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Lex Kessler: Tennis Anyone?

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - You may recognize Lex Kessler as the president of the Somers PTA Council , or maybe he coached your child during his 18 seasons as a soccer coach. He also was a Boy Scout leader and served three years as cookie chairman for the Girl Scouts.

What you may not know is that Kessler founded and developed North Salem-based Indoor Courts of America , the largest design and build tennis company in the world. He also has an impressive collection of tennis memorabilia, including more than 250 tennis ties.

Kessler started playing tennis in Kansas City at the age of 11 and instantly fell in love.

“It was natural and easy,” he said. By 14, he was winning tournaments but could go no farther because he had no access to an indoor court. So he switched to soccer, basketball and wrestling. By 1990, he had moved east from Kansas City and moved back to his first love -- tennis.

Kessler describes the sport as “visual math. It’s like chess in motion. You can play it from the cradle to the grave and it’s never too late to learn.”

“A lot of sports are extremely athletic, but not as mental, such as swimming," he said. "The sport of chess is highly mental but not athletic. Tennis requires a very high level of both athleticism and mental ability. Once you introduce another moving player and a moving ball, things get complicated.”

Ninety percent of his business is commercial, but he builds private courts as well and can count Billy Joel, Carl Icahn and George Soros among his local customers.

“The New York metropolitan area is the number one tennis market in the world,” he said. “There are three times as many indoor tennis courts here than anywhere else.”

In his role as chairman of the United States Tennis Association’s technical committee, Kessler spearheaded research into the color of tennis court surfaces. “Courts were originally green to imitate grass,” he said. “We did three studies. The first one indicated that a blueish-purplish color was better for seeing the ball. In the second study we asked for players' perceptions. And in the third study we asked Suzie Q Public. All three studies responded to the blueish color as the best.

“People at the USTA are very traditional. They change a rule about once every 40 years. But eventually they changed the color at the U. S. Open.”

The interest in tennis is expanding, Kessler said because of the new Quick Start program. This program, now endorsed by the USTA, marries the size of the court to the size of the player, just as young violinists learn on small instruments. “Today, 10 percent of Americans play tennis. It will double now that anyone can play.”

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