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Why Racket and Paddle Sports Are Taking Over

Racquet and rowing sports trend

Image source: Getty / Jennifer Smith, Julia Kuzenkov and Wendy Wei and photo illustration: Aly Lim

When you hear terms like “hot-girl hobby” and “That girl” workout, racquet sports are probably not the first things that come to mind. Chances are you think of people doing reformer Pilates decked out in Lululemon, or those TikTok videos where people share the stylish outfits they wear to adult ballet class. These days, adopting a fitness routine or playing a sport for recreation is extremely popular, especially when there is a huge emphasis on dressing cute while sweating. More recently, however, racquet sports such as padel, pickleball, racquetball, and tennis—along with their accompanying “tenniscore” aesthetic—seem to dominate the space.

Having the skills to back up your style (and vice versa) is a big plus, but the trend is more about people finding a way to exercise that’s equal parts effective and enjoyable.

While it may seem like “That Girl” on your TikTok just discovered them, racquet sports are nothing new. And even though they have an undeniable link to the upper crust, racquet sports are for everyone. Many public community parks have first-come, first-served courts, and anyone with a gym membership can realistically reserve rackets and court time. But add the iron-pressed polos, round-neck sweatshirts and pleated white skirts, and suddenly racquet sports become a status symbol associated with old money and country-club exclusivity. The preppy outfits that accompany racquet sports have been around for decades, but only recently have they taken center stage with a larger crowd. What once functioned exclusively as athletic wear has now been transformed into couture by designers and retailers such as Miu Miu and Saks Fifth Avenue. Even tennis company Wilson has partnered with luxury streetwear brand Kith to launch a collection of gear and sportswear. And celebrities like Bella Hadid, Beyoncé and Hilary Duff have worn it everywhere from dinner in Santa Monica to lunch at Subway. So how did playing racquet sports turn into a fashion statement?

Grace Thomas, founder and head stylist of BuiltGracefully, says it was actually the result of two individual trends gaining traction at the same time. “The rise of tennis really started during COVID, when people were looking for ways to exercise and socialize while keeping their distance,” Thomas explains to POPSUGAR. “As the trend for this type of exercise rose, fads began to gain prominence in the early 2000s and late ’90s.” The coincidental overlap in the revival of both racquet sports and Y2K looks is what eventually gave life to what Thomas refers to as “court fashion.”

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The fact that tennis players are increasingly known for more than just their playing ability has helped the tennis core aesthetic remain relevant since it first debuted in 2021. Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, for example, are revered as style icons for what they wear both on and off the court, as well as important voices in collective conversations around motherhood and mental health. Their influence on popular culture is evident in TV shows and movies like “Do Revenge” and “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” where tennis whites are as much a fashion statement as an athletic uniform. But while fashion is an undeniable driver of interest in racquet sports, there’s a bigger reason why people fully commit to it as a hobby.

“We don’t often get opportunities to run, jump and play. This trend has sparked that need for many of us.”

According to fitness expert and personal trainer Becky Codi, racquet sports are extremely social in nature, especially when you’re playing doubles or mixed doubles. Not only does the social element of racquet sports make the workout fly by, but it also keeps people excited to come back for more. “We don’t often get opportunities to run, jump and play. This trend has sparked that need for many of us,” Codi elaborates. Many people would rather play tennis or pickleball with their friends than do a traditional workout at the gym, and the games can be as leisurely or intense as you want them to be.

Of course, racket sports aren’t the only fitness trend that makes working out more fun. People still choose activities like cardio dance and yoga for the same reasons. When it comes to racquet sports, however, Codi points out that they offer something more unique: friendly competition. “There’s a sense of accomplishment that you don’t get from standard exercise classes,” she says. Getting in a solid workout is rewarding in itself, but when you add the prospect of winning a match, it’s easy to see why racquet sports have remained so popular.

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In the past, tennis was the most popular racquet sport, but now more people are moving to other games such as pickleball and padel. The main reason, says Disco Country Club founder Alyssa Carroll, is accessibility. While court fashion is proof enough that you don’t technically have to play tennis to experience it, people still want to get in on the action and do it in the most beginner-friendly way possible. “Games like pickleball are easy to learn and can be enjoyed by people of a variety of athletic abilities, so it has become extremely popular. The fastest growing group of new pickleball players is actually under the age of 35, and that’s because the game is so active and fun,” Carroll tells POPSUGAR. “You can play it for fun with a drink in hand or make it as competitive and challenging as you want.” The smaller courts and lighter paddles and balls set players able to lean more into the recreational, social aspect of racquet and paddle sports rather than athleticism alone.This combined with the affordable equipment and free public courts makes it an accessible way to participate in tennis culture.

No matter what racquet sport you play, there is so much more to it than hitting balls back and forth over a net. With the reputation they have recently developed in the fashion world, racquet sports have quickly become one of the trendiest ways to stay active. And as people discover the more accessible racquet sports, like pickleball, and the preppy dress code becomes mainstream, it’s easier than ever to jump on the trend and actually fit it into your lifestyle. If you want to change up your usual exercise routine, turn it into a social activity, or simply try tennis core, playing a racquet sport is about the best way to do it.

Having the skills to back up your style (and vice versa) is a big plus, but the trend is more about people finding a way to exercise that’s equal parts effective and enjoyable – it’s a bonus that it help you look good on and off the court.

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