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Dwight on the Town

By Dwight Cramer

"Where is the baseline?"

"There isn't one."

"What do you mean, there isn't one?"

"The goddamned court is so worn out that the back line's disappeared."

"Well, if there was one, where would it be?"

"Right about here."

"Okay. Rough or smooth?"

The hard surface tennis courts at Soldiers Field are not in very good shape. As a matter of fact, except for some of the nets, they are in about as bad a shape as tennis courts can be in. The surfaces are not just cracked, they are pitted, and in some places chunks of asphalt have come away. The lines have disappeared for long stretches--and not just the baselines, either.

And there is the wind. Only the wind is comfortable at Soldiers Field. At least, it seems to be comfortable, since it is always there. For some institutions, this would be a sign to plant cedars along the fences, or at least to put up windscreens. But Harvard, perhaps hoping to economize or to test the fortitude of those stupid enough to try to play tennis, has forgone any kind of wind protection.

Maybe the tennis courts are not actually dangerous. Most of the cracks are not big enough to trip anyone, and even if you trip on a tennis court you are not likely to do any worse than break a leg. But they are not much to play on: Balls take funny hops, get blown funny places, don't bounce at all, etc. The wind plays hell with service tosses. And somehow the game isn't all it could be.

Aside from putting up screens, not much can be done about the wind. But the rest of the situation is remediable, and not at any terrible cost. The courts don't need to be rebuilt from scratch, they just need incredibly extensive repairs.

Harvard athletic facilities, with a couple of noteworthy exceptions, are not all that good. The Bubble burst, the swimming pool situation is poor, and the IAB would collapse if it had any decency. But at least the swimming pools don't leak, and the lights work in the squash courts (some of the squash courts leak, but that is another matter and another way, the winter way, to break a leg at racquet sports).

Harvard's Department of Athletics works on a limited budget and may not be able to build new facilities. But if the money to maintain the facilities already built is unavailable, then perhaps something is rotten. It is, in the long run, a false economy to let property become run-down after the fashion of the hard courts on Soldiers Field. Especially since the courts actually produce a little revenue of their own--people are willing to pay a dollar an hour to play on them.

The University has other tennis courts. The hard courts behind the Business School are marginally better than those on Soldiers Field proper. The Radcliffe courts are actually nice. The indoor courts on Soldiers Field (Palmer-Dixon) are the best courts in the University. Undergraduates can reserve them and play on them for free in the mornings, but must call promptly at 10 a.m. two days before the day they want to play. The overcrowding there can be incredible.

And there are the clay courts outdoors at Soldiers Field. They could use some work, but at least they are screened by cedars and have tapes that the years and foot-faulting servers have not eroded. So, if you can get on them, they are the ones to shoot for. Of course, some of them are reserved for the varsity.

Tennis courts have not been high priority on anyone's list for a long time, and with reason. But the building boom on this side of the river has sharply reduced the number of courts available to members of the University. (Who here today remembers the Law School courts, demolished to make room for graduate student dormitories?) Many people have a queasy feeling that a reason for letting the remaining courts at Soldiers Field become so dilapidated involves nebulous plans for future construction on the site. If that is the case, we can probably kiss tennis good-bye as a participatory sport at Harvard. People will have to play on that well-maintained grass for which the University is so wellknown.

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