During the pandemic, no participation sport has benefited more than tennis.
According to data released earlier this year in the Physical Activity Council’s Participation Report, tennis participation in the U.S. skyrocketed, increasing by some 22% in 2020, with nearly 22 million people playing at some point during the past 12 months.
Parks & Recreation Magazine said in July that translates into an additional four million participants from the previous year.
Then there’s the sport’s annual two-week showcase at the just-completed U.S. Open in New York City — which was epic this year.
The historic runs to the Women’s Finals by two unseeded teenagers — 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez (who now lives in Boynton Beach) and 18-year-old Emma Raducanu of Great Britain — were unprecedented.
The two Gen-Z phenoms thrilled sold-out crowds at Arthur Ashe Stadium with their athletic and aggressive playing styles, fearless shot selection, preternatural poise and infectious charisma. Raducanu won 6-4, 6-3, becoming the first qualifier — meaning she had to win three matches just to enter the tournament’s main draw — ever to win a Grand Slam title.
And while Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, lost in the Men’s Final, coming one victory shy of being the first male player since 1968 to win the calendar Grand Slam, with so much positive mainstream buzz surrounding tennis, it’s no wonder that the sport’s leaders are bullish about where the sport is headed.
Mike Dowse, United States Tennis Association CEO and executive director, is especially excited about recent developments in his sport and what it portends for the future.
“We are thrilled that so many new and existing players came back to the sport — especially in what was such a challenging year for so many people,” he said earlier this year. “These new participation numbers are a testament to the hard work, passion and commitment of a united industry that worked together to ensure that tennis not only survived, but that it thrived. Even though we continue to face challenges, it’s evident that many people recognize tennis as the ideal social-distancing sport, which puts it in a great position to continue to grow and allow people to stay active and social in a healthy and safe manner.”
You can learn more about the USTA’s “Let’s Tennis” initiative at letstennis.com.
Count me among those 22 million Americans who’ve played tennis — in my case, a lot of tennis! — during the past 18 months.
In fact, since mid-March 2020 — when my colleagues and I began working remotely (and continue to do so) — my regular tennis games have been about far more than just forehands, backhands and overheads.
They’ve served as the primary in-person socializing I’ve done regularly for the past 18 months.
During water breaks and changeovers, my tennis friends and I chop it up about all variety of topics — work, family, friends, sports, politics, you name it — just like I used to do daily with my coworkers (whom I miss dearly!).
I’ve been an avid lifelong recreational tennis player primarily because the sport provides for such easy camaraderie.
Sure, we’re all competitive out there — but we’re also unfailingly supportive and complimentary of one another.
In fact, one of the things I’ve always enjoyed most about tennis is how the culture of the sport not only allows for, but actually encourages, “opponents” to congratulate one another during the competition.
Exclaiming “too good!” or “nice shot!” or pantomiming applause into your racket in reaction to your opponent’s winner is an ingrained aspect of the game’s etiquette — and one I delight in showering upon my playing partners.
Playing tennis throughout one’s lifetime has myriad physical, emotional and cognitive benefits.
But what you may not realize is that research suggests that playing tennis regularly may in fact extend your life.
In a long-term Denmark epidemiological study of 25,000 people that was published in 2019, researchers compared how playing different sports affected life expectancy.
For instance, it was no surprise that participants who did not exercise at all were far more likely to have died before participants who did engage in regularly physical activity.
The researchers, who made allowances for factors such as participants’ age, family/marital status, education and socioeconomic status, found that solitary endeavors such as cycling added 3.7 years to life expectancy, swimming added 3.4 years and running added 3.2 years.
However, sports in which there was more participant interaction — such as badminton and soccer — added 6.2 years and 4.7 years, respectively.
But the recreational sport that added by far the most life expectancy was tennis — at 9.7 years.
These findings echoed those of a 2017 study of 80,000 British men and women that found the avid tennis players among them tended to outlive the runners.
As one of the Denmark study’s authors said after the study was released, “We know from other research that social support provides stress mitigation. So being with other people, playing and interacting with them, as you do when you play games that require a partner or a team, probably has unique psychological and physiological effects.”
‘Sport for a lifetime’
Growing up, I regularly played all team sports — basketball, baseball, football, even some soccer. Basically, whatever was “in season” is what I’d play.
But one thing my dad — who was a good athlete in his youth and a very adept self-taught tennis player as an adult — would periodically tell me is how much I’ll appreciate when I’m older that I learned to play tennis as a youngster.
“The great thing about tennis,” he’d say, “is that it’s a sport you can play for a lifetime.”
Indeed, it’s been decades since I’ve swung a bat or thrown a baseball or shot a jumper in a pickup basketball run.
But just like Dad promised, I’ve been playing tennis in my 30s, 40s and 50s and — good health permitting — plan to do so the rest of my life.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Boomer Health: Pandemic has been a boon for recreational tennis