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Racket sports: Platform tennis is worth a try

About a week and a half ago, I had the pleasure of watching a doubles platform tennis match at the Saturn Club between Paul Herlan and Eric Dusel against Chris Ross and Peter Braun. I was greatly impressed with the dexterity and variety of shots that all four players possessed and the workout they achieved.

The following questions and answers should be helpful in helping you learn the nuances of the platform tennis game:

1. What are some of the pertinent facts about platform tennis?

The platform tennis court is about one third the size of a tennis court. Scoring is the same as in tennis with one noticeable difference. Each player gets only one serve instead of two as in tennis. The object of the game is to keep the ball away from the other team and to the opponent’s backhands. A great amount of sidespin is used and the players try to get to the net as quickly as possible. Players try to hit soft shots into the screening that surrounds the court. If hit correctly, the ball will die in the corners. Unlike tennis the game is not a game of trying to hit outright winners. Opposing teams wait for the other team to make mistakes. The most common offensive shot is hit when returning a serve. Although it isn’t easy, a well-placed return of serve can often result in an outright winner. Platform tennis is played almost entirely outdoors during the winter. Screens are put up to keep the balls from being lost during play. Any type of warm clothing and sneakers may be used to play the game.

2. What equipment is needed and what are the costs of playing the game?

Equipment consists of high-end composite graphite racquets that cost between $90-190. The ball is made of rubber and costs $15 for a three-pack. Usually one ball is used for an entire match.

3. Why is the sport played outside?

What makes the game of platform tennis so unique is the fact that the game can be played day or night outside (where there is lighting). The game has always been a winter sport. Why? The ball is too lively and bounces too high when the temperature is 40-45 degrees outside. However, a new ball has recently come onto the market which allows players to play in warmer temperatures.

4. How are leagues formed and who gives clinics, lessons and exhibitions?

There is a Buffalo platform tennis league that is run and organized by Ross, an outstanding player in his own right. There are four divisions with 60 players involved. The players play three different sessions from October until the middle of April. The clubs where the sport is played are the Saturn Club, Country Club of Buffalo and the Aurora Platform Tennis Club. Once a year, an instructor travels from Rochester to present a daylong clinic. This is followed by an exhibition among match top local players. Lessons and clinics are also available at the individual clubs.

Herlan is an active platform tennis player at the Saturn Club. In an effort to keep the sport popular and continue growing, he teaches two clinics a month for new players. Herlan, who is also an excellent tennis player, feels that his tennis background has a been a big help in learning the nuances of platform tennis and in helping him greatly with his instruction to the Saturn Club’s members.

6. Why is the sport booming in Rochester and not in Buffalo?

The sport has grown in Rochester by leaps and bounds due to the fact that all of the country clubs have courts. In addition, most of the fitness and tennis clubs a have courts.

Fritz Odenbach is a platform tennis champion who has been the main mover behind the success of the sport in Rochester. He has promoted the game’s growth for decades in Rochester and was inducted into the Platform Tennis Hall of Fame in 2008. Due to his outstanding prowess, he was once ranked fifth nationally.

Platform tennis has had limited growth in Buffalo because there are only a few number of platform tennis courts. According to Herlan, if local tennis clubs also had platform tennis courts, the sport would really take off locally. Tennis players would love the sport because their racket skills would enable them to pick up the game quickly. In addition, there has been noticeable growth of the game in Buffalo, despite a lack of courts.

7. What kind of workout does the sport entail?

How many people do you see playing tennis outdoors during a Buffalo winter. Hardly anyone, unless we have one of those freak 60-degree days. That is the beauty of platform tennis. You get to play an outdoor sport in the middle of the winter, regardless of the temperature, and get a great workout. New players pick the game up rather quickly and they notice that the social aspect and sportsmanship of the game leads to many new friendships. Like any racket sports, as your skill level improves you will realize that you are getting a phenomenal workout because the rallies and points last so long.

If you do get the opportunity to play platform tennis follow the old adage: "Try it. You’ll like it!"

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