As a frequent tennis player, people who are remotely interested in the sport sometimes ask me about the potential costs of taking on the hobby.
They are rightfully worried–popular sports like golf (a local favorite, where we apparently have more golf courses per capita than the rest of the world) can cost thousands of dollars per year in gear and fees.
Thankfully, tennis doesn’t have to reach this level of spending for most amateur-level players. Here’s a rundown of what you can expect if you hit the courts:
No racket, no tennis. Thankfully, most entry-level rackets and even intermediate-level sticks for players with a few years of experience price in well. Every racket I own (3) was purchased for less than $100, and even the higher-end rackets are mostly under $300.
With good care, rackets can last for years, even with frequent play. I bought a racket I still own today in 1999 and only replaced it last year.
Depending on your level of play, one thing that will need replacing are the strings. A new set (with installation) runs about $10-$20 on average for something simple. In 15 years of play, I have only replaced my strings once, but I know of some people that have to do it every 6 months or more.
- Upfront cost: $80 for one racket
- Yearly cost: $20 for strings & replacement fund
The volume of balls you need depends on your frequency of play and how long you’re willing to play with a ball before replacing it. If you play a lot of league matches or tournaments, you’ll also need to provide new balls for many of these matches.
If you buy them in bulk, tennis balls can be quite cheap. Expect to pay about $0.75 per ball or less when you buy them in large quantities.
- Yearly cost: About $50
Tennis rackets come with their own protective bags when you buy them, so if you’re just starting out, getting a big bag is not a requirement. Pretty soon though, lugging all the extra stuff around will get old, so you’ll want to invest in a bag.
Most bags can hold at least a few rackets, a handful of balls, grips, band-aids, extra clothes, your keys, and everything else you bring to the court. Simple bags cost about $40 on average and should not need replacement unless you decide to “upgrade” or change styles (bag to backpack, for example).
- Upfront cost: $40
Almost every sport has a specialized shoe, and it’s no different in tennis. Many facilities actually require tennis shoes before letting you on the court. These shoes are specially designed for explosive side-to-side movement, serving, and generally help to keep your ankles in place and injury-free.
I use a pair that’s specialized even further for flat-footed people and it’s made a world of difference in terms of comfort during and after play. Shoe wear depends of course on your frequency of play, the type of court you tend to use, and how “aggressively” you play. I tend to play on hard courts, run and slide frequently, and destroy my shoes in about 12 months.
- Yearly cost: $100 for a mid-level shoe (less for basics, more for fancy)
This will vary geographically and according to your playing preferences. Generally speaking, clay courts and indoor courts almost always have a fee of some kind. If you have to play on clay or indoors, either because of your knees or the weather or simple preference, expect to pay about $10 per hour (this can vary widely, so check).
If you like hard courts, you can often play for free. Locally, hard courts are nearly always public, and clay courts are nearly always private. Hard courts are free, but can sometimes be hard to find open for play.
Other arrangements include “clubs” that can charge thousands of dollars for initiation and more for play, courts as part of your local community association (that are potentially free), or subscription-based courts (like we have at our local YMCA) with unlimited play for a monthly fee.
- Ongoing costs: $0 and up
Wearing comfortable clothing on the court is important, especially in high heat and if you play for an extended period of time. Most of my matches take place above 80 degrees and last more than two hours, so it’s important to have clothes on that stay dry and flexible.
For the guys, my personal recommendations are sport shirts that wick away moisture; these can be found on sale somewhere like Kohl’s for $10 each. You’ll also need a few pairs of shorts, good socks and a few hats. Wrist sweat bands are helpful for the “inter-game wipe” and for keeping sweat away from your palms (which are obviously holding the racket).
The ladies tend to have their own preferences and requirements for court wear, most of which I’m not very familiar with.
- Upfront cost: About $100, but many of us already own some of these items
If you’re starting out with the sport for the first time, it’s likely that you’ll need some help to get you going. Training can range from free help from friends or family, group clinics at the local club, or private lessons with a pro.
Depending on what level of attention you choose, the cost will vary from free to $20 or $30 for group classes, to possibly hundreds of dollars per private lesson.
- Upfront/ongoing cost: $0 and up
Health-related expenses when it comes to sports are a huge question mark. The question is whether you can stay healthy and injury-free during your tennis career, and the answer is often no.
Among the most common issues are tennis elbow and joint problems (ankles and knees are common complaints). Other people have neck problems because of their serving style, and muscle pulls and tears are also common because of twisting/start-stop type injuries.
Tennis is a high-impact sport and not every body is prepared to handle the imposed loads. The one question that still remains is How much is this going to cost? That will vary widely depending on the extent of the damage you do and your insurance arrangements.
Of course, the reward of tennis is a lot of fun and a great deal of aerobic and strength-based exercise over long stretches of time. It’s not unusual to burn 1,000 calories or more with an evening on the court.
While it’s often seen as a sport “of the rich,” tennis can be very inexpensive and a great way to spend some quality time outdoors. Enjoy!