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Platform Tennis

My idea of fun is being outdoors and chasing a ball. I know, it sounds as if I should be wagging my tail when I say that, but I consider it a blessing to be easily amused.

Unfortunately, chasing a ball outdoors gets a little tricky when you live in snow country. The most common solution is a bit of a compromise: trade the ball for a puck. If I had grown up in Canada, I might have learned to skate well enough for this to work, but I grew up pretty well convinced that friction underfoot is a good thing. I'm basically committed to chasing a complete sphere, not a flattened imitation.

Back in 1928, James Cogswell and Fessenden Blanchard of Scarsdale, New York foresaw that I would have this problem, so they invented platform tennis.

Platform tennis works in snow country for two reasons: the court is up on a platform, and it's only 1/4 the area of a tennis court. A full-sized tennis court area, including the surrounding space for running, is 60 X 120 feet; a platform tennis court is 30 X 60. It's a lot easier to shovel snow off 1800 square feet than 7200, and having the court above the surrounding snow cover keeps it safe from drifts blowing right back into the area you just shoveled or endless rivers of melt runoff making a mess. (Can you tell that snow gets on my nerves sometimes?)

It didn't take Cogswell and Blanchard long to get tired of jumping down from the platform to chase every missed ball, so they built a cage around the court. Pretty soon, they realized that the cage had another good use: it gave them a second chance to return hard-hit balls. One of the most enjoyable parts of platform tennis is playing the ball off the walls.

Other than allowing help from the walls, the rules of platform tennis are the same as tennis, except that in platform doubles you only get one serve per point, in singles you use no-ad scoring, and if you spike a ball into the court and over the fence, you lose the point.

The one-serve rule can be a little tough on novice players, especially with having to adjust to the unique paddles; a bouncier, heavier, and fuzzless ball; and the reduced scale of the court.

The typical paddle is 18 inches long, with a fairly circular hitting area of about 10 inches diameter. Originally wooden, paddles have evolved to include advanced materials that provide a little more spring and lighter weight. They are perforated with up to 87 holes. The surface can have slight texturing, but even the roughest paddle doesn't bite into the ball nearly as much as tennis strings would.

The ball is solid foam rubber, 2 1/2 inches in diameter. It's quite bouncy, and it feels heavy on the paddle, although it weighs only 70-75 grams (around 2 1/2 ounces). Lacking any fuzz, it responds less to spin than a tennis ball does while in the air, but spin affects its interaction with the court surface comparably to what you'd expect in tennis.

The court is laid out just like a miniature tennis court, with the same service boxes, singles and doubles lines, and net (slightly lower). Baseline to baseline is 44 feet, and the in-bounds width is 20 feet. The most popular surface material is textured aluminum planking, but a plastic gridwork upon wooden boards can also work. Both leave spaces between the boards for water to drain off, and many courts have heaters underneath to melt snow and ice. The surrounding screen is a one-inch mesh 12 feet in height.

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