offers reasonable prices and a vicarious thrill to boot. The USTA's National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow Park, the same place where Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors strut their stuff, is open to the public, and the fees read more like Dubuque than New York.
The Tennis Center has nine indoor courts that go for $12 to $16 an hour, depending on the time of day. The complex also has 24 outdoor courts that are open from mid-April until October and are available for $6 to $10 an hour.
As for the facilities, the National Tennis Center has everything but hot tubs. The locker rooms are large and well appointed, and there is a complete tennis shop. The professional teaching staff is directed by Vitas Gerulaitis Sr., of whose son you may have heard. During the winter, Vitas Jr., McEnroe, Peter Fleming and other notable pros often practice at the Center. This presents a dilemma for amateurs. They can stand in an upstairs lounge and watch the best players in the world play the game, for free, or they can go out on the courts and pay to double fault.
The best thing about the Tennis Center, however, is its location. It sits between New York's two main airports, LaGuardia and Kennedy. The traveling racket addict can finish work in town, grab a cab to the tennis courts, play a couple of sets, shower and be only minutes away from a plane ride home. The courts also can be reached by subway or car, because the Tennis Center is located adjacent to both Grand Central Parkway and the Van Wyck Expressway. There is ample free parking.
Court reservations can be made up to two days in advance by calling 212-592-8000. The Center is open from 9 a.m. to midnight, and during the outdoor season there is also a restaurant on the premises. Tennis in New York at a reasonable price...now the city has everything.