Foo’s Ball

Is one of SoCal’s many attempts to gamify a thing that’s already a game a gateway to tennis paradise?

The assumption that lies behind every iteration of Tennis Lite, or Tennis Fast, or Tennis Short, is that there’s something inherently wrong with Tennis Regular, and that it can be improved. Or, at the very least, that we the tennis literati need to offer something approachable to newcomers and people with tiny little attention spans.

Cricket did it to great effect; shortening days-long test matches into digestible two- to three-hour short-form affairs wasn’t such a bad idea. And everyone, it seems, has opinions on how to do the same with tennis, many of them right here in Palm Springs with a basket of balls, a decent feeding arm, and a Venmo account.

Tennis is not cricket, and we at Racquet remain unconvinced that our noble sport needs any help at all, thank you very much. But we are in Tennis Paradise™, and there are courts everywhere and the dry desert air does beckon. So after watching Caroline Wozniacki dismantle Donna Vekic on a glorious day in Stadium 1, we were inspired and ready for a hit.

It wasn’t hard to find. Despite, or maybe because of, the excitement happening at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, there’s a brisk side-business going on off site, with a bunch of tennis-adjacent activities on offer. Hotels, condos, gated communities and public parks in the Greater Coachella Valley are all vying for your non-tournament hours. And in one unassuming neighborhood, where 80s-vintage condos cluster around a sunken tennis court like it’s a mahjong table, we played Time:Ball.

Time:Ball is one of SoCal’s many attempts to gamify a thing that’s already a game. It’s the current undertaking of–of all people–massive tennis fan Stefan “Redfoo” Gordy. Racquet staff had the opportunity to play with Redfoo, the former lead singer of LMFAO, who once made up the most flamboyant part of Victoria Azarenka’s entourage.

Foo is no longer in a player’s box, but the BNP Paribas Open is his home tournament and he inhabits every corner of the Tennis Garden, appearing on the jumbotron dancing to Party Rock Anthem at least daily. (He’s just one of many reasons to look away from the court here; it can be hard to focus on the slam-level tennis when the lavender-hued mountains just sprout straight up from the desert floor like that and surround the venue with calendar-level majesty.)

We can report that Redfoo’s latest venture—Foo’s ball, if you will—is a worthy addition to the pantheon of newfangled approaches to cardio tennis. It has this going for it: 1) Redfoo’s booming voice as the clock ticks down; 2) jiggy music (natch); 3) it’s not LVBL; 4) points are awarded for time in the champs spot; and 5) hats if you’re lucky.

But its pluses may not be enough to overcome a phalanx of competitors. Time:Ball is entering a crowded arena, largely dominated by local rivals including Tennacity, Tenez, Live-Ball and non-branded games like 105, King of the Court and every junior coach’s go-to, dingles. Each seeks to distill the game into its most palatable parts. Jury’s out as to why the Left Coast is such a hotbed, but perhaps proximity to Hollywood partly explains all the tennis sequels and prequels on offer. The party vibe, in the home of the Coachella Music Festival, explains the rest.

LISTEN: WE ARE NOT SUGGESTING TENNIS NEEDS IMPROVEMENT, OK? But if tennis distilled is what it takes to lower the barrier to entry, there are worse gateway drugs than Time:Ball on a sunny morning in paradise.

Wendy Laird writes and edits and plays tennis in Seattle but sometimes also in Indian Wells.