Player George Wilkinson of Manursing Island Club, Rye. Photo by Steve P. Mack
As the Platform Tennis National Championships head to Westchester, we talk to the country’s top player to learn about this homegrown sport.
There are two types of Westchesterites: people who have never heard of platform tennis, and those who are die-hard fans.
“Paddle,” as it’s affectionately known, was actually created in Scarsdale more than 90 years ago in 1928, when two tennis lovers — James Cogswell and Fessenden Blanchard — were trying to figure out a way to enjoy racquet sports here at home during the winter months. The two build a little raised platform a bit smaller than a regulation tennis court and purchased some spongy balls and wooden paddles.
The duo added chicken wire around the periphery to keep their balls from landing in the snow, then decided making it legal to play a ball off the fence added an extra layer of strategy to the game. Over the years, racquet designs evolved and heaters were added to keep the platform free of snow and ice, eventually becoming the all-weather sport it is today.
This winter, the American Platform Tennis Association (APTA) National Championships will return to the sport’s birthplace, as more than 500 players from across the nation will compete at qualifying men’s, women’s, and mixed doubles matches at more than 34 local clubs, including Westchester Country Club and Manursing Island Club in Rye, Bronxville Field Club, and the Country Club of Darien, about 30 minutes away.
We wanted to find a local expert to talk to about the sport, and there really isn’t any more local or more expert than Westchester Country Club Pro Florentina Hanisch. Ranked the #7 tennis player in South America at just 16 in her native Brazil, Hanisch won the APTA National Championship with her partner, Annica van Starrenburg, in 2017; was a finalist in 2018; and ranked third in 2019. With her husband she has won both Mixed Doubles and the Husband/Wife Nationals two years running. Currently, she is the #1 ranked Paddle player in the United States.
After playing tennis throughout your childhood and college career at Wichita State, how did you get into platform tennis?
Florentina Hanisch: My good friend Margo DeSantis asked me to play with her family. It was a love/hate relationship: It’s a very social game which I loved, but it’s a game of errors which can be very frustrating at first!
What’s the biggest adjustment that first-time players face when coming from a tennis background?
Getting the serves in, learning the screens, but most of all, learning to be patient. Tennis is a game of power, speed, and winners. Platform tennis is a game of errors, patience, and strategy.
The court is very small and everyone can get to anything. For that reason, instead of trying to hit a great shot, you are better off building the point until you get your opponent out of position and he/she misses the ball.
Will locals get the chance to see you compete again this year?
Yes. I’m a counting the days until the tournament! It’s one of my favorite tournaments and being at home makes it even more special!
The APTA Men’s and Women’s Nationals will be held March 5-8 at the Country Club of Darien. APTA Husband/Wife and Mixed Nationals will be held at Westchester Country Club March 20-23.