Tennis, Pickleball: A Love Match?

Now that the U.S. Open is in full swing, tennis enthusiasts are abuzz about their favorite players, be it Serena or Roger.

Sometimes, you may head out to your neighborhood tennis court and approach a group of people volleying away (is that a whiffle ball?)  on what may be a makeshift mini-tennis court near a backboard. Hmm, a pickle.

These are the pickleball lovers. And they may be ready to add more courts in places where tennis may not be as welcomed as they once were.

A Maryland community outside of Washington D.C., for instance, is considering taking the step to bring pickleball to its residents by subtracting a tennis court. 

Duncan Mullis, director of recreation and parks at the Montgomery Village Foundation Inc., said leaders are weighing the idea of refurbishing one of 22 outdoor tennis courts in Montgomery Village and converting it to four courts.

A forum was held this week at Montgomery Village, a planned community of more than 40,000 residents built around 50 years ago, just outside Gaithersburg. Officials are “analyzing the data,” Mullis said on Friday.

Specifically, the plan targets one tennis court of four located at the Apple Ridge Recreation area. That one tennis court then would be remade into four pickleball courts, each of which are considerably smaller than a tennis court. In that way, it won’t interrupt the play area for the remaining tennis courts, officials say.

Residents requested the new pickleball courts, reflecting the growing popularity of the sport.

Montgomery Village’s pickleball enthusiasts have played on the outside tennis courts, but drew lines specifically for them and have brought their own nets. The drawn lines have not met specifications, Mullis said. The new plan would give the permanent courts. It might be ready in 2020, if approved.

“It is going to be several months until we have an answer on the project,” Mullis said. “Our next step is to present the data to the recreation committee.”

Question is: how will tennis players react?

“The word on the street is there is some opposition from the tennis community,” wrote a pickleball enthusiast, advocating for a “strong and voluminous show of support.”

It might not be the first time tennis players would react negatively to the idea of a new court to replace tennis courts.

In Chicago, some residents expressed  disapproval on plans to replace four tennis courts at Woodland Park with six pickleball courts.  Some of the concerns were that – because of its compact size – pickleball might be noisier. Pickleball players countered that they had to drive miles away to find some courts.

Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court with the net lowered to 34 inches at the center. It is played with a perforated plastic ball similar to whiffle ball, wood or composite paddles, according to the The USA Pickleball Association.

Pickleball boosters say converting tennis courts — or even basketball courts – should be options to be considered for players.

Tennis players, of course, love their sport and some may not like the idea of relinquishing any courts. Some recreational officials say pickleball may a good transition for some tennis players, especially as they get older.

While the total number of tennis players in 2017 declined by 2.2 percent from the previous year to 17.68 million players, overall participation “has remained fairly consistent over the past eight years,” according to the Tennis Industry Association. — Joe Cantlupe, HealthDataBuzz.