A couple months ago, a friend of mine had told me about playing platform tennis at 1 a.m. on a Saturday morning in the middle of a Minnesota winter.
How or why could this be? Either he was crazy for doing such a thing, or I was crazy for believing him.
Besides, what the heck is platform tennis?
Turns out, I’m the crazy one.
I know this now after having played platform tennis for a total of one hour this past Saturday.
It wasn’t 10 below, but so what?
Another friend, Dean Rudrud, Racquet Sports Director at the Lafayette Club, showed me the ropes.
To be perfectly honest, he put me through a series of platform tennis drills. I hit cross-court forehands, I hit backhands, I served and I hit lobs, lots and lots of lobs.
Lastly, he had me returning one-wire, two-wire and back-wire shots.
All the while, he explained strategy.
Platform tennis was said to be invented in Scarsdale, New York, in 1928 by James Cogswell and Fessenden Blanchard.
While it wasn’t the birthplace of the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” it easily could have been.
Cogswell and Blanchard’s game, after all, was played on a court built on the side of hill. A platform was used to make the court level. Fencing was added to keep the ball from rolling down the hill.
Today’s game is played on a platform about one third the size of a tennis court. The court’s surface resembles a deck coated with a gritty paint. The court itself is surrounded by 12-foot high fencing that looks like chicken wire, tight chicken wire.
Picture a tiny tennis court inside a large racquetball court. Now replace the racquetball court’s solid walls with chicken wire.
The racket is a ping-pong looking paddle with holes running through it. Platform tennis uses a solid sponge rubber ball.
The game is scored like tennis, but played nothing like it.
As Rudrud was explaining all of this, he was telling me where to place my right shoulder when returning shots hit off the wire (fence).
My head was spinning.
The key, he said, was to anticipate how the ball comes off the wire.
“Don’t chase,” he adds. “If you do, you’ll be out of position.”
He also preached patience.
“Ninety-five percent of points are lost,” he said. “That means winners are hit only 5 percent of the time.”
A good point could feature 8-10 exchanges. A better point would feature 12-14.
Rudrud then had me grab my phone. “Search ‘an above average platform tennis point,’” he said. “It’s said to be the best point ever played. It features 54 shots. Crazy.”
It’s been said the best time to play platform tennis is in the middle of the winter.
Part of this is because of necessity.
“The balls don’t play the same when it gets too warm,” said Rudrud. “They get fast and they skip.”
That makes playing in the winter really cool.
“Nothing better than playing on steamy court surrounded by snow,” said Rudrud.
Note: The majority of platform tennis courts built in northern states include sub-floor heating systems.
In addition to comfort, the heat helps keep courts clear by melting snow and ice.
Question: Where do you find these platform tennis courts?
Rudrud teaches platform tennis at the Lafayette Club. He said they also play at Bearpath, Wayzata County Club and Minikahda.
The only public court he was aware of is located in Deephaven. Turns out, it’s right next to city hall. According to the city website, the city loans paddles and sells balls ($5 each).
While I have one hour of platform tennis under my belt, I can’t wait to get back.
Rudrud is helping.
“You’re further along than the players I teach,” he said.
When asked to explain, he said I don’t chase.
I left it at that.