Playing tennis in New York City is an art…

I moved to New York City in January 2015 to be with my wife who was studying at Columbia Business School. Armed with my tennis racket, I wondered how I was going to navigate the tennis scene in a city where space is at a premium, there are lots of skyscrapers but few courts and brutal winters which make it impossible to play outside throughout the winter season.

New York City Tennis can be eye-wateringly expensive and the tennis scene, difficult to navigate. I never really found a comprehensive review of how and where to get the best out of NYC tennis so I have put one together from my own experience.

SUMMER SEASON

Play in the Parks….

The best option in the summer is to play in the parks. The courts are generally decent and if you intend to play a lot you can purchase a park permit for the season that that allows you to play on all the public courts in 5 boroughs in and around New York city for just $200 for the season (for more information here is the link that will lead you to all the information you will need https://www.nycgovparks.org/permits/tennis-permits).

These permits must be purchased either from Paragon sports shop (867 Broadway at 18th Street) or the Arsenal building in Central Park (both in Manhattan). This allows you to play either 2 hours of doubles or an hour of singles per day. Every person playing on the courts must have either a parks tennis permit or pay their individual fee ($15).

In order to secure a court at any of the parks I recommend getting there at least 15 minutes early. Normally, during the day with the exception of July & August there are free courts as people are working. In the summertime however there are line-ups at 6.30 am with people trying to book time slots through out the day. Summer season is incredibly busy! You may also book online for an extra charge of $15, In Central Park, for example there are only 4 courts bookable online but can be booked up to a month in advance.

Central Park

  • Tennis courts are located between 96th & 93rd St and Central Park West.
  • 26 half decently maintained har-tru clay courts which are all completely open to the public for $15 per person per hour.
  • Expect to pay around $115 per hour for a coach

The whole Central Park scene can be a bit overwhelming, with very busy courts and somewhat intimidating park attendants that manage the facility. Paid rather poorly by the state, these attendants don’t take cr*p from anyone. Their general attitude is ‘if you don’t like it – leave’ and given there is such high demand for these courts in the summer there is always another customer willing to fill the spot. As an employee, I knew the attendants on a personal level and they were always very nice to me and I could understand the idiot questions and people that they would have to deal with that would cause them to be that way.

Don’t forget your clay court shoes – as you will need these in order to play. You can always purchase a pair at the pro shop, probably a bit more expensive then your online tennis shop but after all it is Central Park.

If you want to take your own coach, do so under the radar. The attendants generally don’t mind too much – the venue coaches are always in demand anyway. Lots of freelance coaches use the facility. Note that you won’t be able to use a basket and are limited to only 3 balls.

96th and Riverside (RCTA)

  • 10 ok-ish red clay courts. Fine to play on, but if you’re a seasoned pro used to playing on beautiful Spanish red-clay you will come away a bit disappointed.
  • $15 per person per hour or use a seasons Parks permit.
  • Expect to pay $40-50 per hour for a coach, cheap for NYC, but then again you get what you pay for.

What is nice about this venue is that it lies 10 meters from the famous Hudson River, so the view can be spectacular on a nice day. This venue has less weirdos than Central Park and seems to be frequented and run by more normal person (if you can say that about anyone in NYC- everyone has their quirks).

I wouldn’t really bother with taking a lesson from one of the venue coaches. They are woefully inadequate, some even wearing basketball shoes on clay courts (sorry Ben, but we both know you cant be bothered in case you ever read this). If you do play here, take your own coach under the radar. But note that you will be limited to 6 balls.

 119th and Riverside Tennis Courts

  • 10 plexi-pave hard courts, poor condition
  • $15 per person per hour or use a seasons Parks permit
  • Coaching from around $50 per hour

If you’re looking for more of a quiet and hassle free tennis-park, 119th St & Riverside will be a better place for you. 8 out of the 10 courts are extremely run down, but just about playable especially if you’re not a superstar or fussy. At times it can also be tricky to get a court, but not as bad as RCTA or Central Park.

The courts are run by a local association that is rather sleepy and inactive. There is an element of subsidence due to the subway. This means that even newly resurfaced courts crack again quickly. Coaching is extremely poor – my wife took a lesson once as part of a Columbia Business School club and was taught the most horrific volley (she already knew how to volley and some guy tried to undo my good work!)

