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I took a private lesson at the secret tennis court in Grand Central

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A famous landmark and transportation hub rolled into one, Grand Central Terminal is steeped in history. Most people know as much. But despite the roughly 750,000 visitors who have passed through his hall every day since it first opened to the public in 1913, there’s still a lot going on that most people don’t really know about.

For example, there are walkways just behind the large arched windows, connecting the offices above Grand Central so employees don’t have to walk through the terminal; there’s a super-secret 22,000-square-foot chamber called M42 ten stories below the main concourse that doesn’t appear on any station plans or maps; an exclusive and hidden cocktail lounge The Campbell is located on the balcony level, formerly the office of business magnate John W. Campbell; an abandoned subway station under the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, supposedly reserved for transporting presidents; and a corner-to-corner whispering gallery where, due to “unusually perfect arches,” even the quietest whisper can be heard over the bustle of nearby crowds.

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There is also a regulation-size tennis court on the fourth floor.

If you didn’t realize there was tennis… a lot tennis court, played indoors just below the Tiffany clock on Park Ave, let me be the first to say: you’re not the only one. But the Vanderbilt tennis court is not a new development.

Once an art gallery, then briefly a CBS studio (the trains rattled the recording equipment too much), the space was transformed into the Vanderbilt Athletic Club in the mid-’60s by a Hungarian immigrant named Geza A. Gazdag. That iteration of the space contained two tennis courts and a 65-foot ski slope made of artificial turf.

A few years later, in the 1980s, the club was purchased, this time by none other than Donald Trump. For the next thirty years, it was frequented only by his famous acquaintances, who had to pay in cash. According to a report by Atlas Obscura, Trump enjoyed a month-to-month lease for the last decade, until 2009, when it finally turned over to new owners once again. Two more years, and a series of events later, the Vanderbilt Tennis Club moved to the fourth floor. Today, in addition to the regulation-size hard court, there is also a youth court, two practice lanes, and a fully equipped gym.

Court

aimee herring

That said, knowing the club doesn’t make it easy to find. As you can probably guess, this is an elevator ride, though even finding said elevator is no small feat (it’s halfway up the ramp that leads to Oyster Bar and Tracks 100-117). Once on the fourth floor, he steps out into a small and relatively nondescript hallway. From there, you follow a series of hallways, none of which feel like they lead you to a 2,808-square-foot tennis court, eventually leading to the reception area.

Maybe it’s named after Vanderbilt, or maybe because it’s hidden from the everyday chaos of Grand Central, but the club is often assumed to be of the private variety. Those assumptions are wrong – it’s actually open to the public, by reservation only, but those reservations are extremely hard to come by. When I say a lot of tennis is played at Grand Central… I mean it.

In fact, when I go to a lesson with the club’s tennis pro, Dadi Zvulun, on Thursday, it’s sheer luck that he’s there: his 11am slot has been cancelled. They’re open from 6am to 2am, he tells me, and they’re fully booked every day until at least midnight. For some of the classes (which are capped at six people), there is a 300-person waiting list.

“I would like [us] remain secret,” he adds as an afterthought, wryly.

For the next hour, I work with Zvulun on my forehand (and, later, my backhand) on the practice courts upstairs, each of which is half the size of a singles court and can be reserved. in half hour increments. Despite the fact that many tennis greats, including Serena Williams and Andy Murray, have played full court, Zvulun believes it’s the practice courts that hold the most value, both for beginners and experienced athletes.

“Not all practice makes perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect,” he tells me, as he bends my wrist back into position for the 40th time in a row. Consequently, I spend the entire hour of my lesson on the practice courts. We both agree that it is for the best.

For his part, Zvulun has been playing tennis for around 35 years. He has been with Vanderbilt since 2011, when he first came to Grand Central. In the early days of his career as an instructor, he estimates that he spent 40 to 50 hours a week on the courts. Now a man of many talents, including piano and carpentry, has narrowed it down to nearly 20.

However, aside from time on the pitch, he obviously spends an inordinate amount of time at the club and, by his own admission, doesn’t have much free time. So where, then, does a tennis pro who works at a semi-secret club, in one of New York City’s most famous buildings, play tennis when he’s not there?

“Not me,” he laughs.

At 12 o’clock, Zvulun informs me that our time together has come to an end (although I’ve arguably learned more from him in the last hour than in the last 31 years combined). His next lesson, what appears to be a duet, is already waiting for him on the court below. I take the elevator back to the terminal and take number seven.

sniloans