“When the winter finds you, you fly to where it’s summer,” Judy Collins sings in her song “Houses.”
That’s always been true of tennis players, hasn’t it? Melbourne this month, Australia’s summer, for the Australian Open; Miami and Indian Wells, California, for the winter hard court season in the United States.
But there is one racket sport you can enjoy outdoors here in winter, and that is paddle, or platform, tennis. It’s a sport that’s increasingly played at any number of clubs and public facilities in Westchester and Fairfield counties virtually year-round. All eyes, however, will be on it March 5 through 8 as the American Platform Tennis Association (APTA) National Championships return to Westchester and Fairfield for the first time since 2016.
Matches, which are free to the public, will be played at more than 34 clubs and public facilities in both counties, with the semifinals and finals at the Country Club of Darien. On March 5, the APTA will also hold the Men’s and Women’s Viking President’s Cup, an annual inter-
Platform tennis — which was born at Fox Meadow Tennis Club in Scarsdale in 1928 — differs from tennis in a number of ways, says Tiernan Cavanna, APTA president, Nationals co-chair and a Darien resident. It is played on a raised court one-third the size of a tennis court that’s made up of heated aluminum planks surrounded by mesh screens. The racket is smaller than a tennis racket and has no strings. And you only get a first serve. While platform tennis includes singles competition — there is an Eastern Men’s and Women’s National Ranking Tournament in Greenwich in September and October that wasn’t played last year — the sport is “99.9%” doubles competitions, Cavanna adds.
Among the doubles teams that will be in action is that of Amy Shay and Cynthia Dardis, who’ve been ranked in the top four for the last 16, 17 years.
“I have the luxury of having the same partner for many years,” Shay says. “I know what she’s going to hit. We play off one another’s shots. We play as one.”
Because platform tennis is played by doubles teams on a smaller court where you can hit a ball that bounces off the screens, similar in that regard to racquetball and squash, the strategy is different from that in tennis.
“In tennis, the player who hits the hardest is probably going to win,” says Cavanna, who was a competitive junior player growing up in Texas.
Whereas since the ball might ricochet off the screen back to you in platform tennis, hitting for power may not be the best game plan.
“It’s not your intention to hit winners,” says Shay, who went to Boston College on a tennis scholarship and took up platform after she had children. “You’re lobbing and serving and volleying.”
Adds Cavanna: “You and your partner try to figure out what your opponents’ weaknesses are and hit the ball over and over to that spot.”
With 18,000 members nationwide, platform tennis is growing, Cavanna says, bringing new meaning to the phrase “winter sport.”
“It helps to pass the season,” Shay says. “You don’t mind the winter when you’re doing something fun.”