Tennis Leagues of TennisNYC.com





Winter Tennis

By Tommy Ho

(Photo above L-R) Fred, Jodi, Ryo, Koko Lani, and Alan 

Some time around early December, even those die-hard New York City tennis hackers frown at the winds and bitter, cold temperatures, enough so that they do either one of two things. One, they go into immediate hibernation. Or two, they head for indoor tennis.

            Indoor tennis in New York City is unlike any place else. There is the whole racquet club culture with its hierarchy of players, the popular tennis pro, and even the sagacious racket stringer who always has some new fangled technology to show off. You’ll find plenty of that in any of the five boroughs. Manhattan even has the clubs with a bit of history, like Sutton East. The nostalgic favorite because of its cinematic debut in Woody Allen’s ANNIE HALL, and also for the dusty red clay that seems to favor those with just the right amount of topspin on their forehand shots.  Located on Manhattan’s east side, Sutton East has all the atmosphere, and snobbishness, that comes with the territory. Then there is Midtown Tennis, another stalwart, this time with Har-Tru on the courts for those with failing knees and joints.  Both clubs have a dedicated following throughout the year for those that are willing to pay the price of membership.

But for my money, the true bounce of a hard court can’t be beat.  To get this, many players make the pilgrimage to the home of the US Open in Flushing Meadows, Queens. With ten indoor hard courts, a fully outfitted pro shop, and all the glamour that goes along with playing at the National Tennis Center and the home of the North American grand slam, it’s an experience that can’t be beat.  Photos of past champions adorn the walls in the lobby, and for just a moment, you can bask in the glow of players like Connors, McEnroe, Evert, Sampras and the Williams sisters, before heading to the courts to fine-tune your own game.  It is certainly an enjoyable experience, but just enough out of the way for Manhattanites to be inconvenient.  For the Columbia alumni, there is the Dick Savitt Tennis Center in Morningside Heights. The surface of choice here is Rebound Ace, not to mention the award-winning lighting. But again, located in the northern-most tip of Manhattan and open only to those with Columbia credentials and their guests, there is something lacking here.

With all these choices, where did I find that unique indoor tennis experience? I would soon find out.

Meeting Koko Lani through her website, and the auspicious beginnings of her TennisNYC.com league, I was led to the Stadium Racquet Club. Nestled in the shadow of Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx, it’s unassuming yet bold and brash. How can you possibly compete with the Yankees and America’s favorite pastime? Yet, even here I found all the elements that make up that unique tennis experience. 

Koko always told me that “tennis should bring people together” and I believed her. I soon met the friendly staff and teaching pros. They include people like Norma, the first person you see on most nights when you walk through the front door. A firm believer in the benefits of playing on Har-Tru, she also finds time to help younger players with their game. Her no-nonsense New Yawker attitude is tempered by her soft-spoken love for the game.  Another one of the teaching pros, Peter, insists that he doesn’t need a business card. “People find me,” he says with a smile. Sporting the laid back demeanor of a European, I learned that Peter spent time going to school in Hawaii.  That explained a lot about the kind of people you’ll find at Stadium Racquet.  They’re friendly and relaxed, but definitely take their tennis seriously. 

With fourteen heated hard courts, Stadium Racquet is home to the usual bunch of weekend tennis warriors as well as developing juniors and other young players.  During a recent TennisNYC.com league match, I played with Ryo, a recently transplanted student from Tokyo, Japan, and a young woman named Jodi who worked in childrens television.  Koko, the league organizer and resident tennis guru, led us through warm ups and then a set of doubles.  Mixing up the groundstrokes and volleys, we were all spraying balls around the court and outside the lines (at least all of us except for Koko).  But eventually the rust chipped away as we gained confidence.   Jodi measured her crosscourt topspin forehand with just the right amount of pace, while Ryo mixed it up at the net with his perfect drop volleys.  At the end of the evening, we all took part in what is now a league ritual: posing for pictures to be posted on Koko’s website, www.tennisnyc.com

Befitting the reputation that New York has for being the crossroads and cultural capital of the world, I played with a variety of people from all over the country and the world.  The TennisNYC.com league inspires a love for the game of tennis. At the pro level, this sport unlike any other, rewards the individual athlete. But for those of us who have day jobs, it’s not so much about the individual athlete, as it is about meeting interesting people and hearing their stories. At places like Stadium Racquet, it’s all about community.

PLEASE NOTE: Mr. Tommy Ho (photo below), the author of this feature article, is a graduate of NYU with a major in English.  He presently works for www.Register.com and a regular member of the TennisNYC.com tennis league.


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