When we at the Palmes Tennis Society were kids and had nothing but skateboarding on our minds, we’d often find ourselves travelling to new places on family holidays from campsites in southern France over rural villages in the Piemonte district of Italy by way of simply passing through on the way to someplace else to suburban cities across the UK to visit far-flung family members and up to sleepy villages on the Danish coast for Easter holidays. Wherever we went, only one question was apparent in our adolescent minds: Where are the best skate spots around here? Google was our friend via skateboard forums with locals sharing their favorite four-step staircases; loading docks with handrails attached to their sides; parking lots with a seven-foot gap from one level on down to the next; a great, long curb behind a supermarket to practice our slappy grinds on.
Today, we find ourselves posing that very same question yet merely with the subject of skate spots being replaced with that of tennis courts. Upon touching down in any city on planet Earth, one of our first questions will forever be: Where are we going to hit? As a response to this never-ending happening, we’re excited to introduce Where We Hit, a guide to tennis courts in various locations around the world.
For the first edition, we asked friend, journalist, editor and tennis player John Sunyer for his favorite spots for chasing fuzzy yellow balls in his hometown of London, England.
King Edward Memorial Park
As someone who grew up in London, the north versus south divide is real. The River Thames has sliced through people’s social calendars for seemingly forever. For my tennis mates who outright refuse invitations to play if they're living on the other side of the city from me, the courts at King Edward Memorial Park provide a workable solution. The four hard courts are almost literally on the northern bank of the river, east of Tower Bridge. While the courts themselves aren’t anything to write home about, afterwards it’s nice to walk along the river or go to Shadwell Basin, a few hundred metres away and one of London’s best outdoor summer swim spots.
Burgess Park stands on a patchwork of former industrial land, bombed-out streets and existing green spaces. In 2012, the park reopened after an £8 million transformation and quickly became central to the surrounding local communities, of which there are many (the idea that London’s “a cultural melting pot” is often thrown around but with Burgess Park, it’s fully deserved). The park is big and has a lot going on: wildflower meadows, running, cricket, foraging, fishing in the lake, racing on the BMX track, barbecuing, as well as playing tennis. There are seven hard courts, six of which have floodlights. I go to the courts as much for tennis as I do to hang out. Serious players tend to stay away partly because it can be noisy – music is often blasting from at least one of the courts – but for me, everything comes together just fine.
Growing up, I learnt to play tennis on grass, but today London’s almost totally dominated by hard courts. Butterfly Club in Camberwell, south east London, bucks the trend. It has two green clay courts – usually green clay is a harder surface than red clay – that are playable in all weather conditions. And in this part of the world, this is often quite useful. Another main draw for the courts is the architecture surrounding them. Butterfly Club sits in the middle of a conservation area. On one side is Camberwell Grove – a broad, leafy street of Georgian houses that follows the same line as a grove of trees. Also, backing on to the tennis club is the Grove House Tavern. Of all the great pubs in south London, and there are many, the Grove House Tavern is one of the best.
Brunswick Park Tennis Courts
Originally a private square, Brunswick Park was opened to the public in 1907. A couple of decades later, two courts were built, the same two courts that are still there today. What makes playing here special is how unexpected the whole thing is. Surrounded on all four sides by quiet residential streets, the park and the courts come out of nowhere. Only people in the local area really know about them. It’s always calm. Bright green parakeets fly overhead. There’s a booking system, but if you forget the code one of the gates is usually open. Bonus points: the tiny hut at one end of the park serves fresh coffee and cake.