Ever since my two kids started taking tennis lessons, I've been anxiously waiting to get my wife and kids out on the court together for a family game between the four of us. But, that's difficult when your kids are young. The court and the learning curve are just too big to play an actual game. So, I began to look into ways we could play an easier version of tennis as a whole family and still have fun. Hello Pop Tennis! Where have you been my whole life?!
What is Pop Tennis? Pop Tennis is a century old paddle sport that until recently was once called "Paddle Tennis". Rebranded as Pop Tennis in 2015, fans enjoy the game because it's played on a shorter tennis court, uses Tennis scoring, but is easier to play because of composite paddles with memory foam and a slower, depressurized tennis ball.
As I've grown to love any and all sports involving a racquet or a paddle, it was only a matter of time before I got introduced to Pop Tennis, previously known as Paddle Tennis. I've fallen in love with Pop Tennis because it incorporates so many of the best aspects of other paddle sports I've grown to love.
Video Source: Pop Tennis
Pop Tennis has a history unlike any other racquet sport I've ever seen. Next to tennis, it's probably one of the oldest paddle sports in the US but very few people know about it. It's been called different names and even been mistaken for Pickleball and Platform Tennis. It's ambiguous heritage has given this incredibly fun sport very few opportunities to have an identity all it's own...until now! If you've never played Pop Tennis before and are reading this for the first time, by the end of this article, you're going to want to give it a try.
Pop Tennis - A History Unlike Any Other
Most people don't know that Pop Tennis is older, a lot older, then other similar paddle sports like Pickleball and Platform Tennis. Its inception dates all the way back to 1898 and was initially a game for kids to play. Even way back then, parents were coming up with fun ways to occupy the kids.
After that, the game began to take shape and by the early 1920s the very first Pop Tennis Tournament was born. At that point, its popularity grew steadily and it began to make its way over to the West Coast. At this point, fans started calling it "Paddle Tennis" because it was played with a paddle not a racquet and you could easily play it on a regular tennis court. However, this is where the confusion began...
On the East Coast, another paddle sport was gaining steam and was, at that time ALSO called Paddle Tennis...it was Platform Tennis. By the time the 60s, 70s and 80s rolled around we had two different paddle sports with the SAME name. Not good. Now you can begin to understand why Pop Tennis never had a chance to grow like it should have.
So, after decades of confusion over the term "Paddle Tennis", we finally get some clarity. In 2015, West Coast "Paddle Tennis" was rebranded as "Pop Tennis" as we know it now. In 2016, the United States Tennis Association saw the newly renamed Pop Tennis as an ideal feeder sport for Tennis and officially adopted it under the USTA. This gave Pop Tennis a strong, official backing and more importantly, an identity all its own, separate from Platform Tennis ("Paddle Tennis on the East Cost) AND Pickleball. Finally, Pop Tennis was here to stay!
Video Source: Pop Tennis
Related: If you've played Pop Tennis, you might also be interested in Spec Tennis...the paddle sport younger players are loving! Check out more here.
What Makes Pop Tennis So Much Fun?
This is just my opinion but I find Pop Tennis so fun because it combines so many of my favorite elements from so many different sports I love. It’s a wonderful combination of Tennis and Pickleball. It takes some of the best parts of those sports, the things I like the most, and rolls them into one addictive sport!
It reminds me of Tennis because it’s played with an actual tennis ball. More importantly, it’s strategy is also deeply rooted in the kind of tennis I played when I was younger. Meaning, the goal was always to get to the net...and quick! It feels like Tennis because the pace is fast, the forehands are hard and the ball is put away at the net. That’s refreshing.
On the other hand, it feels like Pickleball too because the court is smaller and it’s easy to learn and play for all ages. The underhand serve also feels very familiar despite the ball being different. So, the parallels are there.
However, Pop Tennis does away with a few things that frustrate Pickleball fans. Namely, the “no volley zone”. In Pop Tennis, there is no "kitchen line" and it feels just fine.
The fact that you cannot step close to the net and put a point away in Pickleball is the single biggest adjustment a player coming from Tennis needs to make. If you’ve played tennis for any length of time, the instinct is to step in and end the point with a well timed passing shot at the net. But in Pickleball the game’s rules force a slower, more finesse driven game. For younger players with a Tennis background, Pop Tennis is better suited for them and plays to those instincts. At least that’s my opinion. And that’s what draws me to Pop Tennis.
In my opinion, younger players will get a bigger thrill out of Pop Tennis because it’s a faster game, with fewer rules to slow it down but easier to play than Tennis because of the court size.https://thevolleyllama.com/what-is-platform-tennis/
To me, Pop Tennis has found the sweet spot between regular, large court Tennis and small court Pickleball. It’s the best of both worlds!
