Live Ball: Tennis Without the Rules

CREDIT: Wall Street Journal, Jen Murphy

Live ball is an intense workout and social game for tennis players in a rowdy mood

If you think tennis is boring, you haven’t played Live Ball. The fast-paced doubles game began about 20 years ago, when Tennis Channel founder Steve Bellamy noticed people were leaving tennis courts for yoga classes and spin studios and developed an edgier, high-energy game.

“It’s like a doubles-style King of the Court,” says Nick Petrou, manager of the Palisades Tennis Center in Pacific Palisades, Calif., referring to the game where one person is the king and two or more players take turns trying to dethrone him by winning a singles point against him. The Palisades Tennis Center offers adult Live Ball games.

In regular tennis, Mr. Petrou says, the serve buys players recovery time. In Live Ball, an instructor or tennis pro feeds the ball, quickening the pace. “Live Ball is nonstop movement,” he says. “If you lose a point, you don’t walk back to the baseline to berate yourself. The next ball is already in play.”

Up to seven players can be on the court, rotating into a game of two on two. The so-called champions side is often called the hot seat, because those players don’t get a break.

Julio Rivera, a Los Angeles tennis pro who organizes Mr. Fuselier’s games, says Live Ball is like running wind sprints while people are shouting at you to get inside your head. Mr. Petrou says it appeals to tennis players looking for a more intense cardio workout or to add a social element to their game.

Like any sport, he says it helps to start with a lesson and to play people at your skill level. “It’s really a game of survival,” Mr. Petrou says. If you are able to maintain technique you ultimately save energy.

“Savagery is rewarded just as much as good technique,” he says. “If you’re fearless and not scared of getting whacked with the ball you have a strong advantage.”