Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
No matter how many velvet ropes your Amex Black Card can part, there are a few places that are simply off-limits. You can't play hoops at the Barclays Center. (Unless you get the Nets to sign you to a ten-day contract.) You can't skate on Madison Square Garden's ice. (Unless, maybe, you're Johnny Weir.) But if you're a whacker of tennis balls, you can do so on the same hallowed DecoTurf II where Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams practice the dark art of topspin. For the 47 weeks of the year that the U.S. Open is not in session, the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center is a public facility, and you're a 7-train ride away from the majors. You can't actually play in the stadia where the stars serve: Ashe, the new Grandstand, Court 17, or the soon-to-be-demolished Armstrong. But if you'd like to channel, say, Jamie Murray instead of Andy, try playing a match on an outside court like Court 5 or Court 16. Or better still, reserve one of the practice courts — P1 to P5 — where the superstars warm up with their coaches and hitting partners while investment bankers watch with mouths agape. From mid-September to mid-August these can be yours for as little as $26/hour. More pro tips: new balls, old T-shirt, an armful of rackets, and no autographs until you're done.
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, Flushing, Queens
One minute you're racing through Grand Central, weaving through a maze of tourists and commuters, hoping to grab a coffee and still make the train. Less than an hour and a half later, after a pleasant ride along the Hudson (pro tip: sit on the left side of the car for river views), you will get off the Metro-North train in the tiny town of Garrison. The hike starts right there at the station: Head south through the parking lot and follow the blue-blazed trail past the Garrison Institute, across a field and a road, and pretty soon you will find yourself in nature. The trail goes into woodland that was once carriage roads of old estates and is now part of the Hudson Highlands State Park. Looking out over the summit of Sugarloaf Hill, you'll find sweeping views of the river and Hudson Valley that make it easy to understand why the area inspired a whole school of painting. Less easy to understand is that the city is not even sixty miles away.
Building off his stretch run last season, in which he slashed .287/.337/.604 in 57 games, Yoenis Céspedes led the Metropolitans this season in hitting the ball the hardest (31 homers, .530 slugging) and the third most often (.280 batting average). His career-best walk rate also allowed him to lead the Mets in actually standing on a base (.354 on-base percentage). Plus, he led all Mets outfielders in having a rocket launcher for an arm; his .884 OPS paced the team by 61 points, Katie Ledecky–in-the-women's-800-freestyle style; and, after he returned from a lingering quadriceps injury, the Mets went 27–14, clinching a postseason berth. So while Bartolo Colón is the Most Adorable Met, and Noah Syndergaard the Best Hair With a 100mph Fastball Met, Yoenis Céspedes is the Best Literally Out There Every Day Smacking Dingers and Gunning Down Baserunners Met. Still, you probably can't really be Best Met unless the joy you bring comes with a fistful of heartache (we see you, Matt Harvey's 2013 season), so don't worry: Céspedes will probably opt out of his contract this offseason. Let's go Mets! Really. Please. Let's go.
When Rachel Smith took her nine-year-old son, Ivor, for ping-pong lessons, she took him to a Manhattan table tennis club she'd heard good things about. What she didn't discover until later was that she hadn't brought him to just any club — he was learning from a former Olympic athlete.
"This is what he loves to do," says Smith of her son's first day of lessons. "We were so excited to find this place, and I'm excited that a champion ping-pong player runs it."
The Wang Chen Table Tennis Club (250 West 100th Street, Manhattan, wangchenttc.com) is named for a woman who made it to the quarterfinals in the 2008 Summer Olympics. "I teach everyone from 4- to 84-year-olds," says Chen, 42. Her clients at the club have included an NYU professor, an orthopedic surgeon, and Keanu Reeves. "I gave him lessons. He always wanted to play, but he wasn't very good."
The club is a rare affordable hangout in today's New York. It helps that Chen's landlord is a former student, Jerry Wartski. "He had this small table tennis club on West 100th Street, so he offered me a job," says Chen. "I didn't know he'd name the club after me. I just pay a little bit of rent. I thought there's no interest in table tennis in America. But I started teaching and I found out students are interested."
