Big Pickleball is coming for your tennis court

Rosie Gray, writing in The Spectator World:

One morning this past summer I played tennis with two friends at the John J. Carty tennis courts in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. About halfway through our session, dozens of senior citizens flooded onto what looked like four child-sized tennis courts next to ours. Wielding rectangular paddles, the seniors formed doubles teams and thwacked plastic wiffleballs back and forth across the nets, producing a bracingly loud pop-pop-pop sound. They were playing pickleball, a sport with origins as a 1960s backyard pastime that has become a craze in the United States over the past few years. Given the small courts and slow ball, the players didn’t have to move very far in any direction to keep a good rally going. They looked like they were having a lot of fun. Sure, the sound was close to unbearable, and of course I’d heard about pickleball and its controversies — even then it was impossible to ignore it. But I appreciated the sight of older folks getting outside and being active.

Today, I’m stunned at my naiveté.

As someone who enjoys playing tennis, I understand the frustration many have with the rising popularity of pickleball. But at least in my town, I think it has been a net good for tennis.

While my county’s parks department did build a new complex with ten public tennis courts a few years ago, the set of four in the park downtown have long been neglected because so few people were utilizing them. Because so many people have started playing pickleball, those downtown courts all recently got resurfaced and new lighting systems. Sure, now there are only two courts there dedicated to tennis, but they’re almost always available to play on while the pickleball half is packed.

That newer complex has also seen two of the courts converted for pickleball, but that still leaves eight for tennis and you rarely ever see more than half of those being used. Obviously, tennis is more popular in other places than it is in my small southern town so I can understand the frustration if you have trouble finding a court to play tennis on, but it’s not a universal problem. We have to accept that tennis is a sport declining in popularity and public resources are going to be distributed accordingly.

But yes, it is highly annoying that the Tennis Channel is now often broadcasting pickleball matches instead of tennis. One can understand the appeal of playing pickleball, but watching it is an entirely different matter.