For tennis fans watching a Grand Slam Tournament match, on TV or in person, can be wonderfully exciting. To have the opportunity to play on the same courts that Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova, Roger Federer and Serena once used, however, is divine -- and actually possible: 2 Slam venues allow the non-pros to rent out and play on their courts.
Follow Travel Channel's tips for tennis lovers to watch their favorite Grand Slam tourneys, hit the courts themselves or dive deeper into the tennis culture of a Grand Slam city.
The tennis calendar begins in the sweltering month of January. Melbourne, host of the Australian Open at the Rod Laver Arena, welcomes players and fans at a time when the mercury here climbs to the high 90s, making life slightly uncomfortable for spectators and excruciating for players. If you can take the oppressive temperatures, plan to reserve some court time of your own. The arena courts' much despised ankle-twisting Rebound Ace surface was replaced with the more forgiving Plexicushion surface. Like most of the other Grand Slam venues, the Rod Laver Arena and surrounding complex are out past the city limits. There are plenty of standard options for getting to and from the courts, but to get there in style, you'll want to hop aboard a water taxi. The floating cabs cruise the Yarra and drop passengers on a small dock not far from the main entrance.
Players and fans heading to tennis's next major tournament, the French Open in Paris, not only have to adjust to the drier air, they must also modify their game to the slow, high-bouncing red clay of Roland Garros Stadium. The surface is optimal for players like Rafael Nadal to wreak major havoc on the top players on the men's side. Unfortunately, only pros are allowed to get their socks dirty on the courts around here. While they are closed to the public, there is the Tenniseum -- a museum filled with thousands of hours of archived film, an extensive library and, of course, tennis-related art and exhibitions.
Not far to the north, The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club hasn't changed very much in its 140-year history. The bleachers are still the same spinach hue, spectators nibble on the same treat of strawberries and cream and, as per tradition, pro players still leave the locker room wearing only their conservative whites. No matter how you perceive Wimbledon -- steeped in tradition or antiquated, classy or stuffy, fast or boring -- it's hard to ignore the mystique emanating from the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. It's because of that mystique that, compared to the other 3 events, getting tickets here is as hard as finding a spot on Henman Hill and the prices are ultra-steep.
As for playing here as a visitor? Forget it. Getting court time requires you to have some top-notch connections. While the club doesn't shut its doors completely to the public, you have to be invited by current members. For a less exclusive alternative, play a few sets in London's famed Hyde Park. Supplemented by a cozy little cafe and clubhouse, the Hyde Park Tennis & Sports Centre has six courts available on the Northern end of the park.
The final Grand Slam event of the year, the US Open, is fittingly played under the bright lights of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City. It's makes sense that the event is known for being the rowdiest and most exciting of the 4, and box offices are bombarded the minute tickets become available. Fans who hope to play a few sets themselves will find the well-maintained blue courts of the US Open series to be a pleasure to play on. The color is the perfect contrast to the ball's neon green felt, and concentrating on striking the ball couldn't be easier.