Mike Gooding has met Queen Elizabeth and played for the emperor of Japan, all thanks to the obscure sport of court tennis. Now Gooding is reawakening the sport at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, home of a 117-year-old indoor court—the only one in New Jersey and one of only 10 in the nation.
Court tennis, a precursor to modern tennis, involves hand-stitched balls ricocheting off of concrete walls and angled ceilings. The sport is so arcane that Gooding has to sew his own tennis balls: cotton webbing wound into a sphere and covered in neon yellow felt.
“They should’ve never let tennis have the name,” says Gooding, a native Scotsman and former doubles champion in the United States Court Tennis Association’s U.S. Open.
When we met this winter, Gooding had already introduced 60 students and coaches to the sport. The university president has since had a private lesson, and Gooding—who commutes from his home in Tuxedo Park, New York—wants to reach several hundred more potential players. “Probably more people will try [court tennis] here than in the rest of the country combined this year,” he says. Gooding hopes to build a self-sustaining program at GCU, with students and community members paying for court time.
The thing is, court tennis is hard. The ball flies at you from all angles and the heavy racquet makes your arms ache. But Gooding thinks that’s part of its charm. “People have started to relish things that are more difficult,” he says. “That’s why court tennis has a chance of a comeback.”