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One good thing about the COVID-19 pandemic: the rise of tennis in Long Island

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When tennis was shut down in New York City in March under the state’s COVID-19 guidelines, its future as an industry on Long Island was questioned.

Those questions linger, but since the game opened in full in early July, it’s showing signs of recovery. The offside was allowed to be played from mid-May and it was clear that players were flocking to the courts. But the game took its biggest hit at the indoor facilities, which couldn’t reopen until July. The offside seems to be flourishing. The year-round indoor game on the island seems to be attracting more and more players, although operators still don’t see full-length jobs across the board, citing the concerns of COVID-19, especially among older players.

“It was super busy outside. It was the busiest season we’ve ever had and more was played at public courses and parks,” said Claude Okin, CEO of Sportime which operates seven facilities on Long Island, five of which are indoors only. . “It seemed that COVID was a good incentive for tennis because it was one of the safest activities. There are a few more people who are nervous about entering.”

Dick Zausner is the president of the Port Washington Tennis Academy, the island’s largest indoor facility with 17 courts (it has no outdoor courts).

“As the weather gets colder, they come in a little more. But we’re not even getting close to the previous capacity,” said Zausner. “Compared to previous years, we don’t get all our customers back. Almost all of them say it’s because of COVID.”

At Carefree Racquet Club in North Merrick, General Manager Kathy Miller has seen a surge in business, and while things may not go down as usual, it is encouraging.

“I can tell you it’s very busy,” Miller said. “I think tennis is considered a safe sport that makes people feel comfortable playing. We got a lot of new customers. We were busy. It’s great.

“Our competitions are running, our seasonal jobs are active. Our junior program is running with a lot of new kids. We have a lot of clinics with new people coming in. We have all of our regular programs running.”

All facilities have implemented COVID-19 protocols, including mandatory wearing of a mask when not playing, no meeting before or after play, social distancing, daily sanitary cleaning of the facilities.

Okin says the Sportime facilities are recording temperatures and collecting contact information. He said a few members recently reported having tested positive for the virus, but there was no evidence that they had contracted it while playing tennis.

“There has been no transmission of the virus, no one has become ill at Sportime,” said Okin. “We’re basically completely aloof, we have a really aggressive masking policy, aggressive air circulation policy. We immediately called the health department if anyone says they tested positive. It’s only happened four or five times. So far, no one in contact tracking has said” we have had what qualifies as a contact, meaning no sick person has come into our premises.

“Any of our members would tell us if they were positive. No one keeps it a secret. One of the good things that came out of this is that everyone works together.”

The offside has certainly blossomed.

“It was clear that there was a boom in tennis as people began to realize that tennis was a safe distance sport. Playing in the parks and beyond was the biggest flow in years,” said Jonathan Klee, USTA Long Island Regional Director. “When the indoor facilities reopened, it was clear that tennis could be played safely indoors and outdoors. We are very happy with the direction tennis is heading. The support it has received from many who are returning to the game in search of safety. athletics. activities. ”

At the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, getting an indoor court during prime time was difficult. The covered facility was briefly used as a COVID emergency hospital last spring.

“The National Tennis Center is fully booked seven days a week from 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm,” said USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier. “To keep social distance and things like that, the total number will have gone down, so instead of six adults in a class, you have four. In total maybe fewer people hour to hour. But people are trying to get in. and then I can’t get in. ”

Mike Dowse, CEO of the USTA, is encouraged by the numbers compiled by the industry.

“Growth in the game in the third quarter of this year has increased dramatically [nationally]Said Dowse. This is really the staggering thing to me: 6.7% of the American population played tennis last year [in the third quarter]. This year it was 10.1%. ”

Robbie Wagner, owner of Robbie Wagner Tournament Training Centers in Glen Cove and Glenwood Landing, as well as a facility in Westchester, is waiting for a real revival. He says he has put in place the necessary protocols.

“Business is fine, not back to where it was, but it just keeps getting better,” Wagner said. “If we don’t have to close again, I’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Re-closing could be a fatal blow, according to Wagner, citing not only the lack of income, but also repayments paid during the lockdown and current expenses on mortgages, taxes and the various business expenses.

“If we are forced to close again, I think 30% of the clubs will close permanently and be sold for the property,” Wagner said. ‘Tennis is kind of a nickel and dime. We pray we don’t close again. I don’t think we’ll do that. ‘

He remains optimistic, as are his colleagues across the spectrum.

“People are so limited in what they can do, they kind of come to us,” Miller said. “It is awesome.”

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