Racquet sports courted new players amid pandemic: New tennis store, platform tennis center open in Greater Cleveland as sport soars
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Love may mean zero scores in tennis, but people have become much more fond of tennis and other racquet sports over the past two years.
Just under 5 million people have flocked to tennis since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while an older sport is growing, new racquet sports like paddleboarding and pickleball are also making their own waves in Greater Cleveland.
MatchSet, a racquet sports store, is scheduled to open in Warrensville Heights during the first week of June. Stand-alone stores outside of tennis clubs are rare in the Greater Cleveland area. And the Flats Platform Tennis Center is heading into an already busy spring after construction wrapped in December.
MatchSet owner Matt Taylor said construction is underway and the company will soon begin hiring staff and ordering products. – both of which are hard to find. The store will be located at 4065 Richmond Road, just off the Harvard Road exit from Interstate 271.
Taylor opened its first store in Sugarcreek Township near Dayton in December 2020, and did so amid a boom. A second store opened at the Lewis Center near Columbus on April 2. The Warrensville Heights location will be MatchSet’s third store.
According to the United States Tennis Association, the number of active tennis players has increased from 22.6 million in 2019 to 27.9 million in 2021.
Doug Wenger, national volunteer for the USTA and local tennis instructor, said people seemed to flock to the sport when the lockdown started because it met the necessary criteria during a lockdown. It was outdoors and naturally socially distant.
This happened despite the closure of leagues and intramural programs at schools and, in some cases, cities closing outdoor courts for a time.
He said the USTA and local tennis clubs are creating programs to attract entry-level players and keep them in the sport. So far, people are sticking around.
“It’s by far the busiest I’ve been,” Wenger said. “I find a lot more adults wanting to learn the sport as a lifetime recreational opportunity.”
Taylor said there was a lot of demand, but he wouldn’t say it was the best time to get into tennis because the product was hard to come by.
Like almost all industries, racquet sports have experienced shortages. For a while there was a shortage of tennis balls, Taylor said. He said the most recent and quite frustrating shortage is in tennis shoes.
Taylor said he was surprised to find no other racquet sports stores in the Cleveland area, but many people cleveland.com spoke to said it was common despite the popularity.
Tennis clubs have their own pro shops, but many beginners will get an inexpensive racquet from a sporting goods store or big box retailers. And pros who know what they want will buy online.
Taylor said most of its competition is with online stores.
“Unless you hit it or feel it, it’s really hard to pick a racquet off the internet,” Taylor said.
What surprises him is the part of his sales that is not intended for tennis. Taylor said he sells a lot of merchandise for platform tennis, often called paddle tennis, and about half of his sales were in pickleball equipment, he said.
Platform tennis and pickleball are gaining ground
“Now the pickleball was probably already that big,” Taylor said. “I just wasn’t aware of its size until I opened the wound and people started coming in.”
Shawn Paul, a pickleball ambassador with his own social media page dedicated to the sport, quit tennis after turning to pickleball. He said he was surprised that tennis was growing.
“For me, tennis seems to be going down,” Paul said. “Pickleball is growing.”
USA Pickleball says the sport grew in 2021 to 4.8 million players in the United States, up 39.3% from 2019. Wegner said Pickleball is where tennis is in the world. the 1970s, and even local tennis clubs converted courts to fit the trend.
U.S. Pickleball Ambassador Rick Warsinskey said growth is causing capacity issues in Greater Cleveland, with not enough courts to meet demand. He maintains a pickleball email list that already has over 450 people.
But if non-tennis players already lost track of the new racquet sports, platform tennis is also growing nationally and here in Cleveland, with new courts that have recently popped up in the Flats.
In the platform tennis fences with a wire mesh like wire mesh surround the court, and the players can bounce the rubber ball used on the walls and keep it in play.
“It’s kind of like racquetball and tennis had a baby,” Taylor said.
Smaller courts, walls and different balls and rackets make Paddle a more strategic, sometimes slower game. Since players can hit balls after they have bounced off the wall, power is less useful while precision is needed. A rally in platform tennis tends to last much longer than traditional tennis.
The Flats Platform Tennis Center is now open and already becoming popular in its first year. Karen Nejedlik, who is part of the Cleveland Platform Tennis Foundation, said the courts are part of the organization’s missions to grow the sport and introduce it to new people.
She said platform tennis is popular but hard to introduce to new people because it’s often played in clubs and other places that need memberships.
Sean Richardson, chair of the Platform Tennis Foundation, said the new center offers memberships that cost half the price of paddle-only memberships at other clubs. And clubs, he said, typically try to sign up members for golf, recreation areas and many other services.
The tennis center also offers plenty of ways to play for free, from beginner lessons to social events and open days.
“Our goal was to create as many programs as possible that were completely free,” Nejedlik said.
Richardson said the new courts already have about 100 members and another 200 people have played there so far. He estimates there are around 800 players in the Cleveland area, although the vast majority of platform tennis courts are on the east side.
He said it’s harder to spread the paddle because while a pickleball court might cost a few hundred dollars, platform tennis courts cost around $850,000.
The four courts have been completed and work is almost complete on the heated cabin and the school, where the organization plans to hold a program for young students.
Platform tennis has a unique advantage in Cleveland, as there are built-in heaters and fans to melt snow from the courts in the winter.
Whether it’s classic tennis, pickleball or platform tennis, Nejedlik doesn’t think sports will be a pandemic-only fad — like high-tech exercise bikes were for some people.
She said being cooped up in houses has made a lot of people realize how important it is to exercise and get outside.
“I don’t see it going away and I see it’s easier to convert people after going through this pandemic,” she said.
Also consider these retailers for tennis products. The links below lead directly to the site’s tennis index page.
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