Long-time tennis player, volunteer and advocate John Crabb is serving up a plea in response to pickleball’s massive popularity.
“Leave the tennis courts as they are,” said the 74-year-old Edmontonian, adding, “Cannibalizing public tennis courts to provide pickleball courts makes no sense at all, and city administration and politicians need to be educated on that.”
In the past five years the number of public tennis courts in Edmonton has dropped from 85 to 77 to make way for new pickleball courts. (Pickleball--a similar racquet sport--has been dubbed the fastest-growing sport in Canada since 2017.)
At Confederation Park, for example, two tennis courts are being converted to eight pickleball courts. In addition, pickleball lines have been painted at various tennis courts to allow both sports to play at the same facilities.
Crabb, board president of the Edmonton Junior Tennis Society, says the trend is disheartening.
“We don't have enough good tennis courts in the Edmonton area. We are significantly undersupplied," he said.
Across Alberta, tennis courts are being replaced by pickleball courts “but only in certain areas,” says Alan Mackin, executive director of Tennis Alberta.
He admits there has been some backlash in the tennis community but added “we don’t want a war with pickleball. We want both sports to co-exist.”
Crabb, who is also a director with Tennis Edmonton, admits the tennis community has an uphill battle.
“We believe the tennis community as a whole needs to do more to ensure both the public sector and private sector in this city and region take tennis seriously as a sport with broad community benefits and interest," Crabb said.
A City of Edmonton spokesperson said, "The City of Edmonton aims to have a diverse range of accessible recreation opportunities throughout the city. The number of courts planned will become available as projects are announced. We do extensive public engagement on our projects to allow feedback from all citizens.”
Crabb, who has been playing tennis for more than five decades, has borrowed a paddle to play pickleball on occasion.
"I understand why (pickleball) is attractive to so many people, but I still love tennis," said Crabb, adding, "There is something satisfying about hitting a tennis ball."
Crabb believes both sports can co-exist on the recreational sports landscape.
"If you've never played tennis, it has its place. For people getting older and with bad knees, it's easier to play (pickleball)," he admits.
Crabb, who now only plays doubles tennis, is a proponent of facilities that are able to accommodate both tennis and pickleball, citing Edmonton’s Capilano Community League as an example. He says there are plans under consideration at Capilano to convert the outdoor hockey rink to pickleball, leaving the four tennis courts untouched.
While there are a declining number of outdoor public courts, Crabb says the indoor side has also been seriously underserved. There are currently only three indoor public courts in Edmonton, all located at the Kinsmen Sports Centre.
As an alternative to pickleball, Crabb said less mobile people can play touch tennis, a modified form of tennis where participants play on a smaller court using foam balls and shorter racquets.
"The rules and scoring are the same as tennis," he said, adding portable pop-up nets are used.
To raise tennis’ profile, Both Crabb and Edmonton Junior Tennis Society (EJTS) executive director Karina Trkulja helped organize TENNISfest at the Edmonton ExpoCentre in mid-June. The event drew more than 400 people of all ages and was deemed a success.
Looking ahead, Trkulja said, "Whatever type of tennis you play, the community is looking for renewed interest in our sport. Tennis is a true sport for life."
For more on Edmonton city tennis courts, see www.edmonton.ca/activities_parks_recreation/tennis-courts. To find out about junior tennis in the city, see edmontonjuniortennis.com. And for information on the provincial organization, see tennisalberta.com.