Aged only 14, Anna Leigh Waters has climbed to number 3 in the pickleball world rankings (Photo credit: USA Pickleball / Digital Spatula)

If you find the game of tennis a little too intense – and we don’t just mean the Australian Open Novak Djokovic saga or Rafael Nadal’s heavy topspin – well, you are in luck. The world of racket sports is bigger than most people think, and unusual bat-based games are growing in popularity all over the world.

There are countless variations of the much-loved sport to cater to all ages and abilities. That is, once you have worked out your pickleball from your paddle tennis, and your platform tennis from your pop.

Pickleball, which sadly doesn’t involve the vinegary food, is actually a combination of badminton, table tennis and tennis all rolled into one fun sport. The reason why it’s called pickleball is contested but the sport dates to the mid-1960s as a playground game in the US. It can be played by two or four players using solid paddles and a wiffleball (a small plastic ball with holes in it). 

Darryl Kwok, a data scientist with Seagate Singapore, picked up Pickleball from his mum, and is a fan of world number 1 pickleball player Ben Johns. He sports his new Ben Johns paddle at the ActiveSG Year End Smash 2021. (Photo credit: Singapore Pickle-Ball Association)

Pickleball is played on a court the same size as a badminton court but there are slightly different areas. For example, either side of the net is a non-volley zone, nicknamed “the kitchen”. Again, there’s no food in there either.

Although it’s played with paddles, pickleball is not paddle tennis. That’s a whole other sport. Paddle tennis was invented in the 1920s in the US, and involves a spongey ball and small paddles. But to complicate things, there’s another sport called padel tennis that is quite similar and not just a spelling mistake.

Paddle and padel tennis understandably gets confused with one another, as both have similar names, rules and are predominantly played as doubles. But a few years ago paddle tennis rebranded itself as pop tennis to avoid further confusion. 

Singapore-based expat Alexandre Bonnefoy participates in the Pesta Sukan 2021. (Photo credit: Singapore Pickle-Ball Association)

A quick Google search showed there is a pop tennis coaching school and a padel tennis club in Singapore. If that’s not your thing, there’s another variant called platform tennis, which its players often call paddle tennis, even though it’s technically not.

Of all these tennis offshoots, pickleball is probably the most popular in Singapore and has seen rising participation in recent years. According to the Singapore Pickle-Ball Association (who favour the hyphen), there are about 1,000 players now.

“With Covid and the closure of indoor facilities, players had no choice but to play at the outdoor free courts. This added so much visibility and awareness to our sport that we are really growing in the pandemic times” says Lim Ee Kiong, Honorary Treasurer of the Singapore Pickle-Ball Association.

(Related: How Jimmy Poh, Alex Chua and Ruchdi Hajjar reinvent themselves to stay ahead)

Pini Lee flew to Fountain Valley, US to play in the West Regional Championship 2021 and won the 50+ Women’s Doubles Gold (Photo credit: Singapore Pickle-Ball Association)

He says the appeal of the sport is that it’s very easy to pick up.  Anyone who has played some racket sports would find their skills still very relevant and useful in pickleball. “It doesn’t require jump smashes like badminton and is a slower pace than table tennis, while the court is smaller than a tennis court,” Lim adds. 

“Players can get good pretty fast to play a fun and meaningful game. Many athletic ones even play for six months and start winning national tournaments.”

At 72, John Ng remains an active competitor and certified pickleball referee. He’s pictured mid-game at the Tampines North Pickleball Team Challenge 2021 (Photo credit: Singapore Pickle-ball Association)

Platform tennis is different from its paddling rivals, and you can play the ball off the side fencing. The “platform” refers to the court which is typically raised off the ground. However, it is a very niche racket sport and there currently aren’t any playing facilities in Asia, according to Ann W. Sheedy, Executive Director of the American Platform Tennis Association (APTA).

As a country that is batty about being first, maybe this is a golden opportunity for Singapore to put itself on the map.