There are a few regulars that you will see play there almost every day who can be very territorial about certain courts. If you have paid and selected a court on the sign in sheet, ignore them and continue to play.

Take your own coach, many freelance coaches work there though you should probably avoid taking a basket.

WINTER (INDOOR)

Dick Savitt Center (Indoor)

  • 6 great condition, Ivy League standard hard courts
  • $52-88 per hour non prime time/prime time (click here for pricing)
  • Lessons $120-140 per hour 

This is my favourite indoor hard court venue in Manhattan. It is the Columbia University Tennis Center, found next to the athletics ground at 218th Street. They have to repaint the courts each year to comply with NCAA standards. The staff, including the head Racquet manager and the head coaches for the NCAA men’s and women’s teams were incredibly helpful and kind to me during my time in the US. Be sure to say hi to Gaurav if you stop by. See if you can also spot Dick Savitt himself, who plays three times a week at the age of 89.

If you’re looking to watch a high level of tennis during the NCAA tennis you can watch the Columbia Lions play their home matches normally on a Saturday. The Columbia Lions have won the Ivy League title for the last three years in a row.

Go Columbia Lions!

Harlem Armory Center (Indoor)

  • 40 West 143rd Street
  • $25/hour court rental
  • 4 hard courts

If you are prepared to go into Harlem and find a little club called Harlem Armory Center, you can pay $25 per hour for court rental. Not bad considering its only 20-30 minutes away from Manhattan Plaza by subway. Courts are ok, but very hollow underneath. Well worth the journey however.

Manhattan Plaza Racquet Club (indoor)

  • 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenue
  • 5 Hard Courts, one court has no doubles alley
  • $140 per hour for non-members ($100 per hour for members +$220/month membership fee)
    Coaching $50-$150 per hour

I worked at Manhattan Plaza Racquet Club for many months. The club sits atop a parking lot in between typical Manhattan hi-rises. If you don’t have money to spare, don’t go here. If you’re willing to splash out and it’s cold outside you can rent a court for $140 per hour for non-members (Yes $140 to play tennis inside a bubble on top of a parking lot).

I must say some the cliental at this club were amongst the rich and famous. The club charged $70 for my hour of coaching, of course plus $140 for the court hire. The most expensive coach charges $150+ court fee, (previous ATP ranking of 400-500). The least you’ll pay a coach there is $50 unless you choose a sparring partner for $30 (if you take the sparring option please do tip the hitter as they only get $25).

Of course this indoor club is rarely empty in the mornings, and evenings, populated by early rising hedge fund managers, consultants and wolves of Wall Street. As Manhattan plaza stopped taking the bubble down 4-5 years ago summers are much quieter.

Sportime Randall’s Island (Indoor/Outdoor)

  • 20 courts: 10 Deco-Turf hard tennis courts and 10 Har-Tru clay tennis courts
  • 5 indoor hard courts, year round
  • 5 hard courts and 10 clay courts are housed in a bubble during the indoor season and are available for outdoor play during the outdoor season
  • Indoor court rental (non member rates) $72-$110 per hour depending on time

This is home to one of the John McEnroe Tennis Academies,  (others in Westchester and Long Island). A very good venue, just outside Manhattan on Randall’s Island. You can use the outdoor courts for free with a NYC Parks Tennis Permit (or $15 per person fee). Convenient if you are on the East Side of Manhattan, but difficult to get to on public transport from the West Side.

Sutton East Tennis Club (Indoor)

  • 8 poor quality clay courts
  • c$180 per hour average (dependent on whether you play prime or non prime time)

Only available in the winter – as a bubble is put up under a bridge. In the summer, the city uses the open space. The courts are clay but not well maintained on the second row of courts, in the middle there is a huge fan so can’t hear the ball being hit.

Coaches are bad to terrible. They only get paid $30 per hour. Coaching here is more suitable for a recreational player. Convenient for those living on the Upper East Side. A lot less so if you are on the West Side of Manhattan.

The locker rooms are terrible. Probably one of the biggest disappointments on the Upper East Side. The website is just bad and lacks vital information.

Yorkville Tennis Club

  • 2 hard courts

Run by the same people as Sutton East, Yorkville is 2 hard courts inside a bubble inside an apartment building. We are not sure if you can actually rent the courts by the hour or whether they are used exclusively for lessons. Pricing likely to be similar to Sutton East.