Times are changing, but will tennis change with them?
National tennis associations around the world are experiencing a decline in the number of adults participating in competitive tournaments. Many competitive adult players will no longer give up entire weekends to play tournaments, especially older players whose injuries are increasingly common in modern gaming.
Outside of the ultra-competitive ensemble, âsocial tennisâ has become a buzzword, with the emergence of leagues or alternative formats that focus on fun and socializing rather than competition. Round robin without keeping track of winners and losers is usually followed by some adult drinks and socializing (e.g. face-to-face communication, people looking up from their mobile devices, would- what temporarily).
Pickleball has also been a red flag for tennis in the elderly. It provided an easy to learn racquet / (paddle) game that requires less movement on a smaller court (which tennis is tackling now, see below).
USTA’s Australian counterpart Tennis Australia promotes its Fast4 format, showcases tennis in condensed sets and scores, and signs Roger Federer and other big names to play Fast4 public exhibition matches last month at the ATP events in Sydney and Adelaide, and at the Australian Open.
Whether aimed at competitive, older or strictly social adult players, how can tennis associations not only maintain their current numbers or their adult players, but also attract new ones?
USTA Florida will pilot, or continue to offer, four alternative adult formats and one social tennis format in 2015 that all have three things in common: less time, lower fees and more fun:
Two years ago, USTA Florida approved the tie-break tournament format, which is gaining ground as a fun tournament alternative that doesn’t take an entire weekend to play – a tournament takes around 4-5 hours. This year will include a number of events across Florida, with expanded opportunities in 2015 that will include a tournament at the Florida USPTA convention in May in Naples, Florida.
Tournament directors have the choice of playing the standard tie-break (first player to seven, win by two) or a 10-point tie-break (first player to 10, win by two). Matches, including a short warm-up, typically only last 30-35 minutes. Registration fees are a maximum of $ 20, with events by age category (35, 45, 55, etc.) or NTRP events (2.5, 3.5, 4, 5, etc.) offered. USTA Florida is also working on a tie-break tournament ranking system to âjoinâ (figure it out?) The new format of events together.
Fast4 is promoted by Tennis Australia and featured in exhibition matches last month at professional touring events featuring Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Lleyton Hewitt and John McEnroe. The four key rules of Fast4 are: 1) Play âletâ the falling serves; 2) It is tennis without advertising, because once a game reaches two, a âPower Pointâ decides the game; 3) At 3 games all in a set, a short tiebreaker is played (first at 5 points), and a Power Point determines the winner if the tiebreaker reaches 4 points all, and; 4) Four is the magic number, because 4 games win a set.
According to Tennis Australia, Fast 4 is for âthose who don’t have time to play tennis. It’s a quick and fun format to attract new and current players who want tennis to fit into their busy lifestyle. FAST4 does not replace traditional tennis, it is designed to complement it. USTA Florida plans to run Fast4 events statewide in 2015. Learn more about Fast4.
With “Tennis Pickleball”, tennis for adults has never been so fun. Smaller courts and less bouncy balls are the new standard to bring little kids to tennis, and now adults can enjoy tennis on 60ft courts (compared to the classic 78ft court) and âorangeâ balls that are easier to control with Masters Tennis. Perfect for putting players who have been chased by injury or age back into the game, Masters Tennis is gentler on the joints and knees of players struggling to cover a full court. Advanced and intermediate players continue to train (the 60 foot single format is is currently part of an award league in Europe), and beginner players can start with even slower âredâ or foam balls.
âFlorida clubs and players with our older population have been asking us for a program like this for years,â said USTA Florida Executive Director Doug Booth. âAnyone can play with slower balls and smaller courts. Players who have quit the game due to age or injury can play in this format again, truly making tennis the “sport of a lifetime”. Learn more about Master Tennis.
Once you play “the third tennis match” you are hooked. Single crosscourt only (doubles fairways are in play), a must-have serve and volley game has started for top players, but new rules have been introduced which allow NTRP 3.5-4.5 players to compete on the same field with 5.0 and more players in events. Individual doubles help adults and juniors develop volley and approach skills to the net, while the quick scoring format allows for tournaments to be played in half a day. One-on-One Doubles events in Florida also include rock music, food and drink, and a post-event party.
“I got addicted to head-to-head doubles after trying it once,” said Mikael Pernfors, Roland Garros singles finalist in 1986 and former NCAA Division I singles champion. âI think it’s a great game for any player trying to become a better doubles player. I also think it’s a wonderful way for juniors to develop a solid serve-volley to add to their game. basic. Learn more about one-on-one doubles.
USTA Florida volunteer Mark Taylor, who is on the Adult Committee Working Group, has championed a number of alternative adult formats.
âThe tie-breaking tournaments have been well received – we hosted several around the state in 2014, and we currently have seven scheduled for 2015,â Taylor said. âIt’s an alternative avenue for players who are short on time. You will still have your players wanting to play very competitive full tournaments, but tiebreaker tournaments are very competitive played in just half a day. The registration fee is $ 20, so we don’t kill the players with the high cost. I spoke to a lot of players and tournament directors who were okay with it, so we said give it a try. This and events like Individual Doubles offer players the same competition in half a day.
To run an alternative adult event at your club or facility in 2015, email Jason Gilbert at [email protected].
In the comments section below, please give us your thoughts on Alternative Adult Pilot Events – are they the future of recreational and competitive adult tennis? What will the future landscape of recreational and competitive tennis look like?