Platform tennis, anyone?
While most tennis enthusiasts head inside, or south to warmer climes, when the temperatures turn cold, platform tennis aficionados follow the Yankee dictates of embracing winter, no matter how low the mercury plummets. This scaled-down version of the game — designed as an offseason alternative to tennis — is thriving in Boston’s western suburbs.
In the picture, Grant Elliot (left) and Jack Stephenson (right) share a laugh prior to a match of platform tennis at the Concord Country Club in Concord, MA. Next
The game is played on an enclosed platform half the size of a traditional tennis court (30 by 60 feet, instead of 60 by 120 feet) and typically heated from below to melt snow and ice. The ball is made of sponge rubber, the rackets are solid, made with a composite material and perforated with holes for aerodynamics, and the net is slightly lower than in tennis (34 inches at center, instead of 36).
In the picture, players compete in a match of platform tennis at the Concord Country Club. Next
But the rules are what really separate the two games.
The platform court is surrounded by a 12-foot-high fence of heavy-gauge latticed wire (commonly known as chicken wire), and shots off the walls can be played, provided the ball doesn’t hit the ground a second time. Players are only allowed a single serve (as opposed to two in tennis), and “let” serves — where the ball ticks the top of the net — must be played (similar to volleyball).
In the picture, Grant Elliot plays a ball off the fence and out of the corner— the game’s signature move— at the Concord Country Club in Concord, MA. Next
Though platform tennis is played in most parts of the country, it is most popular in the metropolitan corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston. The sport’s local rise is reflected in the growth of the Greater Boston Platform Tennis League.
“Paddle is booming in our area,” a former league commissioner, Twig Burke, states on its website, “We started in 1978 with five clubs and have twice expanded the league to its present state of 12 clubs and 29 teams.”
Pictured are players competing in a match of platform tennis at the Concord Country Club. The Concord Country Club built its first platform tennis court in 1966. Next
According to the American Platform Tennis Association, the game has its origins in Scarsdale, N.Y., in 1928, when two enterprising tennis players — James Cogswell and Fessenden Blanchard — built a wooden court to extend their season. Cogswell bought paddles and spongy balls, and the men surrounded their court with wire fencing to prevent the balls from getting lost in adjacent snowbanks.
The game’s signature move, hitting the ball after it bounces off the wire mesh, was develop by accident, after Blanchard smacked a stuck ball and declared he won the point. The two men discussed the advantages of incorporating the fencing into the field of play, and decided it added another dimension to the game. Next
Jay Fritz warms up for a match of platform tennis at the Concord Country Club.
“It’s very forgiving to learn, but it’s complicated to master,” said Richard Shultz, the general manager of Nashawtuc Country Club in Concord, where three outdoor platform courts are being installed. “You have the wall at the back, so you can save yourself from bad shots, but those who are proficient at it learn to use that back wall corner. If you’ve ever played squash, platform has some of the same aspects. Next
Grant Elliot is pictured in the foreground warming up for a match of platform tennis at the Concord Country Club.
Johan du Randt, the racket sports manager at Weston Country Club and the sport’s top-ranked player said the game favors tennis players, at least initially. However, Nicholas Kondon, 50, a Concord dentist and member of Concord Country Club, said platform tennis is growing precisely because it has a sharp learning curve.
“I didn’t play a lot of tennis. I’m more of a golfer in the summertime,” said Kondon, captain of the Concord Country Club’s “B” team, “and I found I didn’t have to have tremendous racket skills. If you have racket skills, it’s an advantage, but you don’t have to have them to play. I’m an old lacrosse guy, and I was athletic enough, and I loved the fact that I could be competitive with it.” Next
“On the other hand, it’s a game you can play the rest of your life, because you don’t have to cover a lot of ground,”said Kondon. “So you can be older and still be competitive, just by virtue of knowing the angles, and knowing where the ball is going to be. A lot of times, if you can play maturely, you can make up for not having great speed or agility.” Next
Pictured are Jason Fivek (left), Sam Adams (center) and Dave Fivek (right) who watch a match of platform tennis at the Concord Country Club.
The Greater Boston Platform Tennis League is divided into two sections, with the South Division made up of six private clubs — The Country Club in Brookline, Brae Burn Country Club in West Newton, Dedham Country Club, Concord Country Club, Wellesley Country Club, and Weston Golf Club — that each field several teams. Another indication of the sport’s growing popularity is the introduction of the league’s “C” level, to complement its “A” and “B” squads.
Players sit around a wood burning stove and chat at the Concord Country Club on December 10, 2012.
But the competition, while robust, is almost secondary to the sport’s gregarious aspects, which include outdoor grilling and on-court banter. “There’s a certain beverage element to the sport,” said Richard Shultz, the general manager of Nashawtuc Country Club, with a conspiratorial laugh.
“I guess it’s an excuse to have a beer, but that’s what makes it social,” said Johan du Randt, the racket sports manager at Weston Country Club. “And the other thing, the court is so small, you’re always close to each other, so you can chat and socialize easier than when the court is bigger, or in singles.” Next
“At our club, and I’m sure this is true for people at other clubs, the people who play paddle, that subset of that country club, is one of the most accepting, one of the most friendly groups that you’ll meet,” said Nicholas Kondon, 50, a Concord dentist and member of Concord Country Club. Back to the beginning
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