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Tennis gets the go-ahead, but not indoors

Facilities such as Carefree Racquet Club remain closed

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Less than a month after Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed golf courses in New York state to reopen under social-distance guidelines amid Covid-19, outdoor tennis facilities will return to action starting Friday.

In his daily press briefing on May 11, Cuomo announced the statewide reopening of certain low-risk business and recreational activities, including outdoor tennis. However, the Phase 1 plan does not include indoor sports facilities, such as Carefree Racquet Club in Merrick.

“We’re being viewed differently and it’s really disappointing that we can’t open at the same time as the outdoor facilities,” Carefree co-owner Mark Fischl said. “We cut as many expenses as possible, laying off almost all of our 20 employees, and we’re just trying to survive. We’re still paying real estate taxes even though we’re not using the property.”

Carefree Manager Kathy Miller said the Eastern Section of the United States Tennis Association sent a letter to Cuomo’s office over a week ago, urging him to get the sport back up and running. But under the current guidelines, “Carefree falls under Phase 4 [of the reopening plan], which could bring us well into July,” she said. “We are hoping to get placed into Phase 2 — we can provide a lot more social distancing than a supermarket.”

The association released guidelines about how tennis can be a safe activity on its website, USTA.com. “Tennis by its very nature is a social distance sport,” Fischl said.

Carefree’s Director of Tennis Ben Marks said there are 1,500 players who utilize the facility, which features seven tennis courts, four pickleball courts and two half-court basketball setups. They were last used on March 16. “We’ve got new safety measures in place and we’re ready to open whenever we get the OK,” he said. “We expect the basketball courts to remain closed for a while.”

Miller said multiple hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed, a plexiglass shield is planned for the front desk area and masks are going to be deemed mandatory in non-playing areas. Additionally, separate entrance and exit doors will be used to limit foot traffic.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people who can’t wait to get back on the court,” Miller said. “In the meantime, we’re doing everything we can to make for a safe environment.”