Originally Published: June 26, 2017 10 p.m.
Two Sundays ago I had the distinct pleasure of getting to try my hand at the game of pickleball with 3 of the best players in the Prescott area at the home of Jim and Lynn Thomas. Jim and I go way back to our days managing the Prescott Racquet Club in the mid 80's and we've been very good friends ever since.
Jim built a new home recently at the Crossings and also a pickleball court in his back yard that is "the place to play."
He invited me over to see what the differences would be for someone who lives and dies with loving the game of tennis, verse the game of pickleball and also invited J.T. Schultze and Randy Goodman to round out a great game of doubles.
Jim lent me a racquet to use and we hit around for a while, just to get a feel for the difference in a much shorter racquet made of graphite, weighing around 8 ounces, about 24 inches long and 17 inches wide. The ball is made of plastic and weighs less than an ounce, with anywhere from 26 to 40 holes in it - yet designed to straight flight characteristics.
The low to high strokes were fairly normal to tennis, with the net 34 inches high in the middle, but the ball certainly traveled much slower over-all.
There are some rules that a refined tennis player struggle with.
You get one serve and it is underhand, the ball must be struck lower than your bellybutton.
• After you serve the ball cross-court and it lands in, you have to stay back and let their return bounce. (That's really hard to get used to as a tennis player.)
• Yet by the time the third shot is hit you'd better be high-tailing it to the net to hit a soft touch shot inside an area or near what they call the "kitchen" area. A 7 foot line back from the net that you can reach in to, but can't step into or you lose the point....that is unless it bounces.
• Because the ball weighs less than an ounce, the wind really can take a toll on how the ball travels, unlike a tennis ball that weights about 2 1/4 ounces.
• A defensive lob in tennis takes a player much further back into the court, but in pickleball a lobbed shot against a good player leaves you in a lot of trouble.
• If you take the third shot in doubles and you try to drive it (against good players) instead of a dink or touch shot - you may be wearing a fast volley tattoo for a couple days, and at the least many points lost. You learn fast, or you lose.
• You can try to hit a bit of spin, top or back spin, on the ball, but because the ball and paddle are relatively smooth the effects are not the same as in tennis where it can have dramatic changes to how the ball travels.
I really liked the quick volley exchanges, but had trouble not stepping into the "no volley" (kitchen) zone, many times feeling like a mental midget because right after I'd do it, just like not letting the return bounce once, I'd realize what I'd done. How do you change 50 years of tennis training on your first try? A bit frustrating when then all three players would harmonize in unison with the mistake I'd made....ugh!
A match is 2 out of 3 games to 11 points, win by 2 points...so it can be played in a short period of time.
You get two minutes between games and then it's over. You do have to bend lower for shots hit off the ground due to the fact the ball doesn't bounce very high - and once you're at the net, better keep your paddle out in front and be ready to block or drive depending on the speed of the ball coming your way.
It was a lot of fun - my personal problem is when you're playing one sport (tennis) in a very competitive manner the rules and strategy of pickleball conflict in a major way with one-another.
Can you learn to turn the switch off in your head and go from one to the other quickly - I used to be able to do it with racquetball, but I'm not so sure with these two games because the strokes are so similar, but the strategy is not.
Guess you'll have to try them both out and give me your opinion. But I did really enjoy myself.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or firstname.lastname@example.org.