2015-02-12 / Front Page

Old Game, New Platform: Paddle Tennis Anyone?

By James Merolla

Paddle tennis is a sport for everyone. Nationally it has groups from ages under 10 to 70 and over. Since the game is played through winter, the courts are heated from underneath a raised platform. Paddle tennis is a sport for everyone. Nationally it has groups from ages under 10 to 70 and over. Since the game is played through winter, the courts are heated from underneath a raised platform. Evan Smith is president of Discover Newport by day, but on nights and weekends, he is a platform tennis junkie.

Smith, 59, is part of a fraternity of people who share that same addiction, spending most of their fall, winter, and spring playing platform or paddle tennis. There are about 150 players from Aquidneck Island.

“I’ll tell people in the building, ‘I’m going to play tennis,’ and they’ll say, ‘Oh, you are going to play indoor tennis,’ and I’ll say, ‘No, I’m going outside.’ ‘But, it’s six degrees.’ ‘Right. I know.’ And then they’ll say, ‘The boss has lost his mind.’ ”

Ross Cann, former president of the National Tennis Club in Newport, stated, "I have played four racquet sports avidly: lawn tennis, court tennis, squash and now platform tennis. Each has its own attractions and challenges. I love paddle (as the sport is sometimes called) because it is compact, strategic and very three-dimensional.”

“Even in the middle of the winter with below-freezing temperatures you will see players wearing T-shirts; it is a great workout,” Cann said.

In simplest terms, platform tennis is a combination of traditional tennis and racquetball. It is also similar to indoor court tennis in that the ball is in play off the walls. The racquet is also a hybrid; the head contains no strings but is more like a paddle with dozens of small holes and a short handle. The total length does not exceed 18 inches. Platform tennis is played on a raised deck with taut wire fencing surrounding the court. The fence is in play for bounces and ricochets, extending points, and strategies. Players often have to think three shots ahead to win.

According to Cann, “You are playing off the wire and trying to figure out a way to prevent your opponents from getting the ball back. Rallies can easily go on for 20 or 30 shots.”

In tennis, Smith said, the ball goes by you and the point is over. “In platform tennis, you can play it off the screen behind you. That’s the beauty of it.” he added. “For those of us who are in it, it’s a ton of fun."

According to Ann Sheedy, Executive Director of the American Platform Tennis Association, the sport can be picked up fairly quickly. "Because of the chicken wire around the court, a person who can't blow you off the tennis court, because of their power, can't beat you because of the walls around you."

“The sport is almost always played as doubles," Cann observed. "You share a certain camaraderie and win or lose as a team."

The court is only about onethird the size of a tennis court. There is an extra heat source underneath, although it’s for the game, not the gamers.

“The reason that the courts are raised is that big heaters on aluminum decks are placed under the platform to melt the snow and ice. It’s not to keep the players warm,” explained Smith.

Platform tennis has been around for more than 50 years, Smith said, and is almost as exclusive in some regions as polo.

“It’s really kind of grown up in the ranks of country club sports. Its origins and first 50 years as a sport have been through the country clubs,” he added. But thanks to concerted efforts by the national governing body, the American Platform Tennis Association (APTA), the sport is being introduced to a broader audience.

The nonprofit APTA has about 13,500 members nationwide, including individuals, leagues, municipalities and clubs.

“They are working really hard to bring the game to the public,” said Smith. “They are helping mu- nicipalities bring it out of the country clubs. It has to go beyond the clubs.”

Newport Country Club has a few courts as do The Newport Beach Club at Carnegie Abbey, the Jamestown Yacht Club, and the Barrington Country Club.

“Public options for platform tennis in Rhode Island are very limited,” he added. “But there are tournaments in Jamestown and Boston.”

Frank Gaj is another local helping to expand the network of players, especially recruiting youth.

“The sport of paddle tennis is about community and making new friends. The game has positive potential for the simple reason that all young people and adults are looking for new ways to have fun while meeting new people,” said Gaj.

He said there are good examples and model public programs that already exist in other cities and towns – in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and other New England states – where paddle tennis has been successful for generations.

“The video ‘Support Cleveland Paddle’ is a perfect example of people who realize a responsibility to pass on their passion to the next generation,” said Gaj. “Their mission is to grow and develop public paddle programs by connecting youth and adults to facilities, instructors and leagues. With the support of our passionate Newport tennis community, I hope one day that Newport public paddle becomes a reality."

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