The tennis-pickleball rivalry is a political one

For an incredibly long time, tennis has sat virtually untouchable at the top of the hierarchy of popular racquet-based sports. 

There are obviously others that are also well-loved, such as ping pong, racquetball and badminton, but none have ever gained as much of a mainstream presence as tennis.

This was until pickleball burst onto the scene. Despite its strange name,  pickleball has taken the United States by storm, with an estimated 36.5 million people playing the game between Aug. 2021 and 2022,
according to CNBC. 

This should have been cause to rejoice for racquet sports fans everywhere, but instead, tennis and pickleball
fans have drawn a fierce divide. 

Many fans on both sides are taking shots at the other for various perceived shortcomings in their respective sports. Why is this? Why are two sports with such similar play styles and communities so divided? As strange as it sounds, the answer mainly comes down to the failings of local governments.

Building a public tennis or pickleball court is not an easy undertaking. Not only does it require a significant amount of money, but also land on which to be built. 

For this reason, it usually comes down to the local government to control when, where and how these courts are built. Because pickleball has become so popular, accommodating their residents’ new hobby has left many cities scrambling. However, in this rush to adapt to the new and exciting, they often risk alienating the tennis players that have been building their communities for years. 

Where a city used to see a tennis court, they now see a very cheap way to build pickleball courts without needing extra land or new construction. 

Both sports are played on the same surface, so instead of pouring concrete, putting up fences and buying all new equipment, all they have to do is paint over tennis court lines and put up a few newer, smaller nets. 

Not only that, but they can fill the space used for one tennis court with two pickleball courts, so it is seen as a win-win.

Here lies the crux of the problem: local governments are treating pickleball as more important than tennis. 

By removing the ability for tennis players to enjoy their favorite sport as often or without waiting as well as by directly inviting comparison by putting pickleball matches right next to tennis, it is easy to see why players have become annoyed. 

Tennis is more difficult to pick up and more athletically demanding than pickleball, which can cause players to feel superior and look down on the other sport. 

Pickleball is also quite loud, which can cause a lot of annoyance to more serious tennis players. If the two sports were played in different places, these comparisons, and thus the animosity between them, would be reduced and may never have sprung up in the first place.

A few months ago, in my hometown, a group of dozens of tennis players began attending city council meetings to speak their minds about the problems they have with how our local government was handling the sport. 

None of these people disliked pickleball. In fact, some of them quite enjoyed it and  were in support of people having access to places to enjoy their hobby. Their argument was, however, that the city shouldn’t be arbitrarily reducing access to one sport to provide more access to another. 

This is happening in cities across America and is a real issue  that more attention ought to be drawn to publicly.

The infuriating part of this problem is that it has a seemingly obvious solution: build more pickleball courts on separate land. This takes time and resources that many cities are unwilling to commit to, even if it is the best solution for both sides. 

Not only would this placate fans of tennis, but it would also lend more credibility to pickleball as an actual sport and not just “easier tennis for old people” as it is often thought of. 

Both tennis and pickleball are fun in their own right, and it is a shame that their relationship is tainted. However, it’s not too late to repair that divide and give both sides something to be excited about.