Cut-Price, Not Free Moscow Tennis

MTThe clay court in Tagansky Park is a bargain at 400 rubles an hour among Moscow’s expensive courts, even if there is the odd hole filled up with rocks.

Anyone who looks at the top 10 female tennis players in the world right now might think that Russia is a paradise for the sport. The country has the No. 1 player in the world, Dinara Safina, and another four in the top 10. But try and get a game in the city, and you are soon struggling.

There are public tennis courts in many European countries and the United States where anyone can play for free, but renting a tennis court in Moscow means paying through the nose.

“Tennis is definitely a sport for wealthy people,” said Ivan Budanov, owner of the outdoor tennis courts in Yekaterininsky Park, where courts cost 1,000 rubles ($31.50) to 1,200 rubles ($38) per hour.

“In the Soviet Union, playing tennis was free for everyone, but there were not enough courts by far,” said Vladimir Lazarev, chairman of the Russian Tennis Federation. Today it is better, he said, because there are many more courts.

The federation runs a program to help the country’s young, talented tennis players, and it has had great success — but that is of little comfort to the causal player who, having seen the French Open and Wimbledon, fancies bumbling around a court on a sunny summer day.

When Lazarev was asked if there were any free courts in Russia, he could only come up with a tennis complex in Penza, a town 600 kilometers southeast of Moscow. And even they charge a “symbolic” fee of about a dollar, he said.

“I am very unhappy about today’s insane prices for tennis courts,” said tennis coach Valentina Modnova, who has seen two of her students move to Germany or Spain, where playing and coaching is much more affordable.

“Rich people in Moscow don’t count their money. They probably enjoy being among themselves at the courts,” she said.

If you are unwilling to make the journey to Penza or stump up 1,000 rubles a go, then there are a few options. The Moscow Times has found four central courts for prices between 250 rubles ($8) and 600 rubles ($19).

The courts aren’t necessarily in the best conditions nor are the changing facilities, but they are cheaper.

Tennis courts for under 1,000 rubles:

Sportivny Kompleks Dinamo, 26 Ulitsa Petrovka, Bldg. 9. (Go through an arch that is on the other side of the road from the Azbuka Vkusa supermarket, and then turn left.) Six courts for 600 rubles per hour. Metro Chekhov­skaya. Tel. 625-58-38.

Park Sokolniki, 1A Poperechny Prospekt. Courts for 250 and 500 rubles an hour. The cheaper price can be had on weekdays from 12 to 5 p.m. A racket and three balls can be rented for 50 rubles an hour. A wall to play tennis against is also available for 60 rubles an hour. Metro Sokolniki. Tel. (499) 268-0580.

Tagansky Park, 40/42 Taganskaya Ulitsa. One court for 400 rubles an hour. Metro Marksistskaya. Tel. 632-64-20.

Gorky Park, 9 Krymsky Val. Two tennis courts for 250 rubles an hour. Metro Park Kultury or Oktyabrskaya. No telephone bookings.