Dear Tennis,

We need to have a word.

I know, I know, you think you have a problem with pickleball. I guess in a way you do, but the real problem, and I think way down deep you’ll agree, is you have a tennis problem.

I know, it’s hard to look inward when the attack seems to be coming from the outside. I get it. But there’s something you have to understand: it’s not an attack. There is no malice. There are just a bunch of people who want to play. And when I say a “bunch”, I mean numbers the likes of which tennis has never seen. No sport has ever seen growth this fast.

But let’s get back to the inward problem: you aren’t showing up. I know, I know, you say “but I am showing up!” Maybe you, the individual are. But you the group are definitely not. Ephesus Park in Chapel Hill is a shining example. There are four tennis courts and there are six pickleball courts. I play there 12-15 hours per week, and I play at a variety of times. I have done this for most of the last year. No kidding, when I showed up one day recently I felt like Norm from Cheers because so many people yelled my name at once.

Anyway, the point is I know who is showing up and who isn’t at Ephesus Park. Pickleball players are showing up in droves. So much so that it’s often a 30-minute wait for the next game. The six courts are almost always used for doubles matches, which means 24 people are playing much of the day, and at peak times there are an additional 24 to sometimes 40 people waiting to play. This simply doesn’t happen at the four tennis courts, and nothing even close to it happens. In fact, I’ve seen it MUCH more of the time that no tennis courts are being used for tennis than I’ve seen the tennis courts full. The only time I’ve ever seen a wait for the courts is the rare occasion that there is a tennis event going on.

I get it. You don’t have a ton of courts in the area. But, I’m sad to say that relative to the number of people who WANT to play, pickleball still has it worse. Sure, we have more courts, but we also have insane demand that overwhelms what we have. You…do not have overwhelming demand. Honestly, you barely have any demand.

What’s worse for you is that we can fit six pickleball courts on two tennis courts. Which means it’s a pretty easy decision for parks and recreation departments when trying to allocate resources. The math is easy…since tennis is almost always singles, the amount of surface area that pickleball needs to satisfy its users is six times less. That is to say that because 24 people typically play pickleball in the same space that four people typically play tennis, the numbers just aren’t in your favor. Add in that we’re waiting for pickleball courts while often staring at empty tennis courts and you have to agree it just makes sense for pickleball to get more priority.

Yesterday I watched, with much trepidation, four former tennis stars, one of whom is one of the greatest to ever play. But they played pickleball. And I think it’s fair to say they all loved it. Yes, they still made the occasional pickleball joke, even at the end. But here’s the thing: pickleball is overcoming the only thing that ever held it back to start with…the name. Sure, it still inspires jokes. But there’s no denying it…it has overcome the silly name. It sparks joy, and on Sunday afternoon in front of a national ESPN audience, it delighted and brought even more into the pickleball fold.

I know tennis lovers everywhere are feeling assaulted by something called pickleball and the natural response might be “You cannot be serious!” But we can, and we are, and even John McEnroe has returned from the dark side.

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