Socially Distanced and Outdoors, Pickleball and Tennis are Winning the Numbers Game
13 Sep, 2020By: Michael Popke
With only one bad headline at the moment (that being Novak Djokovic’s disqualification from the 2020 U.S. Open for hitting a line judge with a ball – and, let’s face it, that doesn’t actually count against the sport), tennis is on the upswing.
The United States Tennis Association is calling fall “the perfect opportunity” to play, stating that the sport “lets you keep your social distance without being socially distant and hailing tennis as “the ultimate return game.”
The association lists several opportunities available, including USTA League Tennis, Junior Team Tennis, adult and junior tournaments, Cardio Tennis and tennis lessons.
In some places, including North Carolina and Washington, D.C., tennis was already booming during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, even as most other sports activities had already shut down. Now, tennis is emerging as one of the first sports to return.
“Tennis has a lot of natural social distancing,” Mike Smookler, manager and director of the West Orange Tennis Club — New Jersey’s largest tennis facility — recently told TAPinto.net. “Even playing doubles, you can stay six feet away from your partner.” He added that people who haven’t played the sport for years are finding their way back to the courts and that the facility is “COVID-proof” with hand sanitizer stations, mandated face coverings when not playing and temperature checks upon entering the facility.
That said, some organizations are taking extra precautions. The Illinois High School Association, for example, recommends high school players use “a new can of balls for a match, different brands or same brand/different numbers and only serve with your tennis balls” and encourages them “to use their racquet/foot to push balls back and/or hit them to their opponent to avoid using hands and touching balls.” Some teams have taken to marking balls with players’ initials to differentiate them from each other.
Organizers of another Grand Slam event have now announced that when their event starts, fans will be allowed in the stands. The French Opens, which begins Sept. 27 in Paris after being postponed from its original date in May, will cap daily attendance.
“Since the international circuit restarted, Roland Garros will be the first tournament with the privilege of hosting an audience,” French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli said when making the announcement.
According to the Associated Press, the Roland Garros venue “will be divided into three zones based on the three main courts, with 5,000 people each for the Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen courts. The zone surrounding the third biggest court will host a maximum of 1,500 spectators a day."
One other change is that "wearing a mask on site will be mandatory, while all accredited people at the tournament will have to pass virus tests to be admitted in the Roland Garros bubble.”
Tournament organizers also announced that — as “a gesture of solidarity toward the players who have been the hardest-hit financially by the crisis,” according to the AP — prize money for first-round losers will be 30% more than last year.
Pickleball, a descendant of tennis, also is thriving as what USA Pickleball calls “one of the fastest-growing sports in America.”As early as May, The New York Timesreported that, “thanks to the pandemic, there may soon be many new ‘picklers,’ as obsessives proudly call themselves. In driveways and rooftops across the country, players are setting up makeshift courts, using temporary paint or chalk to draw lines and making nets out of whatever items are available, and getting everyone in their households to join in on the fun.”
In June, city officials in Lenexa, Kan., recognizing the sport’s popularity, opened eight outdoor pickleball courts and three tennis courts lined for pickleball.
“I think most people are more comfortable being outside, it’s safer,” Lindsay Hart, director of Lenexa Parks and Recreation, told Kansas City’s NBC affiliate KSHB. “ And you’re playing with doubles, so you’re really only next to one other person, and you’re pretty spread out.”
On Cape Cod in Massachusetts, pickleball has become one of the most popular sports and a way for older adults to stay active and socialize. In fact, the demand for pickleball is so great that municipalities without dedicated courts are planning to build some, according to WickedLocalCapeCod.com.
USA Pickleball announced in June that it would move forward with sanctioned tournament play on a “limited, case-by-case basis” beginning with the Virginia Classic Pickleball Tournament in Glen Allen that month. The organization also recently revised its COVID-19 return to play guidelines.