Tennis great Virginia Wade hit first ball on new Astoria Park courts

Tennis great Virginia Wade hit first ball on new Astoria Park courts
Courtesy Sylvester Zawadzki
By Bill Parry

The cracked and aging tennis courts in Astoria Park have been restored by the nonprofit City Parks Foundation with a $750,000 donation that includes a decade of maintenance.

Former Wimbledon and US Open champion Virginia Wade struck the first ball after a ribbon-cutting event last week on courts that have been resurfaced with DecoTurf, the same as those at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“These beautifully refurbished courts are a game-changer for young people in Queens who want to learn tennis but are limited by the availability of practice space and the cost of the sport,” City Parks Foundation Executive Director Heather Lubov said. “Now kids who share a borough with the largest tennis facility in the world will have the chance to learn this beloved, lifelong sport on professional-level courts all for free.”

The donation was provided by the Thompson Family Foundation, a charitable organization begun by tennis aficionado Wade Thompson, who died in 2009. The City Parks Foundation will provide free tennis lessons to kids ages 6 to 16 at Astoria Park, one of 36 park locations citywide.

Each year more than 12,000 city youth and 1,000 seniors enjoy City Parks Foundation’s free tennis, golf, track and field and fitness programs in 60 parks across the five boroughs. The organization seeks to bring high-quality instruction and equipment into neighborhoods where few organized athletic opportunities exist.

Taking part in the ribbon-cutting was 16-year-old Casey Brandes, a standout on the Forest Hills High School Tennis team and a four-year veteran of the City Parks Foundation’s LACOSTE Junior Tennis Academy at the USTA Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

“When I was a kid, I played on cracked courts at Juniper Valley Park,” Casey said. “Then the City Parks Foundation resurfaced them and it inspired me to work harder on my game knowing I was playing on the same surface as players at the US Open. Now the kids at Astoria Park will have the same opportunity. They did such a special job here. Many may think of the LACOSTE Academy as just a tennis program, but it has helped me grow as a person in so many ways. I’ve become more outgoing and made so many new friends, thanks to tennis.”

Her 12-year-old brother Ryan was on hand to assist with a beginner lesson with more than 40 Astoria children.

“City Parks Foundation has provided me with amazing opportunities, and given me a chance to truly be a part of the world of competitive tennis,” he said. “From excellent coaching, tournament sponsorships, and even a free trip to Wimbledon, City Parks Foundation has helped me get to where I am today. I’m happy these new courts will get more children excited about tennis.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.