I have played tennis most my life, squash for over 30 years, and have been involved in well over 100 tournaments. So why take up platform tennis? A few years ago my son Bob invited me to play the Italian Center Member Guest Platform Tennis tournament. To train for that one day, I hit with him for an hour the day before and I hit once with my wife. Two out of three years Bob carried me to the finals. I liked the game and the players. Everyone was welcoming. There are always better players out there, and losing helps you keep things in perspective. But getting pounded by opponents all the time isn’t much fun, so I decided to give it a more serious try. Platform tennis is addictive; I am getting started late, so I have pretty much given up my other two sports to focus on platform tennis.
Let’s go back nine years. At age 61, I was #2 in the USA in squash, Men’s 60+. That same year, Bob and I were #1 in Open Father-Son New England (USTA) tennis. This past winter it was time for a change. I have always loved racquet sports I realized platform tennis would take time to learn. I’m at the end of my first year. For now, platform tennis is all about having fun, playing lots of games, no holds barred, with a variety of partners and opponents at all levels. I thoroughly enjoyed playing all summer at the Wilton Y. Now winter is coming. People question our playing outdoors in the winter. Well, I was involved with ice hockey, skating on lakes and many outdoor rinks all the way through college, so being out in the cold is fine; most days I enjoy it. Friendly, outgoing people play this sport. There is something very social about platform tennis: you’re on a small court, connected to one another, at close quarters with lots of jokes, banter, good humor as well as bad. Locker room stuff. It is cold out there, so no one can hear you when you mouth off. You switch partners (other than my own son, who would want a beginner as a partner!?). Not just a range of interesting people, but lots of characters, nicknames, personalities. Variety and color, the spice of life.
The tennis player faces a challenge when, switching to platform tennis, he gets just one serve. It can be humiliating or even dangerous when an opponent, seeing anything high and short, nails you or your partner with the return as you come to net. Hitting a deep, well placed serve, moving it around, and coming up to the net, hitting a volley and surviving that early pressured exchange, is the greatest challenge I have faced. I know I have got a ways to go. Handling the screens is the second challenge. It has little in common with squash, but watching George Wilkinson and his partner win the final of the PaddlePlayer.com Summer League playoff match, was most instructive. Two awesome, gifted athletes, tennis stars, letting balls hit the screens, and sending up dozens of lobs. Clearly this is not tennis, not a power game. Long points are common. Steadiness, choosing the right shot, not making unforced errors, is essential. Platform tennis is very mental: it is about control, percentage, infinite patience, positioning, tactics. There is much to work on. For me, learning and improving are totally motivating. I like the fact that there are many great pros and players willing to help newcomers progress. Sure, I am getting on in years, but platform tennis keeps you young. Getting into good shape, learning, improving, steadily growing as a player, getting better in each aspect of the game, that’s a thrill, a good life, and nothing if not fun. Oh, there are some bad calls, but the proximity of the lines and of four players, mostly keeps this under control. Then there are mixed levels of racquet skills and athletic ability. Just as I might get beaten up by the young pros or the better players, I get to take it out on lollipop servers. Kill or be killed. In a perverse kind of way, that can be exciting. My view: platform tennis mellows certain people, loosens up the overly serious, softens the guy who gets calls wrong, and connects people who would not otherwise know one another. It gives the aging athlete (you know I’m not the only one) a second boyhood, a healthy addiction. Men and women, young and old, klutz and athlete, more so than in tennis, are relatively equal. And when it’s a mismatch (there were more than a few of those in this summer’sPaddlePlayer.com’s League), keeping a sense of humor while losing, just as being a gracious winner (as you pound the overmatched opponent), can be a positive learning experience. While I am pointing out the social side of this game, I totally appreciate my new friends who know platform tennis, offering helpful tips when we play. Even my opponents! Do they think I’m too old to turn the tables? We’ll see! But seriously, I particularly like the sharing that goes on in platform tennis.
Why do I play? Because of the people and camaraderie. The guys and gals I have met playing paddle are a great bunch: fun, funny, welcoming, and, like me, sometimes a bit wild. Cannot wait to get back out on court!