PLATFORM TENNIS: Captivated by Paddle

A game of finesse and quickness rather than power
Fabio Minozi says he can teach a beginner how to play the game in an hour. Craig Macnaughton

   There was no paddle in Brazil, Fabio Minozi, who directs East Hampton Indoor Tennis’s platform tennis program, said during a conversation Sunday morning in the warm-up hut that lies between E.H.I.T.’s two raised wire-enclosed courts.
    “It’s too hot,” the Sao Paulo native and former A.T.P. tour player said by way of explanation. “Paddle’s a winter game, even though they’re trying to come up with a less bouncy ball to play with in hot weather.”
    The lean 36-year-old tennis and platform tennis professional — he recently earned a Level 1 certificate from the American Platform Tennis Association — has become captivated by the quick, social game to which he was introduced about four years ago by Jamie Young at the Maidstone Club.
    One could go back and forth between the two sports, as he does, with no problem, Minozi said. When told some doubters had said paddle, which is played on painted, shard-flecked decking, wasn’t good for the knees, he replied, “I don’t have any knee problems. . . . None of the women I teach have ever complained of sore knees. Racket sports are hard on you, but I would recommend it to anyone.”
    He said, by the way, that he could teach a beginner how to play the game in an hour. “It’s an easy sport to learn.”
    In its initial year, platform tennis at E.H.I.T. has attracted more women than men — there are 40 members at the moment — perhaps, Minozi said, “because women are more attracted to the social aspect of it,” but in time he expects more men will play as well.
    Having said that, it is fair to say that the half-dozen top players here are men, a small but impressive group that, besides Minozi and Young, comprises Erik Peterson, Craig Lee, and George Muhlfeld. They generally can be seen engaged in endless rallies under the lights on Thursday evenings, from 5:30 to 7.
    During a break in last week’s match, they laughed a bit when this writer asked if they (Peterson, Young, Lee, and Minozi in this case) were nationally ranked, but if anyone is curious about the game (a small version of tennis with squash-like wire play mixed in) they would do well to look on when this group goes at it.
    You’ll see then that it’s largely a game of finesse and quickness rather than power — overheads angled for the corners can be interminably countered by skilled opponents with high, tantalizing lobs — though hard, flat drives — often on serve returns — at about belly button height are not for the fainthearted. Often, the coup de grace will be an acutely angled drop shot.
    Besides the shots angled off the wires, which require practice to get the hang of, there’s one major difference between the two racket sports: In paddle you get only one serve.
    “The lobs in paddle are offensive, whereas in tennis they’re defensive,” said Minozi, who added that “the screens give you time, but because your arm is in close to you, not stretched out as it is in tennis, you’ve got to be quick to get into the correct position to make your lobs. Eighty-five percent of the volleys are backhand volleys. You often don’t have time to go to the forehand at the net. You place the overheads toward the corners rather than smash them. The idea is to get people out of position so you can finish the point off.”
    He said he liked paddle also for the fact that it got him out into the fresh air. “And when there’s snow on the ground it’s beautiful.”
    Minozi’s tenure at E.H.I.T. has spanned a decade. He was the number-three player at the College of the Desert (C.O.D.), a junior college in Palm Desert, Calif., when Scott Rubenstein, the club’s managing partner, who had accompanied his eldest son, Matt, to a national junior tennis tournament in Palm Springs, first saw him.
    His father, “a club player like you guys,” had introduced him to tennis when he was 8 years old, Minozi said in reply to a question. He played a couple of years on the world professional circuit, and didn’t do badly, “but it’s tough. You need a weapon, a big serve for sure. Five-11, which I am, is not tall enough. You’ve got to be 6-2.”
    When his sponsorship waned, he moved to the United States, first living with a friend who went to the University of California at Santa Barbara and played for its team so that he could master the English language, after which he played at the aforementioned C.O.D. (with Alfredo Barreto, a native of Mexico who has also been at E.H.I.T. for 10 years, and with Rodrigo Grilli, a fellow Brazilian who taught at E.H.I.T. for a couple of years before giving the pro doubles circuit a try). The three E.H.I.T. pros-to-be then transferred — Grilli to U.C.L.A., Barreto to Texas A&M, and Minozi to Northwood University in West Palm Beach, Fla.
    “We had a very good team at C.O.D. — we scrimmaged with U.C.L.A., Pepperdine, Stanford. . . . Our head coach knew Scott, and that’s how I came to audition, I guess you’d say, for him. I brought Alfredo out here. He’s been here longer than me because I used to spend the winters teaching in Florida or California. . . . Once Scott got the idea to put the paddle courts in here, I decided I’d get certified and be the program’s director and give lessons.”
    Minozi said he’d found that paddle was a more relaxed, friendly game than tennis, though the object, of course, he said, was to win. Perhaps the close confines of the court contributed to the more relaxed atmosphere, he said; that and the fact that afterward you could repair to the warming hut for more socializing, for a cup of coffee, a glass of wine.
    “I do the same with the paddle players as Scott does in tennis — we arrange matches, we have events. . . . Yesterday, five guys from Pound Ridge played some of our guys — Barry and Greg Emanuel, Mathias Thoerner, Rob Likoff, Richard Myers, and George Muhlfeld. Usually, you have six on a team, so we mixed a bit. Our guys did okay. This month we’ve been having a tournament,” he said, looking at the draw posted on the outside of the warming hut, “and we’re going to have an exhibition on April 27, a Saturday, with food and drinks. . . .”
    Soon, he said, he and his Brazilian-born wife, Livia, would go to Brazil to see their families, a trip they make once a year.
    “I love Brazil,” he said in answer to a question. “It’s a beautiful country, the people are great, and it’s doing much better economically than when I left.”
    “But this is my home now,” he said with a smile. “I’m comfortable here. My life is good, I like it a lot.”