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Beach Tennis Set For U.S. Start

May 16, 2005 03:38 PM

By Jared S. Hopkins, USA TODAY

If Pete Sampras decides to make a comeback, he could leave his sneakers at home. Beach tennis — a sport combining tennis, badminton and beach volleyball — makes its official American debut Saturday at the Charleston Maritime Festival in Charleston, S.C., as part of the Beach Tennis USA tour.

It is played on a regulation-size beach volleyball court, and players use tennis rackets and balls and follow tennis rules. They have one chance to hit the ball back and forth without letting it hit the sand.

By Beach Tennis USA

The tour makes four more stops along the East Coast, and each daylong exhibition features one court for professional tennis players and three for the public to learn to play.

Marc Altheim, a real estate developer, first saw beach tennis in Aruba in 2003 while on vacation. Seeing its potential in America, he went to his uncle, Fred Finklestein, who owns an advertising firm in New York City and once directed advertising for ABC Sports, and founded the company.

"It was really like one of those light bulbs went off in my head," Altheim says. "I'm a racket guy and just fell in love with playing tennis on the beach."

The two are working to line up corporate sponsors, but for now Altheim and Finklestein are the main investors and already have put in several hundred thousand dollars.

Tennis players from the Netherlands saw beach tennis in Brazil four years ago and brought it to Aruba, a vacation hot spot for the Dutch. Sjoerd de Vries, a tennis pro in Aruba and founder of the Aruba Beach Tennis Foundation, organizes tournaments there. The last had 300 people.

De Vries says the game is for both skilled and unskilled competitors.

"They say, 'Which side of the racket do I use?' " he says. "But you can also play it at the high level."

Ultimately, the plan is to establish beach tennis competition in the USA. A West Coast tour is planned for next summer, and Altheim says he wants beach tennis to eventually be aired on television. As for the long term, Finklestein says beach tennis is "absolutely" here for good.

"We're in a position to show people that this is a well-funded fun game with potential to grow," Altheim says, echoing his partner.

De Vries, however, concedes that part of beach tennis' success in Aruba comes from the year-round warm weather. He says it should be treated as a summer sport.

"We can do bowling here and it will be nice," he says.

The tour travels to Virginia Beach on June 12, Jones Beach, N.Y., on July 3, and New York on July 13. The champions from each stop will compete for a $10,000 prize in the championship in Long Beach, N.Y., on Sept. 12.




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