South African Beach Tennis-its Origins and Future: Part 1

"Visit any beach in South Africa during the festive season and you’ll see a wide variety of people playing a simple form of beach tennis - with a paddle and ball. What this demonstrates is that beach tennis is fun, easy to play and appeals to all ages. It offers a simple and easy entry point into our sport and we think it is a dynamic platform from which to grow tennis in South Africa.” Richard Glover, CEO of Tennis SA in 2018

How it all started

I clearly remember the first time we played Beach Tennis, or should I say “Tennis on the Beach” some nine years ago. TopspinSA and the Clubview Tennis Club in Centurion hosted an all-night FUN Tennis Tournament with mini-matches of 5-mins per court on 5 courts, eventually finishing off with Beach Tennis on the Volleyball court. The Highlight of the tournament as expressed by everyone, seemed to be the informal Beach Tennis finale, and that is also how Beach Tennis unofficially started in South Africa. Iain Smith who was the Chairperson of Clubview Tennis Club at the time, has since become the Head of Beach Tennis SA and today we have a proud SA Beach Tennis team.

What is Beach Tennis?

Think about a mixture of beach volleyball and tennis. Initially played on a beach but with a tennis ball and racket, it has now evolved to more than a mere beach game. There are two types of beach tennis in the world, beach tennis with a paddle and beach tennis USA. Beach Tennis USA is similar to beach volleyball, but a racket with strings instead of a paddle is used. The most popular version of the sport is to play it with a Beach tennis paddle and with a stage 2 tennis ball.

Why has it become so popular?

Beach Tennis is played in over 50 countries with more than 500 thousand players all around the world. It is both fun and easy to play, which is arguably the main reason why it is gaining popularity – players find it easier to learn than most racket sports. Even a beginner could quite easily pick up a paddle and play, and for people who’ve previously played tennis, table tennis, squash or badminton it is even simpler. This increases the “fun factor” of the game – hence the popularity. Tennis SA called it the “fun tennis” of the future, as it is a game that can be played by all ages and all playing abilities.

In addition beach tennis offers an excellent cardio workout with low impact to the knees and joints due to playing in the sand. As a result of the sport’s similarity to tennis, it’s especially popular amongst tennis players as an additional sporting activity, but it’s by no means reserved for Tennis players only! More and more recreational clubs are bringing in Beach Tennis to increase their offering to athletes and to meet the demand of people playing the sport.

Actor and former USA Senator Arnold Schwarzenegger gives celebrity status to Beach Tennis in SA, as he hosts the Arnold Classic Africa event in SA every year. (Pictured below with some South African and international players at the 2019 event in Sandton, Gauteng). Organisers believe the ACA event is a perfect platform to develop Beach Tennis and help grow participation from a young age.

Is it a competitive sport?

Beach Tennis is an approved International Tennis Federation (ITF) discipline and South Africa is one of 47 countries around the world where the sport is now actively being promoted and played on a competitive level. The ITF Beach Tennis World Cup, formally known as the Beach Tennis World Team Championship (2012-2019), is a mixed competition in which nations compete against each other as a team. Each team is comprised of two men and two women, with ties consisting of a men’s doubles, women’s doubles and a mixed doubles match.

TopspinSA is proudly associated with the development of Beach Tennis in SA and has been one of the official sponsors of the team in many events, including their participation in Russia, where our SA Team achieved 15th place in the pro finals in 2019. The Russian Tennis Federation has been the host to the Tour's flagship team competition since 2012.

How to Play Beach Tennis

- Basic Rules and Scoring

At its most basic, the ball is not allowed to touch the ground and is played only with volleys, with the objective to return the ball with only one hit to the other side of the court. Beach tennis adopted most of the rules and scoring of tennis. Below are the basic rules and scoring:

· Touch the line is in

· Points 15/30/40, but with sudden death on 40 all

· Players are expected to switch sides after the end of odd games – 1, 3, 5 and so forth

· Similar to volleyball, points start with a serve and end when the ball touches the ground

· Serve starts from anywhere behind the baseline to any of the opponents and play-on when touching the net

· You only get 1 serve

· You can serve under the head or above the head but in mixed doubles men are expected to serve to ladies underhand from below the waist

· The winner is determined by the team who scores 7 (or 9) games with a margin of at least 2 games

· A tie-break is played at 6 (or 8) games all

Turquoise, the no 1 Beach Tennis Paddle is sold exclusively by Topspin in SA

What Equipment would you need to start playing?

