Soft tennis, which had been overshadowed by tennis since the mid-1970s, has recently become a popular sport among middle-aged people as a means of staying healthy. It is less strenuous than other racket sports such as tennis, table tennis, and badminton but is still effective as it requires a lot of movement. Among amateur players affiliated with the Korea Soft Tennis Association, as many as 122 are people in their 80s and more surprisingly, nine are in their 90s.
A man surnamed Woo drives to Mungyeong every day from Sangju to play soft tennis. He has a good reason to do so. Mungyeong, which is known as the home of soft tennis, has a total of 13 courts dedicated to soft tennis, including two indoor ones. The Mungyeong International Soft Tennis Court gets crowded with club members, going there every morning to play soft tennis. There are 400 to 500 soft tennis players associated with soft tennis clubs in Mungyeong, which has a population of 70,000. “After two games, you have to leave the court as there are so many people waiting for their turn in the morning,” said Woo.
When amateur players finish their morning exercise, professional soft tennis players of Mungyeong City start their training. The city has both male and female professional soft tennis teams, a rare case for a provincial government. The female team won the team event at the National Professional Soft Tennis League held Saturday in Changnyeong County, following last year’s victory. Mungyeong is capable of training young players and nurturing professional players as there are three elementary school teams and one male and one female middle school soft tennis teams in the city. “The Mungyeong International Soft Tennis Court is the best training center for professional players and a perfect playground for amateur players,” said Joo In-sik, coach of the Mungyeong city team. “Professional players often donate their talent and teach amateur players free of charge. This is a place, where people who love soft tennis get along together.”
Mungyeong City hosted the 2008 Asian Soft Tennis Championship and 2011 International Soft Tennis Championship at the Mungyeong International Soft Tennis Court. The city, which had been a coal-mining town until the 1980s, has turned into a sports city after coal mines were closed. Over 30,000 people, including players, their families, and spectators, come to the city every year to compete and train, according to the city government. The most popular sport here is arguably soft tennis. The National Soft Tennis Competition, which marked its 97th event this year, has been held in Mungyeong for 13 years since 2007. “The city bustles with over 1,500 people, including players and their families, who come to Mungyeong for the competition hosted by the Dong-A Ilbo every year. It is hard to make a reservation at hotels and restaurants during that time,” said Im Ho-kyun, an official at the city government. “This year, the competition is estimated to have had an economic impact of about 380 million won.