Recreational Game: ‘Master’-ing the Game
USTA Florida’s Masters Tennis, with orange balls on 60-foot courts, is bringing adults back to the sport.
Historically not an easy game to learn, tennis can also be a physically demanding game to play. But times are changing.
Tennis is now easy (and more fun!) for kids to learn with the age-appropriate equipment and court sizes used with the introduction of 10 and Under Tennis. At the same time, older adults, and players who have been kept off the courts due to injuries, now have a less-demanding version of the game, Masters Tennis, which was first launched for the large population of senior players in Florida.
The popularity of short-court racquet sports has skyrocketed in Florida, with parks and recreation facilities filled with the sounds of both "click"-ing pickleball paddles and the familiar "thwop" of orange tennis balls on Masters Tennis courts.
“We are training Masters Tennis Ambassadors across the state and educating facilities and providers,” says USTA Florida Masters Tennis Coordinator Christine Murphy. “Masters Tennis was presented at the annual Tennis Development Workshop in San Diego last November, and at the 2016 AARP Conference in Miami.”
The Masters Tennis format is played on a 60-foot court (lined inside a regulation 78-foot court), either a hard or clay court. The slightly slower and lower-bouncing orange balls used are easier to get to and are easier on arms and joints.
“Masters Tennis turned out to be the ultimate answer to getting players on the court,” says West Charlotte, Fla., organizer Art “Dick” Richards. “All those beginning players who try to play regular tennis but cannot because of lack of skills, physical movement — not necessarily age related — and ball control can immediately play Masters Tennis.”
“Using the modified equipment that the USTA Youth Tennis format offers, Masters Tennis can be played indoors at community centers and service facilities like YMCAs in their gymnasiums,” Murphy says. “It is even perfect as an indoor recreational or fitness activity, and is perfect for active adult recreational programs.”
Florida’s St. Pete Beach Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer McMahon says Masters Tennis is easy to promote, with plenty of former players who can no longer play full-court tennis due to the rigor and movement demands. “I cross-promote it with my pickleball players and seniors new to the game," she says. "I love seeing a player who hasn’t played tennis in 10 or 20 or more years come back to the sport they loved and play successfully. Or the husband and wife playing together that would have never done so without Masters Tennis. The active player is not interested in playing Masters Tennis because they still play traditionally.”
Modifying traditional tennis formats is nothing new, from the longstanding World TeamTennis league to newer formats like Fast4 popularized in Australia.
“The idea is to create a fun, social way to play that will appeal to the majority of the adult population, who may not be currently playing tennis,” Murphy says. “There are so many people out there who stopped playing tennis because they experienced frustration with the difficulty of the game, or they do not have the physical endurance needed to play full court,” she says. “We need to provide a friendly option to get them back in the game and keep them.”
Doug Booth, executive director of the USTA Florida Section, agrees there is an urgent need for Masters Tennis before senior players who can no longer play full-court tennis are lost to other sports.
“This is a demographic we can’t afford to lose, and the Masters Tennis format keeps them in the game and on the court, or gets them back on the court,” Booth says. “Our USTA national organization has been watching the program’s progress, and we’re looking forward to this format soon being offered in every state.” To learn more about Masters Tennis, visit ustaflorida.com/adulttennis/masters-tennis.
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