Postcard from... Los Angeles

 

 

If I tell you I've moved to Venice Beach and taken up paddle tennis, you'll think I mean beach tennis: a little pink ball; a big, flat wooden bat. But paddle tennis is a matter of pride in this part of the world – it's a century-old sport, and Venice is home to LA's best-known courts, and some of the world's best players. The scoring and strategy is identical to tennis, but it's played on a smaller court, with solid paddles and balls deadened with a prick from a hypodermic needle.

The sport was created by an Episcopal minister in the early 20th century, who had courts built in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, in 1915 to give local children a way to pass the time. The US Paddle Tennis Association was formed in 1923, but the modern game was largely defined two decades later by a player named Murray Geller, who decided serving should be underarm.

Thanks to Geller's rule, beginners like me spend a lot more time playing – and a lot less time wandering around the court in search of stray balls – than we would in a tennis game. It's much easier to enjoy yourself, but that's not to say it's easy. The Venice courts, restored in 2011 and situated yards from the famous Muscle Beach bodybuilding pen, host the national championships, and feature a hard-core of extremely skilled and competitive players.

The courts are free to use, but I could be challenged to a game by one of the best in the world at any moment. Still, when's the last time you knocked about with Andy Murray?

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