Professional tennis players James Blake and Todd Martin have reportedly begun playing paddle together at a private court in Weston, CT, not too far from Fairfield where Blake grew up. According to some local platform tennis pros who have been invited to play in a few of the high-level practice matches, the pair are quite serious about making a run at the 2013 Nationals scheduled for next March in Franklin Lakes, NJ.
Blake first learned the game as a 6-year old at the home of a family friend who had a paddle court in their backyard. In an e-mail interview, Blake said,
Paddle was actually the first racket sport I ever played. My older brother Thomas was just starting to play some junior tennis tournaments and my dad would drive him every weekend down to New York. I wanted to play too, but a full-size tennis racket and tennis court were still too big for me. So on those weekends dad and Thomas were in New York, my mom would take me over to our friend’s house and we would hit balls on their paddle court.”
Martin picked up the game more recently, somewhat by accident, at a recent college reunion of his tennis team in Chicago. When asked about his recent love for paddle, Martin commented,
Last September I was going out to visit some of my old teammates from Northwestern and one of the guys, who now lives in Winnetka, suggested we go play paddle. We didn’t have paddle in Michigan where I grew up, but I knew of the game from when I was in college. But I never played because our coach insisted that we focus on tennis throughout the winter. I don’t even own a paddle. So I called a friend who works at Wilson [where Martin serves as a member of the Advisory Board] and asked if he would send me some paddles. When I finally got out there on the court, I really liked it. I have to work on hitting my overheads a little softer into the corners. I like the fact that the points go on longer because of the screens.”
The two former pros, both who reached career-high rankings of #4 on the ATP list, were at the same charity dinner at a country club on Long Island during the recent APTA Nationals. Although they didn’t get to watch any of the action, Blake called Martin after he watched some of the live-streaming of the men’s final.
I called Todd on Sunday afternoon and said, ‘Hey, guess who’s in the finals of the paddle tournament? When I told him it was Johan [du Randt], he suggested that we enter the tournament next year. I think he’s pretty serious because he flew out here the very next weekend and that’s why we were both there at my friend’s court in Connecticut.”
When told that former two-time Grand Slam doubles champion Jared Palmer is also a recent platform tennis convert. Blake added,
Given what Todd and I have accomplished in the world of tennis I don’t think it is unfair to assume we could be the next dominant team in Platform tennis.”
When asked about top talents like Mark Parsons and Johan Du Randt, Blake responded with a question:
Parsons? du Randt? What was their highest ATP ranking?”
Not since the days of Herb Fitzgibbon and Hayden Finch has platform tennis seen comparable talent. Will this start a trend of top tennis players migrating to our sport? Stay tuned!