Holding Court on Key Biscayne
Sunday, October 19, 2003; Page P11
I felt like a tennis goddess.
When I stepped onto the same 14,000-seat stadium court where Serena Williams pulverizes her prey, it seemed like I whacked my own forehands faster.
I couldn't resist booking the court at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park, home to the prestigious NASDAQ-100 Open tournament held each spring. Crandon, just a short hike from a palm-lined beach on Key Biscayne, Fla., is one of the few major tennis tournament venues worldwide that welcomes hackers on its center court.
And it costs only $10 an hour. That's only a smidgen more than some public Washington facilities charge for cracked courts and droopy nets.
Many Miamians don't even realize they can play at the lush center, but all of its 26 grass, hard, red clay and gray clay courts are open to the public. The Matheson family, which once owned the subtropical island, deeded a huge chunk of it for communal use.
Four other major tennis stadiums also welcome the public: New York's National Tennis Center (venue of the U.S. Open), Melbourne Park (Australian Open), Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California (Pacific Life Open) and Rhode Island's Newport Casino (International Tennis Hall of Fame). But only Newport and New York -- as well as Crandon -- permit ordinary players on their sacred center courts.
I felt far from ordinary when my pals Carol, Bob, Dick and I sauntered into Crandon's peach and green stadium. I even aced a serve. "Yes!" I shrieked as I shot my arm triumphantly into the air. My friends gazed in disbelief. If only there had been adoring hoots from fans. (Not to mention ball boys or girls to fetch our many wayward shots.) But I only heard an echo from the empty seats.
Even if the stands had been packed, we wouldn't have rated many raves. At times we resembled Keystone Kops with rackets. But we didn't care. It was just plain fun to knock balls around where the world's best compete. If we couldn't play like them or with them, at least we could claim their hallowed turf.
Between games we took turns climbing onto the referee's wooden perch overlooking the hard court, palm trees peeking at us from each end of the three-tiered stadium.
As I sat atop my perch beaming, it felt infinitely cooler than my previous tennis fantasies and field trips. Not only have I swung my racket at tennis camps from Hilton Head, S.C., to Scottsdale, Ariz., but Carol, Bob and I have been taping our tennis escapades for more than a decade. But on this day of our "professional" debut, someone -- who shall remain nameless -- forgot the video camera.
Forgetfulness became the theme of the day.
"What's the score?" one of us would ask every few minutes during our two-hour match. "Who's serving?" someone would yelp.
Then Bob pulled out a magic potion: a cobalt-blue bottle of AriZona brand RX Memory Herbal Tonic iced tea. He really did seem to recall more after gulping down the ginseng and ginkgo. Although the rest of us baby boomers survived the steamy heat with mere water, we'll never forget our legendary match. Just don't ask us about the final score.
After our match we strolled around the grounds. We were transfixed by giant lizards sunning themselves by a mangrove-edged lagoon. When we reached the end of the sprawling complex, we spied a grass court, almost like the one Serena stars on at Wimbledon. We glanced at each other and smiled. We knew where we'd stage our next tennis fantasy.
-- Barbara J. Saffir
The Tennis Center at Crandon Park (305-365-2300, www.miamidade.gov/parks ) is at 7300 Crandon Blvd. on Key Biscayne, Fla. The 14,000-seat stadium hard court is $10 per person per hour. The grass court is $8 per person per hour; the gray- and red-clay courts are $6 per person per hour; and the hard courts are $3 per person per hour and $5 after dark. Reservations are recommended and generally accepted up to one week in advance. For details on the NASDAQ-100 Open tournament, to be held March 24-April 4, go to www.nasdaq-100open.com.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company