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USTA Cardio Tennis Growing in Popularity

April 4, 2007 10:11 AM

By Kate Santich

Sentinel Staff Writer

Their Hearts Race on Center Court

The Rolling Stones rock from a boombox at Heathrow Racquet Club's center court, where a group of women sweats through what looks like a tennis clinic on speed.

The seven alternately smack ground strokes back to an instructor, rush the net, zigzag through a series of cones and dance in place behind the baseline.

The routines keep them constantly on the move. If the ball happens to go where they want it to, so much the better. But no one is keeping score.

"Hustle!" yells teacher Claudette Laliberte good-naturedly. "What do you think this is? A country club?"

At the moment, it may not seem like it. You might even suppose this bunch is about to be unceremoniously booted off the court.

But Cardio Tennis, as this high-energy workout is called, could do for tennis what Spinning has done for bicycling -- luring new people to the sport and re-energizing veterans. Or so the United States Tennis Association hopes.

"I love it," says 45-year-old Muriel Wesley of Lake Mary. "Cardio Tennis helps keep me young."

Part aerobics class, part tennis drills, the concept debuted in New York in 2005, but it is only now getting a toehold in Central Florida. In large part, it's an attempt by the USTA and the Tennis Industry Association to compete with YMCAs and gyms for the growing number of fitness-minded customers -- and to give teaching pros a steady source of income.

Not yet two years old, Cardio Tennis has spread to more than 1,500 sites across the country. And 92 percent of participants surveyed say they plan to continue.

Not only does it burn more calories than doubles or singles, proponents claim; it beats doing traditional drills to strengthen your game.

"This is a lot more fun than a regular tennis clinic where it's just drill, drill, drill," says Kendra Shortle, 43, who lives in Heathrow. "There's music and energy and flow, and everybody motivates each other."

Classes, taught by a certified tennis pro, typically last about an hour and cost roughly $15 per session. They include a stretching and warm-up period followed by an intense main session, during which participants aim to keep their heart rates at 65 percent to 85 percent of their maximum. Last comes a gradual cool-down. In Laliberte's class, John Mayer quickly gives way to the Stones, Pat Benatar and Lynyrd Skynyrd, before mellowing out with Sheryl Crow and Coldplay.

"I've been a pro for 25 years, and I wanted to give people something to do during the drills instead of just standing there and waiting their turn," Laliberte says. "I wanted to make it more fun -- and more fitness-oriented."

Joey Puleri, an Orlando tennis pro who leads Cardio Tennis classes at the Grande Lakes JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton, admits the intensity of the workout took him by surprise.

"The first time I tried it -- oh, my goodness. I couldn't believe how hard it was," he says. "And the best thing is, you don't have to be a great player to get a great workout. In fact, you don't have to be a tennis player at all to do Cardio Tennis -- and you'll still get a great workout."

You do need a racquet to participate, but teachers will supply the balls, and unless you're at a private club with a dress code, you can wear the same thing you would wear to the gym.

The concept has proved tremendously popular in the Northeast, but it's still in its infancy in Central Florida, says Marcelo Gouts, director of tennis for Orange County's Lake Cane Tennis Center. Earlier this year, classes there had to be scrubbed when the lone instructor moved to Brazil.

"It's a great program, but you really need a very driven instructor to do it right," Gouts says. "The curriculum is so different. It is really energetic."

Just last weekend, Lake Cane held a certification course for would-be Cardio Tennis teachers, and classes are scheduled to start in early May.

As word spreads, tennis pros say, they expect demand will grow for more classes. Even in a sport steeped in tradition -- and with a reputation for occasional snootiness -- there seems to be room for change.

"I've been playing 20 years," says 53-year-old Candy Cook of Sanford. "And sometimes you get a little lazy and just kind of end up standing around, not moving that much between shots. But in this class, you can't do that. It really keeps your heart pumping."






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