Related: Interested in the differences between Pop Tennis, Paddle Tennis and Platform Tennis? Click here!
Rules Of The Game - What You Need to Know
The rules to Pop Tennis are simple; its Tennis! Scoring is exactly the same as Tennis with points awarded Love, 15, 30, 40 and Deuce where players must win by two points.
For the most part Pop Tennis is played just like regular tennis with a few minor differences. The biggest differences are as follows:
- The game begins with a coin flip. The winner of the flip gets to choose whether or not he or she will serve or receive. The loser of the coin flip chooses the side of the net they want to play on.
- You only get one serve - there is no "let" except if your serve hits the top of the net and continues on to land properly in the service box.
- In singles play, the server must let the return bounce. In doubles, the serving team can approach the net immediately. (the is inherently different than Pickleball).
- All serves must be made underhand no higher than 31 inches above the court surface. You can bounce the serve or use a drop serve. Pop Tennis is unique because you can attempt both types of serves but...
- Once you choose your type of serve (drop serve or bounce) you must continue to serve that way through the entire set. In Pop Tennis, there is no switching in between points.
- The server must stand behind the baseline and serve cross court to their opponent.
- There is no "no volley" zone like in Pickleball, so players are allowed to approach the net and smash at will. This makes the pace of the game faster and much more like Tennis.
- In singles, each player must allow the ball to bounce on their side before approaching the net. This, is called the two bounce rule (the serve and the return). In doubles however, there is no two bounce rule - once the serve bounces in play properly, both sides can approach the net.
The most fundamental rule difference between Pop Tennis and regular tennis is that the server must serve underhand and only get's one chance at a good serve.
Equipment - A Complete Walk Through
When it comes to Pop Tennis equipment, it's fairly simple. The three standard items you need are a paddle, a ball and a good pair of Pop Tennis shoes. Sure, there are other miscellaneous items like Pop Tennis bags, protective eye wear, gloves and paddle grip tape but those are all secondary.
As for the net, those are not sold separately. Most of the time, the nets used in Pop Tennis are actual tennis nets on a converted tennis court or a dedicated Pop Tennis court. Either way, you're good to go.
Let's take a closer look into the main pieces of pop tennis equipment.
-Pop Tennis Paddles-
Probably the most sophisticated piece of Pop Tennis equipment is the paddle or racquet. The amount technology placed in these paddles is remarkable! Big names manufactures include Adidas, Prince, Babolat, Wilson, Viking, Drop Shot and Technifibre. Smaller fan favorite brands include Reflex, Axe, XTP, PowerPaddle and Tiga. So, selection and variety is never an issue. If you've played with one paddle you have NOT played with them all. In addition, Pop Tennis paddles come in a variety of shapes including round, oval, and tear drop.
The International Pop Tennis Association has strict requirements for paddle manufacturers. The paddles themselves cannot be more than 18.5 inches long and exceed 38 millimeters in width. More importantly, no grip assistance materials is to be applied to these racquets.
Pop Tennis racquets are rated based on four performance criteria. The first is Power. This tells you how much power or pop the ball has coming off of the paddle. Some paddles are designed to allow the ball to leap off the paddle during a return. Other paddles have less "pop" because based on your skill level, you may want a paddle that slows things down a little as you learn the game.
The second criteria is Control. A paddle's control rating gives you a glimpse into ball placement accuracy. The idea here is that the paddle delivers accurate shots whether it's a passing shot from baseline to baseline or a finesse drop shot to end the point.
The third criteria is Stability. This rating speaks to the overall build quality of the paddle and how well it responds to various hits across the paddle face. The more dead spots a paddle has (where the ball hits a certain spot on the paddle and doesn't respond) the lower the stability rating.
And finally, the fourth criteria for Pop Tennis paddles is Balance. Balance refers to how well the racquet feels in a players hand. Is it "head heavy" where the paddle feels bulky near the top or is it balanced across the face of the paddle and feels perfectly balanced? The balance rating tells a player how the racquet might feel in your hand.
-Green Dot Pop Tennis Balls-
All Pop Tennis balls are considered "low compression tennis balls." They should be set to a compression level of 25% less than a standard tennis balls. These are the rules set by the International Pop Tennis Association, so they've officially adopted the "green dot" tennis ball which has been properly depressurized to these exact standards.
