New York City, and Manhattan in particular, is known for its seemingly endless amount of things to do and places to see. When it comes to tennis, players have the luxury of playing on some of the country’s most historic courts, and perhaps none more premier and with richer history than Midtown Tennis Club.
“I play tennis, as frequently as possible, at Midtown Tennis Club,” said Howard Schatz. “The club has well-maintained courts and is a welcoming, well-cared for and wonderful facility. The staff is efficient and generous, and now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, maintains impressive safety for all its tennis players, pros and workers. The pros are terrific, patient, kind and helpful. I feel really lucky to be able to play tennis at this exceptional club.”
Located on 8th Avenue, between 26th and 27th Streets in Midtown, just a short walk from Penn Station, Midtown Tennis Club has been in operation since the mid-60s, when Luke Sapan, a successful businessman and Benjamin Lieberman, a dentist, teamed to launch the facility more than five decades ago. A few years later, in 1969, it was sold to an industrial company under which it has operated ever since, and remains an indoor/outdoor facility open to the public.
Some of the first players inside Midtown Tennis Club in 1965
“The Club thrives without a membership. Our biggest attraction is that anyone can play here,” said Jennifer Brown, the Director at Midtown Tennis Club. “Anyone can rent a court, take a private lesson, participate in a group class, enroll in our Junior program, or join our Round Robin on Friday nights. All you need to visit the Club is a reservation. All ages, all levels, all price points. If you want to play regularly, now and then, when you are in town visiting, or only on weekends, we have an option for every tennis player’s needs.”
Brown has been working at Midtown since 1992, and got her start in the tennis industry while still in high school when she served as an assistant tennis pro at a private club in New Jersey.
“I taught lessons to children, maintained the clay tennis courts, arranged matches and operated the retail shop,” she recalls. “I loved tennis from an early age and it came very naturally to me. I played high school tennis and then moved on to Ithaca College where I played on the team and earned a degree in Sport Management.”
She moved to New York City after college, and began playing with her brother at Midtown after work.
“We really fell in love with the Club. It was very friendly and comfortable, and of course we loved the Har-Tru courts,” she said. “I was interviewing for jobs and my brother suggested that I look into Midtown for a part-time job until I found a full-time gig. There was an opening at the front desk and I started there in November of 1992. I started out as a receptionist, and soon took over the junior and adult programs, and then became the weekend manager and bookkeeper. Finally, after much seasoning, I rose through the ranks to become Director. It is truly the dream job of a tennis player.”
Midtown possesses a welcoming environment which has made players feel at home.
“Playing at Midtown Tennis Club is like being part of a family club,” said Robert Berg. “It provides a small town club experience in the big city. My family has been playing there for over 40 years, from my father’s weekly tennis game that I inherited and still going, to my two sons who learned to play tennis there. We are grateful for the warm and welcoming environment that stems from the helpfulness of the staff, the friendly, insightful pros, and the patience of the long-standing players to the occasional on-court meltdown.”
Rachel Brown, an avid Midtown player, added:
“I have enjoyed playing at Midtown Tennis Club for over a decade. The pros are phenomenal, the facilities are well-maintained and the location in Chelsea makes it the perfect place to play.”
For all of those reasons, Midtown is frequented by recreational players as well as all kinds of celebrities.
“We get to know our customers, their families, the pros they favor and the particular court numbers they like best,” said Jennifer Brown. “We get to see them become better tennis players and fall in love with the sport. We also get our fair share of celebrity sightings. Over the years we have hosted numerous professional athletes, actors, models, fashion executives, top chefs and more. The late Arthur Ashe, David Dinkins, Mike Wallace and Kurt Vonnegut have all graced our courts.”
Vonnegut, the famous author, wrote glowingly in an essay about Midtown’s Court #2, which he called “The Most Beautiful Court in the World.” In it, he discusses his affection for the court, the strategy of playing on it, and the community of players he was able to join.
“We’re a fairly tight group,” he writes. “Most of us realized that these, our tennis companions, are our main friends, and none of us would have much in the way of friendships if it weren’t for the tennis group.”
In addition to famous players gracing the courts, Midtown has been seen on television and other media, including a photo shoot for the cover of the Wheaties cereal box with Pete Sampras in 2000, late New York Mets legend Tom Seaver pitching across the tennis courts to reporters, and most recently on the season finale of the Real Housewives of New York.
“The memories are endless. Midtown is rich in history,” Brown said.
Perhaps the Club’s most unique attraction is its rooftop courts, which are open in the summer months and bubbled over in the winter. It’s a “hidden gem”, according to Brown, and provides spectacular views above Manhattan while you play tennis on the beautiful Har-Tru courts.
“Walking down 8th Avenue, just a few blocks from Madison Square Garden, you would never expect to see a tennis facility, especially a club with eight Har-Tru courts inside a city building or on the rooftop. People are amazed at their first visit. In the summer, we remove the bubble and the views from the roof are incredible. It feels like you are transported to a quieter, cleaner, less crowded, more beautiful part of the city. Our Adult Classes, run by A.B. Rosado, are held on the rooftop after work and we have many sunset photos taken at the end of the lessons. The Empire State Building is to the Northeast and the Financial District to the South. In the late fall, we reinstall the bubble and play indoors. We are definitely a hidden oasis for tennis players in the heart of Manhattan.”
While Midtown is a popular destination for adult players, it also houses a strong junior program.
“Midtown’s goal is to provide our juniors with tennis skills, sportsmanship and knowledge of the game that they will sustain throughout their lives,” said Brown. “During this difficult time of COVID- 19, we have taken all the precautions to make the Club a safe and comfortable place for the kids to engage in sports and have fun. We offer mini-camps during the Winter and Spring vacations to keep up momentum during the weeks that the program breaks. We’re looking forward to our first Summer Camp in 2021 as well as Parent-Child Doubles Tournaments.”
Midtown truly offers something for everyone, which is part of the reason why it has sustained success for more than 50 years. Maintaining the welcoming environment combined with top-level instruction and friendly service, Midtown is excited for what the future holds as we enter 2021.
“As I enter my 29th year, I am still enamored with Midtown Tennis Club,” said Brown. “If you haven’t given our courts a try, I ask you to give us a ‘shot’. Let our team help coordinate the right tennis experience for you and your family with one of the pros, a court time or a class.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com