If you enjoy either tennis or racquetball, you’ll probably like paddle tennis, also known as platform tennis. Paddle tennis is -- not surprisingly -- played with paddles instead of rackets, and standard tennis balls that are punctured with a needle to depressurize them. The court is about one-fourth the size of a standard tennis court, and it’s surrounded by a 12-foot fence. The rules are basically the same as standard tennis, except you can play the ball off the fence, just as you can play the ball off the wall in racquetball. If you’d like to give paddle tennis a whirl, try a few drills to spruce up your forehand and backhand play first.
Because the paddle tennis court is so small, you’ll spend plenty of time hitting volleys close to the net. Work on your backhand volley by standing with your back to the court’s fence and having a practice partner toss balls to you. Keep your paddle in front of your upper chest and try to volley the ball back to your partner. Practice volleying on the court by volleying the ball back and forth over the net with your partner. Volley the ball as close to your partner as you can and see how long you can sustain the rally without allowing the ball to hit the court. You can agree to volley from forehand to forehand, or from your backhand to your partner’s forehand, or any combination you wish. Or each player can do her own thing.
As in standard tennis, hitting the ball with topspin can give you an advantage in paddle tennis. All else being equal, a shot hit with topspin will dip down toward the court quicker that a shot hit without spin. This gives you a better chance to smash the ball hard without hitting it past the baseline or sideline, thereby losing the point. To better understand the upward swing that creates topspin, use your paddle to pin a ball against the side of the tape at the top of the net. In one motion, sweep your paddle forward and up to send the ball over the net. Repeat the drill several times until you’re comfortable with the upward motion that creates topspin. Do the drill on both your forehand and backhand sides.
If you have a court to yourself, do a corner drill to work on both your forehand and backhand shots. Stand facing a corner and hit a forehand off the right side of the fence. Angle your shot so it bounces onto the left side of the fence. You can then play a backhand shot. Try to hit your backhand so it rebounds from the left side of the fence to the right. Continue your solo rally as long as possible. You can either play the ball in the air as it rebounds off the fence, or let it bounce once on the court before you swing.
If you play tennis, but not racquetball, you’re not used to playing the ball off of a wall or fence. To begin learning how to use the fence to your advantage, have a partner join you on the court, then stand on a sideline facing the court’s fence. One of you should stand closer to the baseline while the other positions herself near the net. Hit the ball off the fence at an angle so it bounces to your partner. She can play it in the air, or off of a bounce, and hit it off the fence back to you. Keep the rally going for as long as you can.
M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.