PRATT: In these crazy times, tennis in SoCal strives to endure

We are living in a new world with things changing day-by-day, hour-by-hour concerning the pandemic COVID-19 and the potential spread of the infectious coronavirus through close human contact. Even in this time of uncertainty and precaution, tennis still provides an opportunity to get outside and escape the claustrophobic feeling of house arrest.

In fact, playing singles or doubles or taking a private lesson is one of the few sporting activities that you can do actually do with an opponent or teaching pro, unlike playing a pick-up basketball game or a round of golf with a foursome.

“Tennis is a distancing sport,” said Mike Marquez, the Director of Tennis at Avila Bay Club in Avila Beach. “There’s a massive distance between you and your opponent where social distancing requirements can be met.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the coronavirus spreads through close contact (defined as within six feet) with infected people. Limiting close contact through social distancing can slow the spread of the virus, and tennis players should nonetheless remain vigilant in adhering to CDC recommendations. That includes taking precautions when handling tennis equipment, using courtside benches and water fountains, and the like.

Templeton Tennis Ranch Director of Tennis Scott Cleere said that his club took the step to close the facility on Monday, but said that doubles play or smaller clinics or lessons can achieve social distancing, and that those limited group lessons can provide a less expensive alternative to taking a one-on-one private lesson.

“Four players can do a clinic with a pro feeding/playing and can still maintain social distancing very easily,” Cleere said. “So they can get an hour or 90 minutes of exercise for $15 or $20. With schools closed we need to offer a release valve or stay-at-home parents are going to blow a gasket.”

The Lakewood Tennis Center remains open for play, according to director of the facility Eric Stephens. “Of course, we are taking precautions to ensure that surfaces are cleaned and disinfected constantly during the day,” Stephens said. “We are not holding large events at this time so players can rent a court and not worry that there will be a lot of people around.”

Marquez said he worked 30 hours on the court over four days last week and he’s getting multiple calls for private lessons from his members who just need to get outside and be active. He added that people are also looking for the interaction that a coach/student relationship brings.

San Diego teaching pro Jason Wood said one of his junior parents called him and said he had to keep his son out of the house for the next two weeks or he’d start to go stir-crazy, and asked for a daily hour-long lesson.

But there are also ramifications that come with the recent turn of events.

John Letts, a former ATP pro and the founder/owner of iTennis chapters throughout Southern California, acknowledges the fast approaching pitfalls of the pandemic. Like many public and private organizations, iTennis has been forced to cancel group lessons, round-robins, and other scheduled activities due to the coronavirus scare as well as a string of unseasonably cold and rainy days.

“Open play has been available,” Letts said. “But things are changing on a daily, even hourly basis… it’s definitely cause for concern. We have significant payroll costs and a long term shut down will pose problems for our pros and our organization.”

In these trying times, we may find ourselves best suited to gather our racquets, a can of balls, and face the daunting challenge of tennis’ most formidable opponent – your trusty neighborhood hitting wall.