Go to Woodland Park in Phinney Ridge or University Playground in the U District, and you’ll see courts with no nets. Head to Green Lake Park or Bitter Lake Playfield in North Seattle, and the courts will be locked.
This came to my attention a couple weeks back when a reader named Lee Adelman emailed me his disappointment in the scarcity of open courts. He expressed how tennis improved his mental well-being and he hoped to return to playing two to three times a week.
So I went on a hunt around Seattle and saw that, for the most part, he was correct. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee permitted the return of outdoor tennis and paddle sports earlier in the month, but you won’t see many open courts in Seattle.
A representative from the Seattle Office of Emergency Management said that, despite signs being torn down and locks being cut off, all courts are closed. The rep added that the city is assessing how to proceed with tennis (among many other things) but has no timeline as when courts will reopen.
Nevertheless, people are still playing.
I don’t want to be the guy who names the locations where people are getting their games, sets and matches in (I found two unlocked courts during my search, both of which were occupied). And the first two people I talked to had no idea they were technically trespassing until I told them.
On Friday, University of Washington student Benji Backer and roommate Nick Orlov were hitting with each other in the rain as two other people played on the adjacent court. But Orlov said that when the weather was pristine earlier in the month, there was a massive line of players outside the unlocked gate.
Backer wishes they had more places to go.
“I feel like it’s just super pointless, because usually you’re playing with somebody that you live with, and then you’re just touching a ball that you’re not doing anything else with,” Backer said when asked about the closed tennis courts. “I feel like of all the things that you should be able to do, tennis is one of them.”
I don’t know that people are usually playing with someone they live with, but I’m guessing it’s most often with someone they know and trust. Does that matter, though?
On Tuesday I reached out to UW professor of epidemiology Janet Baseman to get her take on the risks of tennis. She said that, theoretically, the sport is a great way to exercise amid this pandemic due to its noncontact nature. But she also mentioned potential hazards, such as a group of four people from different households playing a doubles match or someone running onto an adjacent court to pick up a wayward ball.
I brought up how something like that can also happen at parks — which are open — as they’re full of people tossing Frisbees, footballs and baseballs. She said parks are far more spacious than a tennis court, and the possibility for transferring the virus is less likely there.
I also mentioned that players from adjacent courts usually just hit wayward balls back to their owners, but pitched a compromise nonetheless.
What if, for now, Seattle opens tennis courts but disallows doubles and makes it so you can’t have simultaneous matches on courts next to each other? If there are two courts, only one can be used. If there are more than two, folks can play on every other court.
Would that work?
“I love it,” Baseman said.
It seemed as though Baseman’s concern with open courts had more to do with potential mass gatherings than it did people catching the coronavirus via a shared ball. She said as long as players stay 6 feet apart and don’t touch their faces, they should be fine. Additionally, the CDC reported last week that the coronavirus is most often acquired via person-to-person contact and “does not spread easily” on contaminated surfaces.
And if players want to be extra cautious, as United States Tennis Association Chairman Patrick Galbraith suggests they can use two cans of balls that do not have the same number on them to ensure they touch only the balls with “their” number.
Does that mean playing tennis is risk-free? No. But after talking with Baseman, I’m convinced that, if people are smart, the rewards of smashing forehands and backhands outweigh the risks.
I think we can all agree that quarantine has people going batty. Entertainment options are limited, as are exercise options.
I know I’m sick of running and would kill to play a sport. So can Seattle make tennis happen? Can officials unlock various courts and remove every other net? Can they give players more options so they aren’t forming massive lines?
I’ll leave it to the expert to answer.
“You might as well put it out there,” Baseman said. “The worst they can say is no.”