By Kyle McKee
As New York State began to lift restrictions as the NY Pause order expired in many parts of the state on May 15, Governor Andrew Cuomo gave the okay to open low risk businesses.
“We will open certain businesses that are low risk … Low risk activities like tennis,” the governor said in his briefing on May 11.
Hearing that was music to the ears of tennis faithfuls across the state, including Scott Rubenstein, the owner of East Hampton Indoor Tennis and The Clubhouse, who listened to the news with his staff.
“We were ecstatic,” Rubenstein said. “It makes sense for tennis to come back.”
Tennis involves natural social distancing due to how the game is played. A tennis court is 78 feet long and 36 feet wide, with players on opposite ends, so people are almost always more than 6 feet apart while playing.
That said, even though tennis is one of the most ideal sports to return because the game does not require person-to-person contact, there will be changes that facilities need to make in order to keep everyone safe.
“Running [East Hampton Indoor Tennis] will be totally different than before,” Rubenstein said.
Governor Cuomo’s order stipulated that indoor tennis and club buildings, including bathrooms, must remain closed. Congregating is not allowed, social distancing will be observed, and all court reservations and financial transactions should be done online or by phone.
At East Hampton Indoor and at Sportime in Amagansett, every tennis court will have hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes available. Masks will be worn by all employees. According to Sportime’s website, all facilities will be cleaned daily, and overnight. In fact, there will be a full-time cleaning staff stationed in gyms with the goal of disinfecting fitness equipment between users.
Another major change to tennis facilities due to the current situation is how lessons will be conducted. At East Hampton Indoor Tennis, there will be a tennis pro on one side of the court and a player on the opposite side. Staff will feed the balls to the player, who will hit them back over, or into the net. Then, the staff will go around picking up the balls with a ball pick-up hopper. The most important part of this interaction is that the player doesn’t touch the tennis balls.
Sportime is taking similar measures, requiring players to bring their own tennis balls or purchase new balls at the pro shop. This measure is being taken to avoid ball sharing among players. It’s recommended that people mark their own balls.
The United States Tennis Association points out in their guidelines that even though there is no specific evidence that tennis balls can spread the coronavirus, contamination from an infected person, or asymptomatic carriers of the disease, can potentially survive on hard surfaces for up to three days.
Rubenstein plans to cover the cost of testing his staff for the virus. The entire staff at East Hampton Indoor Tennis, as well as at Sportime, will be required to wear masks at all times. As for members, they are not required to wear a mask or gloves while playing, but once they finish, it is recommended that they put on a mask for everyone’s safety.
When asked about whether members were eager to get back to playing tennis, Rubenstein said, “It’s 60/40. Sixty percent are very grateful to be able to play. The other 40 percent prefer to wait a week or two, to see how everything goes and plays out.”
The owners of Buckskill Tennis Club could not be reached for comment, but will follow the UTSA’s guidelines for socially-distant tennis, similar to both East Hampton Indoor Tennis and Sportime, according to the club’s website.