The first time Alex Mansfield saw the game played, he scratched his head.
This happened six years ago when Mansfield was a member of the University of New Mexico’s club tennis team. The team was competing in a USTA Tennis on Campus match in Cary, N.C.
“We had a rain-out and when we went back to the courts, four guys were playing something I had never seen before. For a few minutes I couldn’t figure it out.”
What they were playing has been called, among other names, “bounce tennis,” or “mini-tennis.” At the Tennis Club of Albuquerque, where Mansfield, 28, an assistant pro who works often with juniors, it’s known as “one up.”
Two or four people play on a normal tennis court with regular rackets and a yellow ball. Only service boxes are in bounds. Any ball that lands beyond those boxes, or in the alleys, is out. What makes the game different – and sometimes difficult to grasp initially – is that every shot you take, including a serve, must be bounced over the net.
“You hit the ball straight down all the time,” says Mansfield. This, he explains, differs from typical tennis strokes. You are allowed only one bounce on your side of the net.
For beginners, the great temptation, according to Mansfield, is to return the ball on the fly. “Once kids here get used to the no-volley idea, they progress quickly. We use it just about every day in drills. It’s addictive.”
It’s also great fun, whereas many tennis drills after a while can be boring.
“One of the tangible benefits is that bounce tennis helps in footwork around the court,” Mansfield says. “A lot of the kids here, their footwork is short and inefficient. Bounce tennis is about taking big steps.”
Experienced bounce tennis players move opponents around. It becomes pattern-driven. Rallies can be long and exhausting, much like squash.
The discovery of bounce tennis for many came by way of a now-popular YouTube video. It shows Novak Djokovic playing a point in 2011 with Dusan Vemic, a former touring pro from Serbia. You can find the video by Googling “Djokovic plays mini tennis.” A 68-shot point between the two goes on for a staggering 90 seconds.
Matthieu Covizzi, 24, another assistant pro at TCA, remembers seeing bounce tennis played in his native France about ten years ago. “I like it because it’s very tactical and precise. You don’t have to hit any ball really hard. This game is so much about touch.”