The trouble with spring is that every Jimmy, Jody and Hamilton who owns a wooden fiddle starts crowding up my tennis courts.
I mean, if you've been out there braving the 45-degree days and even shelling out $9 an hour at Hains Point or $12 at the Arlington Y during the really cold days to hit a furry little yellow ball, you've got propriatary rights, right?
Tell it to the springtime hackers queuinig up at course all over Washington, Mac.
Sometimes I feel like the last guy who arrived in the pristine, Coors-cooled air of Colorado and wanted to close the gates behind him: "Afeter me, no more - the place is getting too crowded.
Which came first, the tourist or the hotel? Is a paradise undiscovered - like an unread book - no paradise at all?
I mean, I got in at beginning of the tennis boom. I may have made it into the game just before the boom started, five years ago. Now, all of a sudden, all these people who've just finished reading about the joys of shaking hands for the first time with a well-hefted, tautly strung, soft-gripped tennis racket are out there crowding up my space.
From my front steps, I have the heart-breaking privilege of seeing two public tennis courts behind Harry School. The heart-breaking part is that I can also see those splothces of rainbow colors that tell me how many people in the latest pastel tennis togs are waiting. Four, six, eight - you name it, they're there. Especially now. The temp hits 62 and they're all out. Even those idiots who hit the ball the way I did five years ago - who needs them (now that I'm better)? And jids, Lord forbid, just about the age of my son (eight) who, of course, is already into his third racket and his first lessons. Even old people.
I mean, tennis is great exercise, wonderful therapy, fine reaction for any age, but we didn't mean to invite everybody!
The tennis establishment estimates that there were 15 miilion American playing tennis in 1970. Now, they say, nearly 40 million Americans own tennis rackets. About 20 million of them live in Washington, I figure, and two-thirds of them right around my neightborhood.
A converted tennis player develops two things: a bad volley and a fighting edge for court time. God knows no wrath like a tennis player kept waiting.
At every public court in the city, there are, of course, cliques. People, who think they own that set of courts. Just like I own the ones behind Hardy School. I mean, I can see them from my front steps. Doesn't that mean something?
The way you break into a clique is (a) by being tough and showing up daily for two or three years or (b) by soundly thrashing one of its established members, preferably 6-0, 6-0. A better player, someone who jumps right into a challenging position on the invisible "ladder" of that court is always welcome. (Real tennis club have real challenge ladders posted on bulletin boards.)
Fortunately, the novelty of spring will soon pass into the boredom of summer and the once-a-year hackers will put their rackets back in the closet. Which leaves only 10 million people crowding up my courts.
Ah, the crosses a tennis player must bear! Washington's recreation department may have the best series of well-placed tennis courts - in groups of two, three and four - spread around town of any city in the country. But they are aslo among the worst-designed and worst-constructed of any I have ever played on.
Hains Point, in East Potomac Park, has a large collection of 10 well-kept composition clay courts and 11 hard courts that are cracking apart. The clay courts are nice, except that the starships from Natiional Airport's northern runaway can seriously interfere with a high lob. Also, they're building Metr's Yellow Line right through the middle of the place, which means you hear battering rams between airplanes. It also means that the 11 hard courts are inexorably sinking into the earht at the southern; always serve first from the northern end and you'll gain an edge.
The tennis center in Rock Creek Park at 16th and Kennedy Streets probably has the finest set of public clay and hard courts in the city. But they cost $1.65 to $4.25 per hour and are at the long end of rush-hour traffic if you try to play after work.
That was the good news.
The bad news is about everything else. Consider the two in the Georgetown public park, which is otherwise your complete recreation center (swimming, basketball, tennis and softball). The tennis courts there seem to have been built by a driveway contractor. The court on one side is smack up against the side fence, which makes sharp angles in doubles impossible to retrieve; on the other side of the second court, however, the people who painted the lines left 25 feet of wasted pavement. Meanwhile, they crowded the two courts only six feet apart from one another, instead of the recommended 12-foot minimum. Likewise, no body told them you need at least 20 feet between the baseline and back fences to play proper tennis. At one end of the George-town courts the back fence is in fact a concrete retaining wall inscribed with the warning: "Back court is less than regulation size. Play at your own risk." Maybe someone died there once.
To make bad matters realy ridiculous, our asphalt dealer decided to drain the Georgetown courts at the center. He graded the surface from baseline to net so severely that even a short player can see over the net to his opponent's baseline, something not even Stan Smith can do on a regulation court. Drive by Georgetown after a rain; the ends of the courts are dry, while there's a foot of water standing in the center. An excellent birdbath.
Then there is Rose Park, on O Street at 27th. Three courts in an extremely convenient location for anyone coming from home or work, but the surface resembles a jigsaw puzzle that hot left out in the rain. One hard shot wins every point since the ball bounces anywhere except straight.
The three courts in the Palisades Park off MacArhtur Boulevard have some of that same chopped-up look, but represnet other aspects of recreation department genins; too. For instance, the three courts are much too close together, which means you often get a stranger stumbling into your area of play. Also, some fiend for things bucolice thought it would be nice to set the tennis courts in a lovely towering stand of hard-woods and conifers. All this means is that the courts are littered with slippery leaves and laced with a hatchwork of shadows, except at the stroke of high noon. Try returning a hard serve coming through that gloaming.
Montrose Park, just north of Georgetown, is special case. It contains two pairs of red clay courts set out as though on a private estate - which it once was. A graceful gazebo shelters waiting players at one of the courts. Trouble there were no angled shots in tennis - the earthen retaining wall is almost directly on the sidelines. Furthermore, red clay is payable only about one-third of all dry days, since it takes at least two days to drt out after a good rain (composition caly takes a couple of hours, hard surface a little longer, depending on wind and sun). Also, the old lome lines are always soupy, which encourages cheaters.
Washington is singularly blessed with all the right park land and real estate for an outstanding tennis program. The courts and fences are there. They just need to be changed from skateboard rinks to tennis courts.
Then, of course, there will be a lot more people crowding up my space.