Every late summer the tennis world convenes at the USTANational Center in Flushing, New York for the , the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament. The sport’s greatest players, including , and have all fought, lost and won in this tennis paradise. But once the top players have finished their matches, the courts aren’t closed, and the nets don’t come down. For much of the year, anyone from the general public can rent a court, whip out a racquet and pretend they are a tennis legend serving at Championship Point.
The National Tennis Center is open 11 months of the year, seven days a week, closing only for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. “We are the world’s largest public tennis center,” says Whitney Kraft, Director of Tennis for the complex. “Anyone can play here,” he continues with a smile, “if they keep their shirt on and wear the right sneakers.”
The public can also, under special circumstances, play on the three main stadium courts,, , and the Grandstand. One player proposed to his future wife at the net after playing in Ashe. Tours of the Center, including going inside the main courts, are also planned to start this year.
The Center also provides a whole range of classes and player development programs. They include everything from intense training programs for up and coming junior players to adult instruction and leagues where players of all levels can work on their game while enjoying some friendly competition and social camaraderie. One particularly popular adult class is Cardio Tennis in which players can improve their technique and fitness through drills and a high level physical workout.
“We have everyone from someone who wants to do a hit and giggles to aspiring US Open Champions,” says Kraft.
For Angela Cove and her two children the Center has been like a second home. Her son Billy, now 18, started playing there when he was five. A participant in the junior player development program and a ball boy at the US Open, he is now headed towards a collegiate tennis career. Dylan, now nine, started playing there when he was three years old.
Angela, whose favorite player is, sees a variety of benefits to playing the game. “Tennis is good for every age because your mind is always thinking. It’s such a healthy game mentally and physically and at the same time you can share fun times with the players you are playing against. Just sitting here,” she continues while seated in the indoor court viewing gallery, “my heart is racing thinking about the next match I’m going to play.”
For Billy, a confirmed Roger Federer fan, the most important thing is that even if he loses, “I put everything out there. I never want to leave the court feeling I gave 80%.”
“Tennis,” he adds, “is the game of life, the court is the rest of the world, and the ball is the obstacle you have to play.”
Regardless of skill level and experience, Kraft would like everyone who plays at the Center, “not only to recognize that this hallowed ground but to realize that the greatest tennis players have played here.”
For full details, including playing on Ashe, contact the Tennis Center at 718-760-6200 or visit their website at www.ntc.usta.com. Facilities for other sports, including soccer, baseball and ice skating, are available in Flushing Meadows-Park where the Center is located. For information on the Park, visit the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation website at www.nycgovparks.org.