May We Suggest Tennis Lessons?

Tarkington Park Rajeev Ram Tennis
Tarkington Park during the Cracked Racquets Open

Photo courtesy EnrouRaj for Kids and Cracked Racquets

If you’re like many, it’s been a struggle to move past your motionless quarantine quo. We’re champing at the bit for safe exercise opportunities that maintain the balance between new normals and old ones. Enter tennis.

Tennis is the ultimate social-distancing sport, and Indianapolis has some skin in this particular game. As the home court of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Midwest section, which includes Chicago, our city hosted major professional tournaments for decades until 2009 and continues to welcome contenders to the USTA’s recreational regional championships every year. A little trivia for your next water break, too: Before Mark Miles was CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp. (i.e., IndyCar), he was in charge of men’s professional tennis worldwide.

Whether you’ve never picked up a racket or haven’t since gym class, get ready to embrace your inner Serena or Roger with these tips on how to get in the game, safely.

Where to Learn

Tennis isn’t just oversized ping-pong, and it’s much more fun if you have the basic technique to rally the ball. Invest in a couple lessons. Most clubs offer a class for nonmembers.

Tennis 101 at Indianapolis Racquet Club (8249 Dean Rd., 317-848-2531)
Cost: $192 to $216
Length: 1.5 hours, once per week, for 9 weeks
Details: This class series at Indy’s biggest tennis club includes about four players per session, which is small, meaning more personal instruction. It’s open to nonmembers and, after completion, you can receive half off an annual membership.

Start/Restart Beginner Class at Carmel Racquet Club (225 E. Carmel Dr., 317-844-1177)
Cost: $250 to $273 per series
Length: 1.5 hours, once per week, for 12 weeks
Details: This class series, which is open to nonmembers, hosts up to five players to learn the tennis ropes.

V1 Adults through Indianapolis Community Tennis Program (North Central High School, 1805 E. 86th St.)
Cost: $60
Length: 1.5 hours, once per week, for 4 weeks
Details: Teaching five players at a time, this class series coincides with the Evening Beginner Crash Camp for ages 7 to 14, making learning tennis a family affair.

Private lessons on the cheap
Contact the coach at a local college or high school and ask if any staff members or players give informal lessons. You won’t have to commit to multiple weeks at a time.

Where to Play

Take advantage of summertime weather and open air by playing on one of Indy’s free public courts.

Garfield Park (2450 S. Shelby St.)
Number of courts: 8
Advantage: A few of the courts here are shaded in the early morning and early evening to help keep you cooler than Federer in his Dri-Fit. Though known to fill up by noon on weekends and after 6 p.m. on weekdays, the six standard and two singles-only courts usually have a short wait time overall.
Disadvantage: No bathrooms.

Pike High School (5401 W. 71st St.)
Number of courts: 12
Advantage: Eight of the well-maintained courts have backboards—a rarity—for hitting alone. In addition to its abundance of courts, the low fence between every other court keeps rolling tennis balls contained.
Disadvantage: Must keep tabs on school matches and practices before heading out for match time.

Broad Ripple Park (6376 Evanston Ave.)
Number of courts: 6
Advantage: A quiet, wooded setting, courtside benches, some shade.
Disadvantage: They’re popular. But you can watch pups fetch and frolic around the adjacent dog park while you wait.

Tarkington Park (45 W. 40th St.)
Number of courts: 6
Advantage: Centrally located, restrooms, great splash pad if the kids want to cool off.
Disadvantage: The courts aren’t in the best shape, but beginners won’t notice cracks and low nets.

The Etiquette

Take note of these pro tips for tennis newbies.

  • Courts are plentiful in public parks and at schools. Nonmembers are often welcome at racket clubs but will pay a guest fee on top of hourly court rates, which tend to be around $20.
  • At public courts, whether you are a pickleballer or tennis player, the rule of thumb is first come, first served. However, you may be asked to move if a court is reserved for a USTA league match.
  • If courts are full (and they have been in parks this summer), it’s acceptable to ask players when they expect to be done. Wait until a switch of ends if they are playing a match.
  • If one of your rogue tennis balls is making its way onto your neighbor’s court and someone might step on it, yell “let” to draw their awareness to it.
  • Bring a folding chair to public courts, as benches are often not readily available.
  • Hitting balls over the fence (accidentally), wearing mismatched athletic garb, whiffing on a shot—don’t sweat it. There’s no shame in a beginner’s game.

The COVID-19 Rules

The USTA has set specific guidelines in place to prevent COVID-19 spread come match time.

  • As you probably know by now, be sure keep in mind the six-feet-apart golden rule. Skip high fives or handshakes for distanced congratulatory applause and tap rackets at the net.
  • Use only your own towels, water bottles, gear, etc., and be sure to avoid touching common surfaces like court gates, fences, and the like. Bring hand sanitizer just in case.
  • Though the USTA advises not touching the ball by picking it up like the pros, it may not be an easy move for most tennis first-timers. Bring your own balls and limit contact of them to only you and your opponent for a safer practice. When a ball from another court rolls onto yours, try not to pick it up. Push it back with your racket or nudge it with your foot instead.