I am looking to play tennis on all the public courts in Los Angeles.
My motivations include retiring last summer after 20 years of teaching in the Los Angeles public schools. I needed a new way to focus all that teaching energy. However, when my daughter said, “You should play tennis on every court in LA,” I said, “Thanks for the suggestion,” but thought, “That’s crazy!”
So school started again in August. Without planning any lessons to do, I recognized the genius of my daughter’s idea and made it my own, adding a rule. To get to all these courts, you would have to travel by bicycle or public transportation. And so the search began, with me playing on the courts at Griffith Park near the merry-go-round with a stranger I met at the Tennis players in Los Angeles facebook group
Ru Kazi was on time, a promising start. As we warmed up near the net, they told me about his career change from accountant to assistant manager and how being a competent tennis player had hit it off with the father of his partner.
I told Ru that the last time I was in this part of Griffith Park was with my 80-plus-year-old mother to watch my baseball team in the playoffs from the sideline. We proved to be good sportsmen, even though we knew I wasn’t going to play because the manager didn’t put me on the postseason roster. “There’s no question you can hit,” a teammate explained to me, “but there’s a concern that you’ll get to first base.”
I discussed the bittersweet taste of rooting instead of playing and admitted that it still hurt, especially since over the summer, after hanging up my spikes, I joined a tennis team. Early in the season, I fell into the literally self-defeating habit of lobbing soft lobs far enough over the net for opponents to squash them. I practiced diligently and got better, but I didn’t get better enough to play when my team won the city championship and moved on to the next big competition.
I tried to convince myself that actively cheering on my teammates counted as cardio, but my competitive nature wouldn’t buy it.
Ru was a good listener and tennis player, and in his company, so was I. Between close games, we discuss sports and aging, as well as topics ranging from Chuck Berry to the theology of fallen angels in Judaism and Islam.
Afterwards, I was so euphoric that I biked 5 more miles in 100 degree heat to Highland Park to buy a magenta t-shirt at Big Bud Press. I had made a new friend! Me! At 61, an age where everything supposedly shuts down, I wouldn’t give it up. Instead, everything would open up. My game would not be defined by how I played on a court, but by how many courts I played. I would get out of this routine of being in teams but not playing. I would play with all my heart, I would travel all over this legendary city of ours, and making new friends.
I played again with Ru at Elysian Park and Koreatown; with Arshak from Siberia, in Sunland, Sylmar and North Hollywood; and with Timothy from upstate New York in Burbank, Glendale and Highland Park. I have great affection for all my new tennis friends because they show up on time and allow me to meet on a different court each time. They are here for me and there for me.
Which brings me to another important motivation for my search, which is being here and there in Los Angeles. LA has been very good to me, the home of my life as a husband, father and teacher. Our city and county have gigantic problems. Playing tennis won’t fix homelessness and drought, but it can help build community in a divided metropolis. I found joy and friendship on the public tennis courts of Los Angeles, and maybe you can too.
I have my favorite courts so far—I’ve played on about 70 of the estimated 500 scattered throughout the county—but before I tell you about some of them, I have a few tips that will help everyone from new players to curious pickleball converts. thrive on your tennis trips and make friends.
- Wear tennis shoes. Any racket will do. Don’t worry about the balls either. It’s nice to have a new can, but you can almost always find working balls somewhere on the court. The essential thing is to wear tennis shoes to avoid spraining an ankle. You can’t make new friends playing tennis if you don’t know how to play.
- Know your rating. Tennis is more fun when you play with someone of your same level. You can easily rate yourself using this graph of the United States Tennis Association. If you’re not sure, rate yourself one click below your highest possible level. Then state that more modest number directly when introducing yourself to potential new tennis friends.
- Find a partner online. Finding a tennis partner is a triumph of social media. Join Facebook Tennis players in Los Angeles group or use an association app like TennisPalwhich I mention because it’s free and it works well and my new tennis friends Phillip Kim and Valerie Garcia interviewed me on his TennisPal podcast. To get a good match, share your rating and where and when you want to play. For example, “I’m a 2.5 looking to play weekday nights or anytime on the weekends in the South Bay.” Make arrangements via DM and boom! You are on your way to new tennis friendships.
- Remember the magic words. You can just show up at a court and pick a game. Wait to enter until the point is over, close the door behind you, and quickly make your way to the nearest bank or other neutral ground. Then, between points, clearly say the magic words: “Who’s next?” Anyone you want to play with will respect that you showed up and staked your claim. Pay calm attention as they continue to hit and chances are they’ll be happy to reciprocate by hitting with you as soon as it’s your turn.
- Play to play, not to win. I say this as a person who loves to win. That said, since we’re focused on making friends, keeping the point going is a smart strategy. Keeping the point going increases the likelihood that you and your partner will flow and hit good shots, which in turn makes it fun to keep playing together. One more thing: if there is even the slightest chance that your partner’s ball has gone in, call him. That’s a very practical and effective way to demonstrate decency, fairness, and human kindness, which are all things people like in a friend.
So now that you know how to make new tennis friends in Los Angeles, let’s find some great courts. Just keep in mind that for the purposes of recreational tennis, all the courts are basically the same. The lines are the same, there is a net in the middle and a fence around everything. Every court I’ve played on has been at least adequate and typically well-maintained (thanks to the parks and rec teams) and all but one of the following courts are lit at night. What varies is the vibe.