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It’s not quite tennis, nor is it pickle ball, but rather something in between.

By: David Rheinhart
July 27, 2018

It’s called spec tennis, born right here in Sonoma County about two years ago, and it’s a fresh new take on the traditional racket sports genre. Its growth was rapid and apparent at the spec tennis summer clinic held at Magnolia Park Sunday. 

“As a kid I played paddle tennis in Venice Beach and so I was trying to find a way to play that around here. I started experimenting with different paddles and different balls and then I came up with the low compression ball,” spec tennis creator, Nate Gross said. “It’s a little bit less of a learning curve than regular tennis, so it’s easier for someone to come in without a racket sports background.”

Spec tennis is played on a pickle ball court, but the swiss-cheese pattern on its paddle and the low-compression ball demands a more traditional tennis technique in the strike. The smaller court and faster ball combine to create a more rapid pace of play. This is all by design, according to Gross. 

“The rallies can be pretty incredible. In covering a smaller court it’s easier to retrieve and it’s harder to put the ball away,” Gross said. “Everything is really, really quick. You can play it just like tennis, but it’s all fast paced.” 

The new sport has gained quite a following over the past few years, drawing most of their new players from tennis and other racket sport veterans—veterans like Lori Ayre, vice-president of the Petaluma Tennis Association. 

“I like the fact that the ball doesn’t hurt. It’s a nice soft ball,” Ayre said. “This is my first time playing it, but it feels like the kind of sport where you’re not gonna get hurt in terms of shoulder injuries or tennis elbow. It’s like this cross between pingpong and paddleball. It just seems like you’re less injury prone.” 

For many players, that ease upon the body is important, and it’s a major reason why sports like pickle ball attracted such a large following. Spec tennis player, George Marinkovich, joined the game with his wife, Shannon Marinkovich, who suffered a knee injury when she was young. 

“You can see that you don’t have to move as much—it’s more reaction time. It’s a little bit less impact than actual tennis,” George Marinkovich said. “I think it’s gonna take off beyond pickle ball. A lot of players are gravitating to this.” 

Spec tennis has seen its share of growth since its birth two years ago. From its beginnings in 2016 when its ‘nationals’ had only eight participants, to this year when the first of its bi-annual tournaments brought in over 40 players. While these numbers are certainly humble, spec tennis is growing a following outside of Sonoma county. 

“It’s becoming quite popular in the Bay Area,” Gross said. “There are other clubs that are contacting me that I haven’t interacted with directly. We have a good following in the East Bay—Concord in particular.” 

Whether spec tennis manages to eclipse pickle ball remains to be seen. For now though, the next spec tennis nationals tournament will take place at Magnolia Park August 11th and 12th.