SAN DIEGO — The official name of this facility is the Barnes Tennis Center, but as soon as you walk through the front door, it’s clear that they’re looking to expand their brand.
“What are you playing today?” the front desk receptionist asked the father and his adult daughter, who were dressed in what would pass as traditional tennis attire.
“Pickleball,” my daughter replied.
“Have you tried padel yet?” asked the receptionist.
“No, but it’s on the list,” she said. “I hear it’s addictive.”
While such conversations and choices have been the norm in other parts of the world for several years, they remain rare in the United States. But they will soon become even more common. With a menu of racquet sports, Barnes Center aims to make private clubs and public venues more accessible to more people, seeking to ease mounting tensions and financially insulate against changing tastes. so it looks like a template of the future. Between the old epic game of tennis and the burgeoning newcomers like pickleball.
“I have good friends who call this the Disneyland of racquet sports,” said Ryan Redondo, Barnes Center chief executive and general manager.
The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted the demand for outdoor activities and revitalized some racquet sports. But this unexpected surge appears to have some staying power, giving hope to some in the industry.
“People are scared, but overall, this is good for the industry and will boost all racquet sports,” said Joe Dudy, president and CEO of Wilson Sporting Goods. Stated. “I’m not saying people shouldn’t worry, but I don’t think they should. There are more tennis players now than there used to be.”
After years of stagnation, U.S. tennis participation is indeed on the rise, reaching 23.6 million players aged 6 and older by 2022, according to a report from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Once a local staple with a quirky name, pickleball continues to expand its reach into schools, making it a boom not only among gray-haired people. According to the group, there will be 8.9 million players in 2022, up from 4.8 million in 2021, and other research shows significantly higher numbers.
New to the scene is padel, a fast-paced hybrid of tennis and squash played on glass courts, which already has an estimated 20 million players worldwide, according to figures provided by Wilson.
Developed in Mexico in the late 1960s and early 70s, padel has much in common with platform tennis, which was invented in Scarsdale, New York in 1928. Both use perforated paddles and are usually doubles games, while platform tennis is primarily cold tennis. A weather game played on a rough elevated surface that can be heated from below to melt snow and ice.
Padel first became popular in Spain and Argentina and is now rapidly growing in other parts of Europe, including traditional tennis homes such as France, Italy and the United Kingdom.
There are only about 200 padel courts in the United States, most of them in private homes, but the sport is starting to attract significant investment and the pace of court construction is accelerating, with facilities opening in the Florida, California and New York areas. is accelerating. Redondo estimates there could be up to 40,000 courts in the country in 10 years.
“This is the world of racquets,” said Dan Santorum, CEO of the Professional Tennis Registry, which certifies teaching professionals. They are increasingly seeking certification in multiple racquet sports. “Many search firms look for three things when looking for a club’s teaching pro. He’s no longer just a tennis coach. He’s a racquet director.
“I think what’s going to happen is there’s going to be a triple threat of tennis, pickleball and platform tennis in the north, and tennis, pickleball and padel in the south, but we’re going to see some indoor padel as well.” . “
Several major projects are underway. The larger than Swing Racquet + Paddle project in Raleigh, North Carolina, will build 28 tennis courts, 25 pickleball courts, 16 padel courts and 3 beach tennis courts on 45 acres of land. 100 year lease from the city. Swing signed Wilson with Sweden’s Good to Great Tennis Academy. The academy will provide instruction on the swing campus, including former ATP No. 2 Magnus Norman, who coached heavyweights Robin Soderling and Stan Wawrinka.
Swing founder and CEO Rob Autry said groundbreaking on the campus is complete and the general public is expected to attract one million annual visitors next year for tournaments and other events, including concerts. It said it was scheduled to go public.
“The idea is to bring all these racquet sports and paddle sports together under one roof, to truly democratize all these sports, respect their differences and their own cultures, and give them their own little neighborhood. That’s it,” Autry said in a phone interview.
If that goes well, plans are to open smaller multi-sport swing facilities elsewhere, primarily in the Sun Belt.
Meanwhile, Burns Center operates on 16 acres in San Diego. The facility, a public facility, is still a tennis-focused facility with 25 courts and a junior base. Last year, it hosted the ATP 250 tournament and WTA 500 event, bringing together top-level fields.
However, the center has added four new lighted pickleball courts and seven new padel courts on the edge of grounds not suitable for tennis courts.
That’s the best-case scenario right now as tensions continue to rise between tennis and pickleball players over the use of available space. A similar turf war is raging between tennis and padel in urban areas in Spain. Pickleball and tennis can coexist on the same court in blended lines, but that often leaves both communities frustrated. But for tennis, the alternative is often losing ground, especially when the club can accommodate his four pickleball courts on his one tennis court and generate more revenue. I mean
The United States Tennis Association, under former Executive Director Gordon Smith, was not interested in an agreement.
“When Gordon was around, pickleball was the devil,” outgoing USA Pickleball CEO Stu Upson said in a 2021 interview.
Smith said there was only one problem with pickleball. “He will lose his property,” he said. “If someone wants to build a pickleball court, that’s great, but someone wants to turn it into a tennis court. Then it’s a different story.”
Since Smith’s 12-year term ended in late 2019, the USTA has softened its approach, building bridges with USA pickleball and more symbolically opening pickleball courts on its sprawling national campus in Orlando, Florida. 8 courts and 4 padel courts were built.
“I think the pressure to allow tennis facilities to diversify their offerings to generate more revenue is very real,” said Craig Morris, USTA Chief Community Tennis Officer. rice field.
Morris, like Autry, is convinced that this is not a zero-sum game. So one racquet sport can lead to another, as long as there is enough court space available for all options. But Morris said the USTA is working with Michigan State University on a skill acquisition study to see if short-swing pickleball and padel are effective pathways to tennis.
A former All-American tennis player at San Diego State University who now plays more padel than tennis, Redondo is eyeing crossovers and joining padel as co-owner of the new Pro Padel League franchise, the San Diego Stingrays. are also investing. I will start playing this month.
“Our padel players are often on the tennis court just before or after they play padel, so there’s a really good combination and synergy there,” he said. “My belief is that pickleball and padel will start doing that as well, and then we will start a cycle of these racquet sports that can thrive together without taking over the tennis courts.”
To test that vision, Redondo and I played all three sports in 90 minutes last month. It starts with padel, continues with pickleball, and ends with tennis. This is by far the best for singles.
The sound is unique. From the high notes of a lightweight paddle meeting a plastic whiffle ball in a pickleball to the percussive pops of a dense paddle meeting a decompressed tennis ball in a padel, there are more familiar ones. Throbbing A string that moves the ball in tennis.
Like the length of the court, the length of the swing also varies. The tennis swing is more rotational, engaging your legs and then chasing your shoulders while rotating your hips. Padels are usually more acrobatic, they have to rotate 360 degrees and adapt to different rotations from the glass. Pickleball feels more static with a compact swing, but the sudden change of pace can make it even more manic at times, requiring both a deft, thoughtful touch and quick reactions near the net. increase.
“But the contact points, the pure sweet spot, felt pretty much the same across all three sports,” Redondo said.
Tennis, the oldest of the three, has one key element that no other tennis allows. It’s an overhead serve. I finished the 90 minute tour with Ace. This was more due to Redondo being a good host than to my power and accuracy, but I found it equally reassuring in the changing world of racquet sports.