You might not find the next Venus or Serena Williams giving the Echo Park tennis courts a good spanking, but you will find a lively, thriving tennis community there beneath Highway 101.

Unlike the nearby Griffith Park courts, which charge a small fee, the well-maintained Echo Park courts are free to the public. What's more, the hobos sunning on the lawn help out when a wayward ball flies over the fence — happily abandoning their 40s to chase down and toss back errant forehands with surprising swiftness.

Forget to bring a fresh can of balls? Just cross the street to the Chevron station, which keeps them in stock. There are also a number of shaded benches to rest on and the obligatory water fountain for the parched player. Sure, the courts haven't had lights for two years because, rumor has it, the neighborhood wise guys stole the copper wiring, but the Echo Park Tennis Club makes up for that. The club consists of a group of Filipino men approaching their 60s, all with the tanned, toned legs of 25-year-olds. At least half the members are at the courts seven days a week, starting at 6 a.m. On days when your strokes are particularly weak, friendly members will come over to offer helpful tips. These guys have been playing here since the 1970s, and can point you in the direction of a local instructor or a place to get your racket restrung. Avoid the afterschool hours reserved for nearby Belmont High, but on most days, you only have to spend a short time stretching, or take a quick stroll around the lake before a court opens up and you can pretend you're Serena for a session.

—Sophia Kercher

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