(September 19, 2012) -- What do you get when you mix in some sand, a net, a depressurized ball, and a paddle? Perhaps not surprisingly, the answer is a sport called Beach Tennis -- and it could be the wave of the future.
Also known as All-Volley Tennis, the game is gaining steam in the United States thanks in part to the efforts of former real estate developer Marc Altheim. When he stumbled across the sport seven years ago while vacationing in Aruba, Altheim left convinced that Americans needed to give it a try. The self-described “total racquet guy” set out on a one-man mission to bring Beach Tennis to the masses.
Best described as a cross between tennis and beach volleyball, Beach Tennis is played on a 26 ¼ by 52 ½ foot court (approximately the same width as a tennis singles court, but about 26 feet shorter in total) with a 5’7” net if played on sand. Competitors can play singles, doubles, three on three, or even four on four. Scoring is 15-30-40 with no advantage at deuce and no second serve.
The most attractive aspect of the game is perhaps its versatility: It can also be played on grass, snow, and even concrete! Of course, many die-hard fans and players prefer the original version.
“I like to become a chicken cutlet when I play,” said an enthusiastic Altheim. “You’re all battered up with sweat and then you dive in the sand and it sticks to you.”
Altheim founded what is now the governing body of Beach Tennis – Beach Tennis USA. He put together a board of advisors that includes, among others, the Director of Tennis at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Whitney Kraft.
With nearly 30 years of tennis experience under his belt, Kraft’s Beach Tennis involvement speaks to its appeal and potential as an avenue for developing young athletes. In fact, the Beach Tennis USA website boasts that “beginners can get a rally going within minutes.”
|WTA pros Daniela Hantuchova and Peng Shuai give Beach Tennis a try.
“As a coach I see tremendous opportunity to train youth with long term athletic development in mind,” Kraft said. “The tough-to-capture teen market has shown a fondness for Beach Tennis. I’ve seen teens totally immerse themselves for hours with round robin play. Designating a music DJ, using misting fans, and ‘South Beach style’ cabana build-outs all add to the coolness of the sport.”
In response to the growing popularity of Beach Tennis, the International Tennis Federation signed on to oversee the game worldwide. The involvement of the ITF has helped unify the sport, sanctioning tournaments and laying out an international pro circuit calendar.
While it’s still difficult for professionals to make a living on the Beach Tennis tour (prize money pools max out at about $25,000 for the largest tournaments), the game is thriving internationally. A quick glance at the ITF Beach Tennis rankings and it’s easy to see where the Beach Tennis powerhouses are located. The Italians are credited with the creation of the game over 30 years ago, so it’s no surprise they currently dominate the men’s and women’s top 10. Brazilians, too, are known for their stellar play on the professional circuit.
While most American professional Beach Tennis players made the transition to the game after playing or teaching “regular” tennis for years, many international players have never picked up a tennis racquet. In fact, Beach Tennis lessons are nearly as common in Italy as tennis lessons are in the States.
Altheim claims the appeal is in the simplicity.
“Everyone has played a version of this,” he said. “You know, in your basement over your couch with a tennis racket and Nerf ball.”
With that philosophy in mind, Beach Tennis USA has focused on making the game more accessible. Finding inspiration in the USTA’s QuickStart nets, Altheim put together mini Beach Tennis systems players can buy and erect wherever they please.
“We also created a physical education unit plan and curriculum for P.E.,” he explained. “This gives a great vehicle for any kid to realize that they, too, can play a sport. As a result of our efforts, some Long Island schools are introducing it to their P.E. programs this fall.”
Though the USTA has yet to become involved in the promotion of Beach Tennis, the grassroots effort to grow the sport has resulted in its inclusion in the 2015 Pan Am Games. Altheim hopes such exposure will help catapult Beach Tennis from “niche sport” to racquet-sport revolution.
“I believe that within five years, Beach Tennis will be something you won’t have to explain,” Altheim said, describing his long term vision. “I think it will be part of the culture.”
As tennis players and coaches realize the cross-sport promotional opportunities available with Beach Tennis, continued growth seems inevitable. Earlier this year, one of the oldest and most prestigious tennis clubs in the country, Merion Cricket Club in Haverford, Penn., set up several All-Volley Tennis nets on its pristine grass courts. The members, decked out in all-white tennis duds, loved the experience.
“When you have a game played with racquets, transition tennis balls, a net, and the name tennis embedded in the messaging, you can’t miss,” confirms coach Kraft. “Couple that with exposure in non-traditional tennis locales (i.e. beaches, lakefronts, schoolyards, etc.)…and you’ve got to believe folks are going to want to play tennis as well!”
With over 150,000 Beach Tennis players worldwide, Altheim sees the game gaining momentum much like snowboarding did in the 1980’s and 90’s. And while worldwide Beach/All-Volley Tennis participation is his end goal, Altheim’s immediate focus is much more elementary.
“I sacrificed a lot to grow a sport that I love. I just like to make people smile.”
|(Photo Credit: Beach Tennis USA)