The Reverend Frank Peer Beal developed POP Tennis (formerly paddle tennis) in 1898 as an activity for children. He viewed the game as a stepping stone for children to learn to play tennis. His original paddle tennis court was 18′ x 39′, exactly one half the size of a regulation tennis court. Beal’s version used a sponge-rubber ball and a wooden paddle (instead of a strung racquet). The smaller court and short-handled paddle appealed to kids from the very beginning. Reverend Beal was transferred to New York City in 1921, and the following year the first paddle tennis tournament was held. Adults had picked up the game at this point. In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s the game of paddle tennis grew in popularity and spread to other cities, notably Los Angeles and its suburbs.
By the late 1930’s, many adult paddle tennis players felt a larger court would result in a better game, but Rev. Beal wanted the court size to remain the same. During this time, Murray Geller, Chairman of the USPTA Rules Committee for the next 40+ years, began voicing his preference for a larger court, especially for adults. So, an official “adult” court size was set at 20′ x 44′ (the same size as a badminton, pickle-ball and platform tennis court). Rev. Beal, founding president of the USPTA and its predecessor for over 40 years himself, insisted on keeping the smaller court for children.
By the late 1950’s the game’s popularity was soaring, especially on the West coast. Well known tennis players, Althea Gibson and Bobby Riggs, were playing paddle tennis. Rev. Beal suffered a stroke in 1959 and Geller began exerting more control over the game. Geller was convinced that the court was still too shallow for the powerful players playing the game.
So, in 1961 the court was lengthened by three feet on each end to make 20′ x 50′ the standard dimensions of a paddle tennis court. Other changes were implemented. The sponge-rubber ball was replaced with a deadened tennis ball (one that has been punctured with a needle or safety pin). The net went from being 33″ at the posts and 30″ inches in the center to 31″ pulled taut across the entire length of the court. The overhand serve was also eliminated and only one underhand serve was allowed These changes were accepted by both the East and West Coast associations and are still in effect.
There were and still are differences between the East Coast and West Coast versions of paddle tennis. The West Coast version uses a restraining, or bucket, line 12′ from the net on each side (see court diagram). When using the restraining line during doubles play, neither team may cross their restraining line until the receiver’s paddle has struck the ball. In singles, the server must allow the receiver’s return to bounce in his court before the ball can be hit. In other words, no serve and volley in singles paddle tennis. Advocates believe using the bucket line allows for more rallies, and hence, more fun.
POP Tennis has remained more popular on the West Coast for a variety of reasons, weather probably being one. But all of the confusion over court sizes and the inability of the different associations to standardize rules and regulations have hampered the growth of a game that should have spread nationally years ago.
In 2015, Ken Lindner took over as President of the USPTA. Ken’s tireless efforts promoting the sport resulted in many positives including the name change to POP Tennis, national media exposure and, most important, the USPTA developed relationships with the Tennis Industry Association and the United States Tennis Association. These relationships should help propel the growth of POP Tennis.
In late 2016, the Board of the USPTA voted to rename the association the International POP Tennis Association. Also during this meeting, the IPTA unanimously elected its first ever Regional Directors: Mark Kempler, Florida; Mitch Kutner, NY and Mark Guion, NC. These moves represent the first steps in the IPTA’s commitment to growing POP Tennis not only across the USA, but the globe.
The above history was taken from information provided by the current IPTA, based in California, and the paddle tennis chapter of The Other Racquet Sports by Dick Squires.