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Tennis courts in NYC: Where to play outdoors if you’re on a budget

The city has several free options — plus hour play for about the price of a movie ticket.

Allen Swerdlowe, left, and his son, Nick Fjellberg

Allen Swerdlowe, left, and his son, Nick Fjellberg Swerdlowe, get in a match at one of Hudson River Park's three tennis courts. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Leading up to the U.S. Open at the end of August, activity at New York City’s tennis courts tends to pick up a bit.

“I think during the U.S. Open, people are watching,” says Kira Levy, director of marketing and events for Hudson River Park, which is home to three tennis courts. “But definitely before, for sure.”

As Flushing gears up to once again host the annual pro tournament next week, NYC is in the midst of its high tennis season — from about May to September — when hobbyists and serious players alike flock to the city’s outdoor public courts, taking advantage of the longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures.

Though tennis has a reputation of being an expensive sport, from paying for lessons to finding a place to play, you can take advantage of several public courts around the city for either about the price of a movie ticket — or even free. Here’s how.

HUDSON RIVER PARK

Part of the four-mile park’s mandate is to provide free recreational space to New Yorkers, Levy notes, and in keeping with that, the three tennis courts in Greenwich Village don’t require any permits or fees to use. Beyond offering a free place to play, the views of the Hudson River and downtown Manhattan are also a draw. “The views are beautiful — and you get a bit of a nice breeze cooling you off,” Levy says. The hour maximum — upheld by an honor system — means you shouldn’t have to wait more than that if it’s busy, especially on weekends. The courts, which got a refurbishing in 2015, see upward of 500 players a week during the high season — including the likes of pros like Genie Bouchard.

Permit?: No

Reservations?: No; courts are first-come, first-serve, with an hour maximum if there’s a wait

Hours: Daily, 6 a.m.-midnight

Find it: North of Canal Street at Hudson River Greenway

More info: hudsonriverpark.org

ROOSEVELT ISLAND

The Octagon Tennis Courts on Roosevelt Island always had the aura of a best-kept secret, with its off-the-radar status offering zero to minimal wait times. Since the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation dropped the $150 permits to play last year — making the six outdoor courts completely open and free to the public — it’s an even better deal, though more popular now. The courts tend to be busiest weekday evenings, from 6-10 p.m., and weekends and holidays from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. So plan accordingly.

Permit?: No

Reservations?: No; courts are first-come, first-serve, with an hour maximum for singles and two hours for doubles if there’s a wait

Hours: Daily, 6 a.m.-10 p.m.

Find it: 888 Main St., at the base of the Octagon residential tower

More info: rioc.ny.gov

NYC PARKS

The city’s Parks Department oversees more than 70 locations for tennis, most with multiple courts. Playing on one of the courts has gotten easier — and cheaper — in recent years thanks to the introduction of online purchasing for season permits, more locations to buy permits in-person, and the reduction in the price of a full-season adult permit by half — from $200 to $100 — last year. No surprise, since the decrease, the number of adult permit holders has almost doubled — with nearly 19,000 full-season permits bought so far this year — according to the Parks Department. The most-trafficked courts in the city include Central Park in Manhattan; Prospect Park in Brooklyn; Cunningham Park in Queens; Crotona Park in the Bronx; and Silver Lake Park in Staten Island. Peak hours are typically 8-10 a.m., noon-2 p.m. and after 5 p.m., if you’re looking to avoid a wait.

Permit?: Full-season (April-November) permit $100 for adults ages 18-61 (get 10 percent off with an IDNYC card), $20 for seniors ages 62 and older and $10 for under 18; single-play permit $15 for one-hour of play (both permits are available at Paragon Sports, select recreation centers or a NYC Parks permit office, full-season permits are also available online)

Reservations?: Select courts can be reserved up to seven days in advance online at nycgovparks.org for a $15 fee; at all other courts, players must sign up to play in-person that day with the attendant at the court

Hours: Most courts are open 8 a.m. to dusk daily

More info: nycgovparks.org

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