In its most informal form you literally need 2 paddles and a tennis ball. For more competitive games you would need 4 Beach Tennis paddles, tennis ball, net set, court lines and a court.

Beach Tennis Paddle

While various paddle sizes are allowed in beach tennis, the maximum length should not exceed 55cm and the width should not exceed 30cm, and weighing between 320 - 370 grams. The heavier the more powerful, but also the more difficult to manoeuvre.

Like for all sports, Beach Tennis paddles are available in a wide variety with different levels of quality and can be categorised into 3 levels:

1. Social or Beginner

2. Intermediate Semi-pro

3. Professional

The following graph gives a good visual of the above racket range with Control on y-axis and Hardness on x-axis, resulting in maximum POWER! However the more you move towards the right the more expensive the racket becomes due to material involved in manufacturing.

Paddles consist of a profile or frame, a core and a hitting surface covering the core. All the various components are made of different materials but fused together to form one unit. The core of a paddle consists of Foam or EVA rubber or a combination of the two. EVA is more durable than foam but more expensive. Eva is harder and therefore more difficult to play with when you are a beginner (less power more control). The surface and frame of the paddle are normally made of Glass Fibre or Carbon Fibre or combination of the two.

What is the Price Tag?

The price of Beach Tennis paddles is determined by the quality of the material used to manufacture them. The most basic paddle is your classic old wooden or plastic racket used on a beach holiday. Do you remember how they tended to break between the handle and the paddle surface and most often would not last the duration of your holiday! Cheaper versions of good beach tennis paddles are still available, but I recommend you start off with a glass fibre racket from a respected brand if you want to play a little more seriously. Like most things in life, cheaper means sacrificing quality for price.

Beginner paddles are usually made from Glass fibre with a foam core, and starts around R1 000 - R1 700 per paddle. Intermediate rackets are a composite of material similar to a professional paddle but with Glass/Carbo fibre and foam/EVA composites. These are excellent paddles for a longer term investment and comes in at R1700 -R2500 per paddle.

The professional paddles are mostly made of 100% Carbon Fibre. There are different types of Carbon fibre e.g. 3K, which means 3000 monofilaments per carbon fibre harness. The more Carbon the more expensive the paddle, so expect to pay anywhere from R3 000 - R5 000 for a professional paddle. In fact professional players often end up paying more for personal customisation and special surface finishes than for the original Paddle itself.

View Special Offer on Semi-pro Paddle

The Ball used in Beach Tennis

Beach Tennis requires a de-pressurised tennis ball (stage 2 Orange dot ball) to allow for longer rallies, as the stage 2 ball travels more slowly through the air than a normal tennis ball. The Unlimited Stage 2 ball is the official SA Beach Tennis Ball.

The Court and Net

The sport is played as doubles on a sand playing surface of 16 x 8 meters divided into two equal parts by a 1,7-meter-high beach tennis net. The net has small meshes so that the ball cannot pass through. The sport was initially played with a higher net similar to beach volleyball at 2.2-meter-high, but was later lowered to the height of 1.70 meters to increase the speed and excitement of the game. Although Beach Tennis is mainly played as doubles it can also be played as a singles game, decreasing only the width of the court to 4.5 meter with the same length.

Do you need a beach to play Beach Tennis?

The most common misperception is that you need a beach to play on. The beauty of the sport is that it can be played anywhere! If you have 2 paddles and a ball you can have an informal game literally anywhere. When you fall in love with the game, you might even imitate Ferdi Louw (pictured below) and build a beach tennis court right in your back yard! Ferdi spent some time in Brazil and enjoyed playing the sport so much there that he built his own Beach Tennis court at his house in Cape Town. All you need is space and approximately 40cubic meters of sand.

TopspinSA designed and manufactured this portable inflatable court, which has been used at Beach Tennis nationals in Bloemfontein, Arnold Classic in Johannesburg, Davis Cup and many tournaments across South Africa.

In Part 2 I will discuss some venues where Beach Tennis can be played, what you need to do if you want to be considered for the SA Beach Tennis team, how the sport started and developed in the world (and South Africa), as well as the current world rankings and events to look forward to.

Until then, happy paddling!

Philip van Antwerpen

Online Supplier of Beach Tennis and Tennis Gear