Tennis is about to leave Earth and head into orbit.
No, that’s not a joke, and we’re not being metaphorical. If you’ve ever wondered what a Nadal forehand or a Federer backhand slice might look like in zero gravity, then you might be in luck.
Okay, okay. We’re not getting THAT lucky. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are not suiting up and facing off in space. But we are about to find out how a tennis match beyond the Earth’s atmosphere might play out.
Astronaut and tennis fan A.J. ‘Drew’ Feustel is heading into space on March 9, 2018, on NASA’s Expedition 55 – a journey to the International Space Station, roughly 250 miles above Earth.
This will be Feustel’s third foray into space, and this time he’s taking a little extra equipment with him. A pair of mini rackets and a tennis ball, to be exact.
Feustel revealed in a pre-flight press tour interview that he would be channeling his inner Andy Murray while aboard the space station, breaking out the rackets to play the first off-planet tennis match.
The experienced astronaut is working with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) to promote Net Generation – a program launched by the USTA aimed at boosting grassroots tennis. The Net Generation program was started to provide extra coaching and encouragement to young tennis players, aged 5-18. We may currently be in a golden age of tennis, with four all-time greats currently gracing the courts, but USTA has one eye on the future.
Programs like Net Generation are vital in ensuring that talented children pick up a racket, find their love of the game and look to pursue a career in tennis. By engineering a link between Net Generation and a space mission, the USTA is making tennis instantly cooler and more relevant.
Not only is this a chance for everyone to see a new and exciting take on tennis, but it will provide a flashpoint and encourage youngsters to take notice. They’ll see the footage of Feustel and his fellow Expedition 55 astronauts playing tennis in space on social media, and they will want to play too. Space travel may not be the crowd draw it once was, but there are still plenty of children out there who dream of becoming astronauts, and will be inspired by this.
It’s also important to remember that this isn’t just about helping the sport. It’s about helping the children. Getting active, having fun and finding an activity that they are passionate about can provide an enormous boost for youngsters.
This isn’t the first time a sport has been played in the wacky lack of gravity provided by space. Over the years astronauts have tried their hand at a host of different sports, including soccer, football, baseball, basketball and even chess. In case you were wondering, they used a Velcro board which kept the chess pieces from floating away mid-game.
But it’s about time tennis joined the ranks of space sports, and hopefully Feustel’s stunt will inspire the next generation of tennis greats to pick up a racket for the first time.