The club is packed most evenings, and with more than your average ping-pong enthusiasts. The Upper West Side spot draws table tennis pros from across the city and regulars of all ages, including young newcomers, with after-school programs, training sessions with expert coaches, and affordable membership rates. Unlimited play is just $20 a month — what you'd pay for just one hour at Susan Sarandon's SPiN. And as the main game room is the size of a small gym, with seven professional tables available, anyone who wants to improve their game or just learn how to play can walk in and hope to grab a paddle. (The club doesn't take reservations.)
The low-key, no-frills club doesn't have the bar and nightclub atmosphere of other table tennis venues, but it has seen its share of other high-profile celebrities besides Reeves, including John McEnroe on occasion. And Chen herself often makes an appearance. "I'm still active and still playing, and I think people who come to my place admire what I did in the Olympics and they share my passion for the sport," she says. "We don't need alcohol and food here — we only need table tennis."
On July 10, members of the WNBA's New York Liberty (following the lead of players on the Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever) took the court for warm-ups wearing black tees sporting the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #Dallas5 in solidarity with Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, the two African-American men killed by police weeks earlier in St. Paul and Baton Rouge, as well as the five police officers killed in Dallas. Though NBA commissioner Adam Silver praised the players' activism, the WNBA levied fines of $5,000 on each team and $500 on each player for violating pregame uniform rules.
The Liberty and Fever faced off at Madison Square Garden on the day the fines were announced, switching to plain black T-shirts in warm-ups — still a violation, according to the league. In their postgame press conferences, players said they would only answer questions about the protest, not the game. Liberty forward Swin Cash noted that many WNBA players had families in law enforcement, but still hoped to address police brutality: "We really would appreciate if people stopped making our support of Black Lives Matter, an issue that is so critical in our society right now, as us not supporting the police." Liberty center Tina Charles — who'd turned her black warm-up shirt inside out before accepting her WNBA Player of the Month award following the game — posted on Instagram: "Seventy percent of the @wnba players are African-American women and as a league collectively impacted. My teammates and I will continue to use our platform and raise awareness for the #BlackLivesMatter movement until the @wnba gives its support as it does for Breast Cancer Awareness, Pride, and other subject matters."
"Just because someone says 'Black Lives Matter' doesn't mean that other lives don't matter," explained guard Tanisha Wright, a Brooklyn native who joined the team in 2015. "People put out this imaginary 'black lives only matter' whenever people say, 'Black lives matter.' What we're saying is, 'Black lives matter, too.' Period." She also noted that the WNBA had handed out T-shirts in memory of victims of the Orlando shooting in June. "They can't pick and choose what initiatives to support and what not to support just because it doesn't fit their agenda," she said.
After fans spoke out in support of the players — as did Knicks star Carmelo Anthony — the WNBA rescinded the fines. "We really feel like there's still an issue here in America," said Wright in her postgame address. "We don't want to let anybody silence us." Off the court as well as on, the Liberty players are committed to making an impact.
Does Tyler Clippard have second sight? Talking to the Times on August 1, bruited to be the day the New York Yankees officially gave up on the 2016 season — the team had already dealt a pair of prized lefty relievers for prospects, and the trade deadline saw them parting ways with veterans Iván Nova and Carlos Beltrán to boot — pitcher Clippard, newly acquired from Arizona, talked about how nice it was to be "getting into some meaningful games." Huh? What? The Bombers were at that point seven games out, and the freshly molted roster was looking more like a triple-A squad than a big-league contender. What followed was the kind of thing liable to drive a long-suffering Orioles fan (ahem) insane: Their lineup now chockablock with such unfamiliar names as Gary Sánchez, Rob Refsnyder, and Ronald Torreyes, the suddenly ephebic Yanks played themselves back into the postseason picture, though they'd ultimately fall just short. Up in the Bronx, apparently, "rebuilding" only takes a New York minute.