Olivia Gravagna, a 6-year-old Suffern resident, was one of four youths to take part in a POP Tennis exhibition Dec. 31 at the US tennis nationals held in Flushing Meadows. Olivia, daughter of RCC tennis coach Joe Gravagna, impressed the crowd by keeping pace with exhibitioners twice her age.
POP Tennis VP Mitch Kutner told the Rockland County Times that with the backing of the USTA, POP is growing fast. The number of POP courts in the United States has increased from 500 to over 10,000 in recent years.
Kutner and a half dozen or so other executives are leading the push to grow the sport. Keep your eye out and you’re bound to see POP “pop” up. It has been making the rounds on media. Big time pro tennis players such as Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick, John McEnroe, Mardy Fish, Sam Querrey, Alison Riske, Derrick Rostagno, Stevie Johnson, Vinnie Van Patten and others have all been seen playing POP for fun recently.
So how did young Olivia of Suffern do during the exhibition?
“She was fantastic,” Kutner said.
Her dad the tennis coach is high on Olivia’s prospects. “She’s exceptional for her age,” Joe Gravagna said.
Most tennis players who go on to do big things get started before they’re 5-years-old, Kutner confirmed, so if Olivia does have that potential she is on the right timeline. If not, she isn’t complaining. Olivia told the Rockland County Times “I love tennis.” She said her favorite player is Serena Williams.
There are no POP courts in Rockland County at this time, but if POP’s expansion plan succeeds they will eventually be in every county in the country.
POP shares the same scoring rules as traditional tennis, but is played on a smaller court (60′ x 21′ vs. 78′ x 27′) and uses a paddle-style racket and “lower compression” tennis ball with a big green dot on it. Players are also required to use an underhand serve.
While 60′ is the standard length of a pop court, there are versions of the game with courts as short as 36.’
Traditionally known as paddle-tennis, the 100-year-old sport was rebranded POP in 2014 with the backing of the USTA. The major association sees POP as an excellent feeder game for traditional tennis, potentially attracting youths to the sport at an earlier age, while also giving older players a chance to engage in a lower stress version of the game.
It’s a fun sport in its own right for people of all ages, said Kutner, himself a longtime enthusiast and winner of many POP tournaments.