“You see a lot of fist bumps and elbow bumps, but not a lot of handshakes these days,” says Greg Moran, owner of the Four Seasons Racquet Club in Wilton, Connecticut. “Instead of a high-five, you might see two players tap racquets.”
“No hugging, no kissing, no air kissing,” concurs Todd Snyder, a Brooklyn teaching pro. “If you used to stand three feet from someone on court, you probably stand four feet from them now.”
Call it social distancing, tennis style.
Moran and Snyder both work in one of the nation’s hot zones for the coronavirus. Wilton is 30 miles east of New Rochelle, the first town in the country to be put on lockdown, while New York City is home to more than 60 cases so far. But neither of these veterans of the tri-state recreational scene have noticed many other changes at their respective facilities over the last few weeks. Yes, every ball hopper, countertop, and hand rail is being scrubbed within an inch of its life. Yes, everyone is trying to cough and sneeze into their elbows. Yes, some players are showing up in masks and gloves and carrying baskets full of hand sanitizer. And yes, there’s a fair amount of nervous banter in the air. But even as the world seems to be collapsing around them, tennis players in this area are still coming out to play.
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“We’ve had a cancellation or two, but mostly it’s business as usual,” Moran says.
“My lessons aren’t down,” Snyder says. “I just had my first cancellation, from someone upstate who wanted to stay up there, because there aren’t many cases in that area yet. Honestly, I thought there’d be more of that.”
Even as professional sports leagues, including the ATP, shut down, the apocalypse doesn’t seem to have trickled down to the rec level yet. “I’m not buying into the hysteria,” one player says. “A lot of people think it’s overblown,” says another. “ I haven’t noticed anybody changing their routines so far,” says a third. That could all change in a hurry, of course; by next week every gym and club in the country could be in mandatory lock down. So far, though, even in this perilous moment, the tennis court has remained the same refuge it has always been for players looking to stay sane and blow off a little steam. And that includes those who are over 60.
“It’s a way to lessen the load,” of all the recent news, Moran says.
“There hasn’t been any diminution in older players,” Snyder says. “They’re out there like they always are.”
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Is tennis a safe way for people to gather? In singles, you spend most of the time on the opposite side of the net from your opponent. In doubles, you can keep to yourself in your own quadrant of the court most of the time. Even when you need to be in closer proximity, such as during a lesson, adjustments can be made, according to Snyder.
“If I’m showing someone a Continental grip, I might normally take their racquet and switch it in their hands,” he says. “Now I’ll show them on my racquet.”
That said, there are still a lot of unknowns about the virus. It isn’t carried by sweat, but if someone sneezes or coughs on a tennis ball, how long can it live on its felt?
“I had someone ask me, ‘Are the balls safe?’ and I wasn’t sure how to answer,” Snyder says. “No one seems to have figured it out.”
For that reason, Moran says he’s leaving nothing to chance. On Thursday, he met with a member of the Wilton Health Department and spoke to an infectious disease doctor about best practices for dealing with the coronavirus.
“I outlined to both all the procedures we’ve initiated to sanitize the club,” Moran says. “Both said to continue with what we’re doing and offered some additional suggestions.”
Unknowns aside, the prevailing attitude around the metropolitan area seems to be: If we can’t watch tennis, at least we can keep playing it—safely and responsibly, of course. We’re going to need the sport in our lives for as long as we can have it.