For the last half-century, Port Washington Tennis Academy (PWTA) has stood as one of the pillars of the Long Island tennis community. In that time, the beautiful facility on the north shore of the Island has produced some of the game’s top players, a list that includes John and Patrick McEnroe, Vitas Gerulaitis, Peter Fleming and Tracy Austin.
The club opened up in 1966, and for the last 54 years has been known as one of the premier indoor facilities in the country. The idea to start the club came when Hy Zausner met Nick Bollettieri in Puerto Rico, and Bollettieri, the famed tennis coach, convinced Zausner to open a facility.
“Nick wanted to have lessons in the area on a regular basis and needed a place to hold the lessons,” said Dick Zausner, Hy’s son who has run the club for more than 40 years now. “They were successful. The two would eventually go their separate ways, but it grew from there. At that time there were just five courts underneath a bubble, and we’ve continued expanding over the years.”
Those five courts have now expanded to 17, and the club also includes a 1⁄4 mile track that overlooks the courts and four pickle ball courts.
In the 1970s, PWTA was home to players who would go on to have amazing professional careers.
“The 1977 United States Davis Cup team which had John McEnroe, Gerulaitis and Fleming were all our players,” said Zausner. “Peter [Fleming], who lived in New Jersey at the time, stayed at my house on the weekends when he trained here. It was an amazing time with some really great players here.”
PWTA has always made sure to make tennis accessible to everyone, which included giving scholarships to players to train there. Gerulaitis was one of those players who received a scholarship, and Zausner and his team have helped so many kids over the years.
“That was always our attitude,” he said. “The purposed of the scholarship was to help kids get into college. I remember when I was a kid, my father was a scout master; he was always involved with helping kids. He had that mentality, and it was something I inherited from him. I assumed that was the way of life and the way you were supposed to do things.”
And it’s precisely that mentality that has allowed PWTA to flourish. Like everywhere else, though, this year has been hard on the club. In order to maintain safety of both the staff and the kids, it decided to not hold a summer camp.
“We have some morning activity with court rentals and a couple of private lessons, but we did not want to run a camp, and that’s the bulk of our business in the summer,” said Zausner.
“Even starting up junior programming is a question. The parents are figuring out what’s going on with school, and deciding if their kids are taking classes online or in-person. Even if the parents who would normally come in for morning programs aren’t sure if they will be free in the morning if the kids are still home.”
Those struggles are common across the landscape of local tennis in what has been such an unprecedented year. As we move into the fall and winter, there is hope that this trend will turn around.
Despite the difficult summer, Zausner continues to spend his days at the club he has called home for decades, a place that has helped countless young men and women over the years. Because of his dedication to growing tennis and helping youngsters, he was honored with the Vitas Gerulaitis “For The Love of Tennis” Achievement Award by the USTA Eastern Section.
“I look back with tremendous satisfaction of helping kids. It doesn’t necessarily come from the McEnroes, the Gerulaitis’, the Flemings and many others, but comes from the kids who do well off the court,” he said. “We’ve had students go on to be doctors, lawyers and more. We take great delight in those cases. The accomplishments of the kids outside of tennis are certainly more significant to me than the pros we’ve helped produce. I certainly don’t give us 100 percent credit for that, but it’s just very rewarding to see that your hard work has paid off.”
Now 86-years-old, Zausner has no plans to retire, and still enjoys running the club that his father built all those years ago.
“I want this to go on. I’m searching out possible successors. I’m not young, I’m 86-years-old; the time for most people to retire would have happened already,” he said. “I have no intention of retiring. Whether I drop dead here or at home one day, I can’t tell you that. But I always joke with people who come in that I have a box in my office, and if I’m in that, then you know I retired. That’s my attitude towards retirement.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.