Sports in New York: Where to play tennis in New York

Outdoor sports in New York abound. If you want to know where to play tennis in New York, make like McEnroe and practice your swing at one of these public courts.

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96th Street Red Clay Tennis Courts

96th Street Red Clay Tennis Courts Photograph: Joe Josephs

Despite the close quarters, there are plenty of outdoor activities and sports in New York including kayaking, biking, outdoor yoga and skateboarding. And for all you U.S. Open fans, here's where to play tennis in New York. Before you practice your serve at these public tennis courts, make sure you pick up a New York City tennis permit, available at Paragon Sports (867 Broadway at 18th St; 212-255-8036) or at nyc.gov/parks. A season permit (good through November 18) is $200; a single-play permit is $15.


If you want to strut your stuff: Central Park Tennis Center

The 26 clay courts lure amateurs and pros, as well as the occasional local celeb (former Mayor David Dinkins has been known to drop by for a set). There are also four hard courts used solely for lessons. Make sure to arrive 15 minutes before match time, otherwise you may lose the space to the first group on the “no-show” list. The courts’ popularity provides at least one benefit: The center has two boards full of potential partners, whom you can pair with for a future match.
Pro tip: The organization vigilantly protects its surfaces from anything other than smooth-soled tennis shoes, so check your sneakers before you go. (Your kicks will be inspected upon arrival.)
Where to go: Central Park, enter at Central Park West and 96th St (212-316-0800, centralparktenniscenter.com). Daily 6:30am–8pm; free with permit.

If you want to play like the pros: USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center

Thwack balls in the same spot as Nadal and the Williams sisters at the public courts run by the United States Tennis Association. You’d be hard-pressed to find better playing surfaces in the city since these courts are refurbished each year. The center features 22 outdoor and 12 indoor hard courts, as well as four clay ones under a climate-controlled bubble, so play can continue in extreme heat and rain.
Pro tip: If you have a city tennis permit and your scheduled game here is rained out or otherwise interrupted, the USTA will let you reschedule for a later date at no extra cost.
Where to go: Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, Flushing, Queens (718-760-6200, www.ntc.usta.com). Mon–Sat 6am–midnight, Sun 6am–11pm; $20–$65 per hour.

If you don’t want to wait: McCarren Park

These six courts had been neglected for more than 25 years before an enterprising McCarren Tennis Association formed in 2009. The playing areas were renovated, thanks to a grant from American Express and the USTA (in June of this year, they were resurfaced and wind screens were added), and association president Sean Hoess claims they’re the closest thing to the US Open courts outside of Flushing Meadows. But with less of a crowd—during peak times (7–9am, 5–7pm and weekends), the wait doesn’t top more than an hour or two, and at off-peak times, there’s often no wait at all.
Pro tip: Bring the kids. There are two half-size “quick start” courts, which are free to use, so the tots can practice their swings while you play.
Where to go: McCarren Park, enter at Bedford Ave and North 12th St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (mccarrentennis.org). Daily 7am–dusk; free with permit.

If you want good bang for your buck: 96th Street Red Clay Tennis Courts

Pretend you’re facing off in Roland Garros at these courts overlooking the Hudson River. The Riverside Clay Tennis Association raises $300,000 annually to keep the surface playable. Lucky for you, playing here costs the same as at any other city park—but prepare to hang out for a bit. “On the weekend, we can have a two- or three-hour wait,” says executive director Mark McIntyre. Avoid the long lines by coming on weekday afternoons.
Pro tip: Become a seeded player on the women’s, over-45 men’s or open ladders, which are available to RCTA members (annual membership $50, ladder-joining fee $30). The ongoing competitions run from May through October; players arrange matches online, climbing one place in the rankings per win.
Where to go: Riverside Park, enter at W 95th St and Riverside Dr (rcta.info). Daily 7am–8pm; $15 per person, free with permit.

If you want an intimate setting: Washington Market Park

This downtown court, located in a corner of a Tribeca park, feels like a private club—it isn’t even listed on the Parks Department website. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less crowded: You’ll have to arrive early to snag one of the coveted hourly slots, since regulars typically show
up around 6:30am to get a good spot.
Pro tip: The Chambers Street Tennis Association maintains the clubby vibe by matching players of equal skill through its website (chamberstreettennis.com).
Where to go: Washington Market Park, enter at Chambers St and West St (nycgovparks.org/parks/washingtonmarketpark). Daily 7am–midnight; free with permit.


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