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Tennis is enjoying a slamming resurgence of late. September's U.S. Open on ESPN was its most viewed in four years. Tennis Channel ratings are up 24 percent this year, and there are three planned projects about the "Battle of the Sexes" match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs (Emma Stone and Steve Carell will play the duo in one version). And more and more Hollywood athletic types are being lured by the sport's physical, mental and social aspects.
"There are two things I am crazy about: tennis and Spanish," says Chelsea Handler. She plays three to four times a week on private courts or at the Riviera Country Club — plus at her house in Majorca, where she plays on clay. She also is scheduled to play celebrity doubles at her pal Maria Sharapova's inaugural Los Angeles tournament, Maria Sharapova + Friends, on Dec. 12-13 at UCLA's L.A. Tennis Center. The event brings together former tennis champs and members of the local entertainment community.
"Today everyone is time-starved and information overloaded, but tennis is a sport you can play in a short period of time," says Tennis Channel chairman and CEO Ken Solomon. "It's just a different way of having lunch." On the court, "business organically intrudes," says Brillstein Entertainment Partners CEO Jon Liebman. "It's a good way to knock a guy off in the middle of a match."
But you have to be preternaturally fit to play often and well. "I train hard; I've been at it for 12 years," says actress Elisabeth Shue, who sometimes plays with other biz folks, such as director Fredrik Bond. "I played bad tennis with my brothers growing up. It's the performance sport for someone who has regressed childhood issues. And it keeps me in shape and sane."
Tennis in L.A. has a long Hollywood legacy. Charlie Chaplin had private courts and played with fellow enthusiasts such as Groucho Marx and Trainwreck actor Norman Lloyd, who still picks up a racquet at the age of 101. "The ground coverage is a problem, but my net game is still good," he says. In the late 1920s, Hollywood also would migrate to Palm Springs to the Racquet Club built by actors Charles Farrell and Ralph Bellamy.
And while the lore of tennis matches on the private courts of industry players (Skip Brittenham, Robert Evans and Mike Medavoy) abounds, many are getting back out to the clubs and public courts thanks to innovative tennis programs and "addictive" coaches. Here's a roundup of the L.A.-area clubs most frequented by today's era of entertainment industry players.
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