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Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the prettiest: tennis or pickleball? | Sport


This article came to mind when I recently spent a week teaching my granddaughter advanced shot-making now that she plays high school tennis. I was reminded that tennis is such a great game, just like pickleball. She will hopefully be able to play both for the rest of her life. We watched Wimbledon in the evening, where I was able to amplify the lessons of the day and point out strategies and subtleties in the game at a world-class level.

We played on old tennis courts that had seen better days long before she was born, courts, I might add, that didn’t have pickleball lines.

When I was a kid, the community tennis courts were in such bad shape that we had to be precise enough to get clear of the cracks and grass on the tennis courts when we practiced. Fortunately, seniors in a community service club raised money and horsepower to get them back on the water, and a youth program blossomed.

Having spent most of my life in tennis as both a player and a businessman, I am probably more sensitive to the discussions going on all over America as pickleball grows in every community.

I called Steve Z Zalinski to vent because he was a great tennis player, worked behind the scenes for the United States Tennis Association for many years and is a longtime tennis friend. My point to him was that tennis and pickleball should work together, and no courts should be in such bad shape.

My conversation went like this:

If I’ve ever heard that community court tennis players don’t like pickleball lines on their tennis courts, I’ve heard it a million times, too many to be silent any longer.

First, for a man who practiced hitting a water bottle in the service corner with my tennis serve, I can’t fathom how a line painted in subtle colors at least a foot from the tennis service line should provide any distraction to a tennis player who worth is his/her salt.

Second, if they play tennis as well as they make it out to be, why didn’t they join a local tennis club as we have some excellent clubs across America. The mathematical chance that they would find another player in their community with a skill level comparable to their own tennis prowess would be huge.

Finally, I scouted out world-class tennis talent who would never call themselves so florid.

Zs’s response went like this:

If I’ve ever heard tennis professionals complain about pickleball and pickleballers, I’ve heard it a million times. They don’t like the ball noise and they don’t like the noisy activity on the adjacent courts. People moved to communities that offer tennis, and suddenly there is a rowdy crowd bouncing against the windshields.

Not too much grinning, tennis players or pickleballers. An annoying obstacle for both are tennis players and pickleballers who hop around and look at each other. A little respect for tennis, and the habits surrounding tennis, would go a long way in furthering the cause of pickles. And a little respect for pickleball would go a long way in furthering the cause of tennis.

A community tennis facility or tennis club is an expensive investment with frequent maintenance expenses, and the community, HOA or club management will not work very hard to expand pickleball facilities to a thankless and rowdy crowd that upsets the people who may have paid initially for the facility.

We agreed on three points:

(1) Tennis players have left the sport because of their age, and until USTA youth programs that look promising are up and running, tennis facilities will continue to face financial challenges.

(2) Pickleball is growing enormously and needs more and more facilities.

(3) The two games are not the same at all, but they are both played on a similar surface that not only costs a lot to install properly, but also costs extra money to maintain every few years.

Then only one big question remains:

Where is the common ground and compatibility between tennis and pickleball? It would help immensely if both groups discussed this compatibility issue, rather than discredit the other. Pickleball could begin the diplomatic aspects of this by having the simple courtesy of not leaving the court until after a point, and this would be appreciated by tennis and pickleball players alike. Running along the side of the court, yelling and screaming, as if you’re rehearsing for a part in The Walking Dead, completely oblivious to everyone around you, doesn’t play well in Peoria nor in the boardroom when financial decisions are discussed.

For tennis decision-makers, I’ll steal a line from the Broadway play Hamilton: Talk less, listen more. If pickleball and tennis continue to ignore each other, both will be left to the kind of dilapidated courts that were there when I first started playing tennis. If both tennis and pickleball players join forces, our grandchildren can look forward to decades of racquet sports fun and the health benefits of both.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is an Olympic pickleball gold medalist, PR director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information visit




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