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USTA TRANSFORMING LAKE NONA'S NEMOURS FAMILY ZONE

INTO A PICKLEBALL AND PADEL ZONE

 

by Rich Neher

Everyone I talked to about this project thought it was interesting. You never really know what the USTA plans and some of the activities come only as a reaction to industry pressure. Or as another 2-year project of whoever's elected President for that term. The below aerial photos from Google Earth show the entire area of the National Campus with all its beautiful courts and the Family Zone in between with what appear to be eight 36 ft. courts

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One can debate whether it was smart to wait for so many years until someone at the USTA realized that pickleball is here to stay. The PTR was way ahead of the USTA with its fast approach in creating the PPR and developing programs like PickTEN. My personal opinion? Two people were holding the USTA back: The old tag team of Kurt Kamperman and Gordon Smith. They must have thoroughly disliked everything new and probably worked for years against accepting pickleball as a serious threat. 

And Padel? Well, no one seriously believes Padel has any significant momentum in the United States right now. It's an outlier sport few clubs can afford to incorporate and few recreational players are eager to embrace. And it's the recreational players that make up the majority of club members and public park visitors.

I was trying to interview Sergio Ortiz, the president of USPA (United States Padel Association) but, after initially expressing interest, he stopped answering my emails. Oh well...

I predict Padel will lurk at some obscure tennis clubs in Texas for a while but will not become significantly more popular - contrary to what a few select supporters are always trying to tell us.

The big question for me: Is the USTA giving up on the Family Zone concept where families were supposed to play for free and a lot of programming for a cost was 

offered? It doesn't look like they're replacing those 36 ft courts any time soon. Does that ultimately mean they are giving up on Net Generation, Mr. Craig Morris's boondoggle he brought here from Australia? A program most tennis professionals, as we found out, don't want and won't use.

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I interviewed Mr. Kamperman for our February 2018 issue and here is what he said, "The USTA was interested in working with the USAPA 3 - 4 years ago. We were asking them to be accommodating with court sizes so pickleball would fit on regular tennis courts, maybe work with blended lines. But they were growing and not interested in making changes to their game. The USTA thought originally that playing on 60' courts with orange or green balls was a great way for anybody starting out or slowing down with tennis. A viable alternative also for senior players with health issues. In reality, tennis players didn't want to go onto short courts. They rather take up a new sport like pickleball. The USTA then connected with Paddle Tennis, now POP Tennis, playing with paddles and orange or green balls. Almost the same as tennis but with an underhand serve. We are helping POP Tennis with grants and piloting programs with them. So far, we haven't seen enough momentum for POP Tennis. We think it's a viable alternative for pickleball and hopefully soon able to stop the bleeding. But, we continue to be interested in talking with the USAPA."

That was all hogwash, of course. Knowing the inner workings of the USTA quite well and often being right on with my assessments regarding their statements, I'd say they were laughing at pickleball and didn't take it seriously at all until TENNIS CLUB BUSINESS was publishing the first articles about it in 2016. Trust me.

 

So, what's really behind the USTA's move to install Pickleball and Padel on those eight courts in the Family Zone? Here is the bottom line: The National Campus in Orlando is losing around $3 Mio every year. Net Generation is not going anywhere and I bet it's also losing money.

 

Power-hungry and after a very thin US Open return also hurting for cash, they can't stand the fact that pickleball is growing faster than tennis. Remember how they took over Cardio Tennis after years of fighting it because it was the only form of tennis that showed growth year after year? Or how they talked with UTR guys only to turn around and copy their ideas and call it World Tennis Number? Or how they talked with court reservation solution companies like KOURTS while they were already planning the move to their own proprietary system?

 

Can you see the writing on the wall? USTA PICKLEBALL. How does that sound? Padel is only a side skirmish, my friends. It's pickleball they're after. Are they already secretly discussing a name change to cover all racquet sports? Too bad USRA and USRSA are already taken. 

Now, I am a firm believer in facilities adding pickleball to their programs and making both sports available to their members. However, there are a few questions here because when you walk up to the entrance, you cannot see the tennis courts.  But, right there to the left will be Pickleball and Padel.

 

Is it a good thing that the very first thing someone will see and hear when they visit the Home of American Tennis - The National Campus - Headquarter of the USTA is Pickleball and Padel?

Yes, the Home of American Tennis will feature Pickleball as the first thing you will see on the left, probably before you can see a tennis court. Something just does not seem to make sense. A front and center, premier spot at HOAT will go to Pickleball and Padel, two competing activities.

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