STATEN ISLAND — Staten Island may have hosted America's first-ever tennis game, but its public courts have served up better days.
Surfaces are so badly cracked that players have no control over which direction their shots will bounce. Nets are missing. Tar used for repairs melts in the sun and sticks to sneakers.
Add to that the challenge that there are only a total of 22 public tennis courts scattered around the borough's parks, and the fact that the city charges $200 a year for access to the facilities, and players are ready to fling their rackets in frustration.
“The courts are a mess,” said Mitch Fuchs, 58, who plays in Walker Park, and said there are only a handful of courts in Staten Island that are actually playable. “I don’t understand why there are tennis permits. They should do a little better job maintaining the courts.”
“People out here, they're working class people,” he added, “Two hundred dollars is a lot of money.”
According to tennis aficionados in Staten Island, Willowbrook Park is considered the worst in the borough. The playing surfaces of almost all of their six courts are filled with large cracks, and nets sometimes are missing, said Bill Noonan, president of the Staten Island Tennis Association.
“The Willowbrook courts were built in the '90s, and they’ve never been resurfaced once,” Noonan said. “They’re starting to get worse and worse.”
“Willowbrook is pretty disgusting, there’s like one [court] that’s all right,” said Fuchs. “There are really not too many places to play on Staten Island. It’s really underserved as far as tennis goes.”
Staten Island has 22 public courts in Staten Island, according to the Parks Department’s website.
The borough with the second lowest amount of public courts, the Bronx, has 107 — with Crotona Park alone having 20 courts.
"Really when you look at how many courts are playable and have nets, you're looking at 16 or 17,” Noonan said.
That's insult to injury for a borough that the SITA calls the birthplace of tennis, citing records that show that the first game of tennis was played in the borough in 1874 by Mary Ewing Outerbridge, Noonan said. The borough’s also held the first national tournament by the United States National Lawn Tennis Association, now known as the USTA.
Skyline Park only has two courts, but they are both littered with cracks. Sometimes nets are up for play, but usually they're not, Noonan said.
Even the good spots have their issues. Noonan said Silver Lake Park, one of the best places to play in the borough, has been unusable because of a fence damaged by Hurricane Sandy that hasn’t been repaired.
Sandy also wiped out the two courts at Wolfes Pond Park, which Noonan said was a popular spot to play because it's the only one on the borough's South Shore.
A Parks Department spokeswoman said they would reopen Wolfes Pond in three weeks and are resurfacing the courts.
The damaged fence in Silver Lake Park is scheduled to be fixed during the summer, but there are no plans to fix Willowbrook or Skyline parks courts, the spokeswoman said.
Aside from the short supply of playable courts, the price of for a permit isn’t affordable for some Staten Islanders, Fuchs said.
Currently, it costs $200 for a permit for the summer to play on a court in the city, or $15 for a one-day pass. Plus, he said, the city hasn't used the permit money for sustainable fixes.
Noonan said when the cracks are fixed, the repairs are usually made with tar, which melts in the sun.
Because of the poor conditions, many players feel they have no choice but to fork over big bucks to play at one of the borough's private tennis clubs, Noonan said.
"When you don't have public courts you have to pay for your court time," he said. "If you want to play tennis you end up paying more than the other boroughs because you don't have that many options available."