Platform tennis gaining following in suburbs

 
By Abby Scalf
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 4/13/2018 6:33 AM
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  • The suburban platform tennis team of Alison Morgan, left, and Laura Berendt won the Hinsdale Challenge, the 2018 National Ranking and Viking President's Cup Qualifier.

      The suburban platform tennis team of Alison Morgan, left, and Laura Berendt won the Hinsdale Challenge, the 2018 National Ranking and Viking President's Cup Qualifier. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Platform tennis player Alison Morgan of Lake Bluff plays at the Birchwood Club in Highland Park.

      Platform tennis player Alison Morgan of Lake Bluff plays at the Birchwood Club in Highland Park. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Platform tennis players Alison Morgan, left, of Lake Bluff and Laura Berendt of Lombard play at the Birchwood Club in Highland Park.

      Platform tennis players Alison Morgan, left, of Lake Bluff and Laura Berendt of Lombard play at the Birchwood Club in Highland Park. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Platform tennis players Laura Berendt, left, and Alison Morgan play against Bjorn Bernhardtz and Mike Carrico, right, at the Birchwood Club in Highland Park.

      Platform tennis players Laura Berendt, left, and Alison Morgan play against Bjorn Bernhardtz and Mike Carrico, right, at the Birchwood Club in Highland Park. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • The suburban platform tennis team of Alison Morgan and Laura Berendt won the Hinsdale Challenge, the 2018 National Ranking and Viking President's Cup Qualifier.

    The suburban platform tennis team of Alison Morgan and Laura Berendt won the Hinsdale Challenge, the 2018 National Ranking and Viking President's Cup Qualifier. Courtesy of Abby Scalf

Who says playing tennis is limited to when it's warm and dry outside?

Don't tell that to Alison Morgan and Laura Berendt.

They can share stories about getting drenched in the rain or walking onto the court when the temperature is hovering near freezing.

But this is no ordinary court they use. Instead of a racquet, they use a paddle drilled with aerodynamic holes. And there's no green fuzzy balls either.

Morgan and Berendt play platform tennis -- also called paddle tennis -- a sport that's growing in popularity at country clubs and public courts across the country.

The women, who began coaching tennis, were later introduced to platform tennis. Morgan recalls she learned how to play while working at Birchwood Country Club in Highland Park, and liked the sport right away.

"It's one of those sports you can get hooked on pretty quickly. You can get better quickly. Tennis takes a lot of time and technique. In platform tennis, you can develop your game pretty quickly," said Morgan of Lake Bluff. "It's why people get the bug for it."

Berendt, who lives in Lombard, at first didn't share the same enthusiasm. In 2003, she was working at the Glenview Club, which needed an assistant to teach paddle tennis, and she begrudgingly helped out.

"I did not enjoy the cold weather. I was put on the court to play a set and did not do well because I did not know the positioning and got a little upset. I started practicing a lot out of spite," said Berendt, who now teaches platform tennis at Midtown Athletic Club in Chicago.

The game is played on an aluminum deck about one-third the size of a tennis court and is surrounded by fencing, which allows play off the walls, similar to racquetball.

The court also is elevated and allows for a heating system beneath the deck that melts ice off the surface so athletes can play in all weather conditions.

"Courts are going up all over, and the program is expanding every year," Morgan said. "Our members are getting hooked, and they are bringing their friends."

In tennis, Berendt said, if you are the strongest and fastest person on the court, you are likely to win the match.

"With paddle, the person who is a little bit steadier and slows down, is patient, can see different weaknesses in their opponent, I find that person will do well most of the time," she said.

Berendt added that platform tennis also is more social.

"The culture is you go out there, have a couple beers, talk a little smack and go out there and play," she said.

Morgan met Berendt while watching her play at a Lake Forest tournament and was impressed. They became partners and competed for the first time at the Illinois States tournament and won.

Berendt said they do well together because they know and play to their strengths.

"She moves the ball around and tries to find different ways to get the ball over so I can smack the hell out of the ball," Morgan said.

The American Platform Tennis Association says the sport was invented in 1928 in Scarsdale, New York, and has 3,000 courts across the country. In the Chicago area, the association says there are 179 courts in use at 47 facilities.

While there's no official estimate on the number of people who play platform tennis, association officials say the sport continues to grow in popularity because it's available year-round and its social component.

The association hosts tournaments across the country, including events in Lake Forest, Hinsdale and Chicago. These events, which feature 32 to 64 teams, allow players to earn rankings to get better placement at the national tournament, which features 128 teams and takes place each year in March.

Morgan and Berendt won the Lake Forest Open in 2016 and the Hinsdale Women's Challenge two consecutive years, 2017 and 2018.

"The more we're on the court with each other, we know what each other wants to do. We know the shots we want to hit," said Morgan.

Competing at this year's nationals, Morgan and Berendt said they had a great time, but they did not finish as well as they wanted. They agree it's another learning experience.

"We finished 11-12, so it was not bad but we wanted to do better," Morgan said.

"It lights a fire under you," Berendt added.

Morgan and Berendt are not the only winning match on the tennis court. Morgan and her husband, Adam, also are the reigning married mixed national platform tennis champions.

"I've tried, whether it's pick up games or even in tournaments, to play with a lot of different people because it develops your game even more -- to learn your roles, see what they can do well, to set them up," said Morgan, who also has played with other partners at East Coast competitions.

"But I love playing with Laura. She's my favorite."

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