However, one can use a standard tennis ball and reduce the pressure on their own. All you need to do is make a small puncture into the tennis ball and do a "bounce test." Hold the ball six feet high and drop the punctured tennis ball. The ball should bounce up between 31 and 33 inches off the ground. That, is roughly depressurized by 25%. Any less or any more, and it's not regulation. The IPTA however, recommends you just stick to the "green dot" ball to keep things simple and standardized.
-Pop Tennis Shoes-
Depending on the court surface, you'll be able to choose virtually any type of court shoe. Indoor court shoes work well for indoor courts and outdoor court shoes work well for outdoor courts.
The #1 rule for Pop Tennis Shoes is this: do not wear cross trainers or running shoes when playing! Those shoes are designed for forward motion only and provide no lateral (side to side) support. If you're going to step on the court, it is highly recommended you wear court shoes to avoid injury - trust me, I almost pulled my achilles tendon many times!
But, it's fairly simple - any good tennis shoes or court shoe is going to work just fine for Pop Tennis. It is worth noting that the only official guidance from the US Pop Tennis Association is that the shoes be rubber sole and non-marking. Meaning, your shoes should not scuff the court.
Big name brands to consider are Prince, ASICS and Babolat. Specific lines of shoes like the Nike Vapor line or Adidas Barricade line of court shoes are very popular as well. I tend to lean towards Nike and ASICS because they tend to fit better for those of us that have wide feet.
-Misc Pop Tennis Accessories-
There are miscellaneous Pop Tennis Accessories but to be honest, they're all secondary pieces of equipment compared to paddles and shoes. Accessories like grip tape, gloves, protective eye wear and a good tennis bag may come in handy as you play more.
There are also portable nets available as well for driveway or backyard play. Wilson and Le Petit both make an "easy set up" option for a 36 foot court. However, the Wilson model is USTA approved and is the one the Pop Tennis Association recommends.
In the end, paddles and shoes are the most important pieces of Pop Tennis equipment - spend your time and money on those items first.
Pop Tennis Court Dimensions - Small, Medium and Large
There are over 30,000 Pop Tennis courts in the United States! Yes, that many! Surprising isn't it? However, there are a few different sizes to choose from. In fact, there are three!
Pop 36' Court - SMALL - This pop tennis court has dimensions of 36 feet long and 18 feet wide (meaning the baseline is 18 feet across). This smaller court is perfect for younger kids and older players looking to stay active! The net height is 36 inches (for simplicity, this is the same as a standard tennis court). There is less sideline to sideline lateral movement and the court length is cut down considerably. It's like standing on a ping pong table!
Pop 50' aka "Pop Classic"- MEDIUM - The Pop Classic court has dimensions that are 20 feet wide and 50 feet long (20x50). It's called the "Pop Classic Court" because this was the size the game was played on for decades back when it was originally called Paddle Tennis. The net height for Pop Classic is slightly lower at 31 inches, which is how the game was originally played. This 20x50 length court was created back in 1961, so that gives you an idea about the game's long history. You can still play Pop Tennis on courts this size today, it's the original old school version - perfect for beginners and experienced players alike. One thing to note, there are portable nets available in this Pop Classic 20x50 court size. So, if you're looking to share a classic game in the driveway of your home, it's super easy!
Pop 60' Court - LARGE - Pop 60 is the official Pop Tennis Court size now per the Pop Tennis Association. Pop 60 has court dimensions of 60'x21' for singles and 60'x27' for doubles. Technically, this is the only sized court you can play doubles on because it's large enough for built in extended sidelines. The Pop 60 Pop Tennis court is the easiest of the three court sizes to convert from a standard tennis court (78'x36') and also keeps the net at a consistent 36 inches high.
So, no matter how inexperienced you are with any form of tennis, there is a Pop Tennis court dimension built for you. With these three court sizes available, it's easy to see why the US Tennis Association has chosen Pop Tennis as the perfect feeder sport for tennis. What they want to see is kids ages 4 and up get exposed to tennis via the Pop 36 Pop Tennis court and work their way up through the sizes to traditional tennis. Genius!
Where can I find a Pop Tennis Court near me? Simple. Just click the court locator link here: Pop Tennis Court Locator.
Can you play Pop Tennis on a regular tennis court? Yes! It's very easy. The Pop Tennis Association recommends you "throw down" lines where you literally tape off the Pop Tennis court over the traditional tennis court creating the smaller court needed to play. You can even use side walk chalk on an outside court if need be. If you're playing singles, you would tape off a 60'x21' court. If you're playing doubles, you will tape off a 60'x27' court.
For more information on Pop Tennis and how it's different than other paddles sports, check out these helpful links below. Special thanks to Mitch Kutner of the IPTA for the images, thanks Mitch!