(Paddle) Tennis Anyone?
A New Twist on a Popular Sport
Photo by Peggy Garbus
One would not think winter is a great time to play tennis outdoors. Yet it is. Not the traditional game of tennis but paddle, or platform, tennis—a sport that is growing in popularity, thriving on local, national and international levels.
In 1928, the game’s inventors, James Cogswell and Fessenden Blanchard of Scarsdale built a wooden platform in Cogswell’s backyard so they could play a game outdoors in cold weather. By 1931 they had constructed a court, developed a game called paddle tennis, and convinced the Fox Meadow Club also to build a court.
Numerous hotbeds of the sport have since emerged, and one of those is right here at the The Wilton Family YMCA. The Y boasts five paddle courts and several hundred players, both men and women. It fields teams at various skill levels that compete in leagues comprised of other towns and private clubs. There are also enthusiastic in-house leagues that keep the courts busy during the day and evening hours throughout the week. Informal play fills in whatever time is left.
While platform tennis is similar in many respects to traditional tennis, there are significant differences. The court (22 feet by 44 feet) is about one-third the size of a tennis court. A net bisects the court and there are base lines, service lines, service boxes, and alleys. But a paddle court’s surface is made up of gritty aluminum planking. Paddle’s most distinctive feature is 12-foot-high taut wire fencing surrounding the court. The tight wire allows balls to be stroked off the screen and remain in play. The entire apparatus, including 20-foot-high light stanchions, rests on and is secured to a four- or five-foot-high platform under which heaters are installed to thaw or dry the courts in inclement weather.
Other notable differences are the racquet; in this case a paddle because it has no strings. Eighteen inches in length, the paddle has a series of bored holes measuring no more than three-eighths of an inch in diameter to assist with aerodynamics and to help create more severe spin. The ball is a spongy rubber ball, 2.5 inches in diameter and covered with flocking.
“I’m all in on the sport,” says Maurice Sanchez, owner of paddleplayer.com, a premiere platform-tennis business and website that creates and manages leagues, provides commentary and content, and sells equipment, all the while celebrating the game. The Weston resident made the switch to paddle some six years ago after a lifelong involvement with tennis.
He wants to help grow the game’s popularity. “It’s really a lifestyle. The sport engenders a sense of camaraderie and fun. One aspect of paddle is that you can pick it up and become fairly proficient in a relatively short period of time. And it’s a great workout.”
Matches can take as long as two to three hours with each team (doubles is the norm) strategizing to win a point. Rallies can last 40 or more strikes of the ball. Screen play is at a premium as players often lob, seeking to push their opponents away from the net in order to gain an advantage. Scoring is the same as in tennis.
Peter Keiser of Wilton, himself a 35-year veteran of the sport, says, “We’re very fortunate to have the Wilton Y because it welcomes paddle players from multiple towns. To play the public courts in other Fairfield County towns you have to be a resident. And to play the private ones, you need to own one, know somebody who does, or join a club. The sport breeds a sort of intimacy because the court is so small and enclosed. It’s part of its charm.”
A recently completed summer league in Fairfield County featured a team with Nationals winners Jared Palmer and Drew Broderick. The Nationals represents the game’s most prestigious tournament. The increased popularity of summer league competition has been fueled by a new warm weather ball that replicates the cold weather bounce.
The best players in the country will be here from March 4 to 6 when the Nationals will be held in Fairfield County with its hub being The Country Club of Darien. Many other clubs and venues will be used to host the hundreds of participants and thousands of spectators.
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