As a kid, this was the time of year when my father would emerge from his winter hibernation spent boxing and lifting weights in the garage—tennis season had arrived. Just warm enough for t-shirt weather, the first early hints of spring peeking through the pine trees outside meant it was time to get the bicycles and tennis rackets out of storage, hit the Kingwood greenbelts and pedal our way to the free tennis courts at the nearby community center.
My father always packed the same things into his backpack for our tennis trips: a beat-up old racket, a mesh bag of neon green balls, powdered Gatorade in an equally lurid hue, a giant Igloo thermos of water, and a blue bandanna that made him look like a giant, West Texan Björn Borg. We'd thwack the ball back and forth, across the net, over and over, conversation drifting between proper tennis technique and pop culture ephemera, until we only had enough energy left to bike home. The next day, Sunday, we were back at it, and every weekend possible thereafter until June hit and the courts became so hot they threatened to melt the soles of our shoes.
Tennis remains an incredibly accessible sport for Houstonians of all ages, athletic levels and even income levels thanks to our city's network of free tennis courts, many of them lighted at night (especially useful this time of year while it's still dark by 5:30 p.m.). An entry-level tennis racket and a bag of balls will run you $40, which should have you set for at least the year—as long as you actually retrieve those balls you hit outside the court—making it one of the cheaper sports to take up in terms of equipment costs.
Now that I no longer live in Kingwood, my personal favorite tennis courts are found at Cherryhurst Park in Montrose. Considering the natural beauty of the oak-shaded park and its equally lovely Deco-era community center, I'm constantly surprised these courts aren't packed all the time; the first-come-first-serve nature of the City of Houston's free tennis courts means there's rarely any waiting here, though other courses—those in Cleveland Park and Spotts Park, for instance—are generally busier.
You don't have to join a fancy racquet club or fitness center to enjoy a game of tennis, and you don't even need a partner to practice. Of the 205 free tennis courts across Houston, roughly half of them have practice walls to brush up on your skills solo. So pack some Gatorade and a bag of balls and get out there.