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A Courtside Rivalry: Pickleball vs. Tennis

First on the court today is Mike Graff, a local pickleball instructor at the University of Windsor, the City of Windsor, and the Windsor pickleball club.
Author: Layan Barakat
Photographer: Anothony Sheardon
1 week ago
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First on the court today is Mike Graff, a local pickleball instructor at the University of Windsor, the City of Windsor, and the Windsor pickleball club. Mike expertly weaves his paddle as he prepares for his opponent, who’s just arrived. Crowd, please welcome Robert Rotaru, former professional tennis player ranked #1467 in the world and tennis coach for the last 14 years.

Players, take your place – the game is about to start.

In this courtside rivalry, pickleball is a new contender on the scene. A game that has been taking rec centres and community courts by storm, challenging traditional tennis’s supremacy. “They put four courts in south Windsor, west Windsor, east Windsor, and ten in Forest Glade. Tecumseh also has ten courts,” says Graff. “Every year, so many new people are coming into the sport that there is a huge need for more, even indoor courts. People struggle in the winter now, and they find places to play like churches, legions, the Fogular – these venues are seeing what’s going on and offering up their gyms for the sport.”

Mike Graff is a self-proclaimed pickleball enthusiast who has witnessed the sport’s popularity firsthand. “Absolutely everyone can play pickleball,” he says. “It’s not just for the older crowd; the boom in pickleball is actually coming from the 20-30-year-old crowd. I’ve been to pickleball courts and seen four generations of families – grandparents, mom, dad, kids – not just hitting the ball but actually playing.” With its smaller court and lighter equipment, pickleball offers a more accessible alternative to its larger cousin, tennis. 

“Pickleball is friendlier on your body,” Graff explains. “Most games are played in doubles, and even if you have some ailment, you can still play.” This inclusivity has contributed to pickleball’s meteoric rise, with new courts popping up across communities and generations bonding over rallies and volleys. 

But it could be smoother sailing for the sport; Graff recounts facing resistance from traditional tennis circles. “There’s a little pushback between tennis and pickleball players,” he admits. “Tennis players don’t want us in their facilities; they feel a little threatened by the sport.” However, pickleball’s growing popularity speaks volumes – if there’s not enough demand for tennis, why not make room for a newer sport?

Your serve, Rotaru

Rotaru began his tennis career at the age of nine. “I got to play competitive tennis early on; by the time I was 18 years old, I made it to the top 5 in Canada in Junior’s Tennis,” he says. “That got me a scholarship at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. I played there for four years, then I started playing professional tennis for two years after that.”

For Robert, tennis is more than just a game – it’s a journey of discipline, talent, and mental fortitude. “The competitive world of tennis deals with a lot of mental strength,” he reflects. “You have to beat your doubts and fears.” Despite the challenges, his dedication to tennis has seen him through the ranks, from junior championship to coaching at Parkside Tennis Club. “Tennis demands hard work and sweat,” he emphasizes. “But with determination, you can achieve great things.”

While tennis may have a more extended history and a more established infrastructure, Robert acknowledges the allure of pickleball. “My tennis friends that I coached who are later in life introduced me to pickleball, and I thought it was a fun sport in the beginning. I gave it a try; as most tennis players, I looked down on pickleball because of the stereotype, but I think that’s starting to change,” explains Robert. “For me, it was a challenge; I wasn’t necessarily great off the bat, but I like a good challenge. Within the first few months, my friends encouraged me to sign up for nationals in Waterloo back in 2015, and I ended up winning the singles nationals in the pro division. People were surprised that I won, but a lot of it has to do with having a tennis background. Agility is important in pickleball.”

Robert, who is currently seeking sponsorship to compete professionally, now coaches tennis and pickleball at Parkside Tennis Club and has taught both sports to the oldest of his six children. “My kids picked up pickleball faster than they picked up tennis cause it’s easier to hit over the net, the court is small, and everything is light,” explains Robert. “The excitement factor is similar in both; you need agility and eye coordination for both. Pickleball is slowly growing and evolving to more abilities. You see people using different grips and trying to add more and more spin to the ball, making the sport more challenging.” 

Both sports bring unique charm to the court in this rivalry. Pickleball’s accessibility and social appeal have captured the hearts of players across generations, while tennis stands as a timeless testament to skill and perseverance. But in this friendly rivalry, there’s room for both. As pickleball courts spring up alongside tennis facilities, enthusiasts like Mike and Robert bridge the gap between the two worlds. “In the end, it’s all about having fun on the court, no matter which side you’re on,” says Mike. 

In this physical clash between the old guard and the new contender, pickleball and tennis emerge as champions. The spirit of competition and camaraderie lives on as players flock to the courts—one rally at a time. 

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