While Rafael Nadal was winning his seventh French Open last weekend, Beach Tennis USA kicked off its eighth season in Long Beach. And company president, Jim Lorenzo, was quick to point out that, as an example of the sport's growing popularity, beach tennis courts were set up at the tournament in Paris.
Beach tennis is also expanding in Long Beach, on the beach and beyond. Starting in September, the sport will be part of the physical education curriculum at school districts in Long Beach and Elmont. But first, this summer, the Long Beach Recreation Department will incorporate the game into its programs, and it will be featured regularly on Pacific, Edwards and Grand beaches.
Permanent polls are in place on all three beaches, where nets will also be made available for anyone willing to set up their own courts. Players would have to bring their own tennis balls and paddles, or rent them at concession stands at Edwards and Grand.
Each Thursday, kids of all ages can play the sport through the recreation-run program at Pacific. People can play on Saturdays and Sundays at Edwards, or on Wednesday evenings at Grand.
This past weekend, the first of four tournaments was held at Edwards. On Saturday, beach tennis pros from the tri-state area competed against each other. The following day amateurs tried their hand at the game.
Mark Topaz, a Long Beach resident and tennis player for many decades, took up beach tennis because it comes naturally to him. “This is the sport that plays to my skills,” he said. “A lot of the game is finesse. A lot of what tennis is about now is power.”
Come August, Beach Tennis USA, now recognized by the International Tennis Federation, will once again hold the ITF International Championships, with its $10,000 purse. Players will come to Long Beach from all corners of the globe, including Japan, Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, and Italy, where the sport originated and produces the most professional players.
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While Lorenzo, a Long Beach resident, and Marc Altheim, the CEO of Beach Tennis USA, established the company in 2005, the sport didn’t really take off until about three years ago, after paddles replaced tennis rackets, and the business partners focused on promoting it in the tri-state area.
“Since we’ve gone to paddles and since we incorporated it locally, it’s really, really grown,” said Lorenzo, who noted that Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury built a beach tennis arena last year.
The sport has grown considerably in states such as Texas, North Carolina and Arizona, but particularly in California and New York, Lorenzo said. In Buffalo, the game is played all year, even in the snow. “We’ve planted seeds and now it’s growing across the country,” said Lorenzo, who noted that sport has been renamed to all volley tennis.
This growth has allowed Altheim to focus on the business full-time. “I wanted to give it the attention it merited,” he said.
The original business model was based on sponsorships that didn’t pan out, Altheim confessed.
What has worked, though, comes from the vision he had for the sport while playing it with his children in the backyard of their Great Neck home a few years ago. That’s when he realized the game wasn’t just made for the beach. It could be played in schools and during winter. Beach USA has since created boxed kits complete with paddles, balls and nets that are easy to assemble anywhere, anytime.
“By making it not exclusively for the beach," he said, "we’ve opened up a lot more opportunities to play this great sport."