Rick Patton has seen it all in the world of tennis.
The Fremont educator, respected tennis coach and longtime business owner has not only survived the evolution of the game, but his small tennis shop has survived being shut down as a result of the pandemic.
“I was closed for 45 days,” said Patton, who is marking his 40th year as owner of Rick’s World of Tennis in Fremont. “I had to come back. I was getting phone calls from suppliers. I came here every day when I was closed to make sure the place was still here, clean up the shop and do things around here that I’ve never had a chance to work on.”
Rick’s World of Tennis is one of only a small handful of tennis specialty stores left in the Bay Area. Patton, soft spoken and unassuming, offers an array of equipment and accessories, from the latest tennis rackets to clothing and other tennis-related items.
“I have a big market reach,” Patton said, explaining his ability to stay in business. “There’s a shop in Albany and another in San Jose, but that’s about it.”
Patton grew up in Fremont and developed a love for tennis at an early age. As his 13th birthday approached, he asked his parents for a pair of tennis rackets and a can of tennis balls.
“I had already had my eyes on two rackets and a can of balls at the drugstore, all for five bucks,” Patton said. “Up to that time, I’d always been playing baseball. But, I was slowly getting out of that. And then, I saw those rackets. I would play at the courts over at Irvington (High School) and meet my friends there. That’s how it started.”
Patton attended Irvington as a freshman, but transferred to John F. Kennedy High, where he eventually graduated. The two rackets he received for his birthday helped earn him a spot on the Kennedy varsity tennis team. Patton was a talented athlete, becoming the Mission Valley Athletic League’s varsity boys’ singles champion in 1967 and 1968.
“It was fun playing in those tournaments,” Patton recalled. Patton would go on to teach high school students at his alma mater for more than three decades. He also taught tennis classes at Ohlone College.
Once he decided to go into business for himself, Patton chose the Glenmoor Shopping Center. He opened his store in December 1980.
Eventually, the 1950s-era neighborhood shopping center fell into disrepair. Patton chose to move, leasing space at the Mission Valley Shopping Center, across Mission Boulevard from the Kimber Woods Tennis and Country Club, which is now the Mission Hills Racquet and Swim Club.
“Things shifted to this part of town as far as tennis was concerned,” Patton said. “By the time I moved the shop here, the Fremont Tennis Center had been open for 20 years. I was in the right spot.”
During his four decades in business, Patton has watched tennis change. “First, the rackets are totally different now. There are no more wooden rackets,” he explained. “The rackets of today have made a huge difference in what a player can do. You can hit the ball harder now, and you can hit a lot faster, too.”
Patton also noted that coaches and clinics teach tennis differently today. “It’s very different from how it was in the ’80s,” he said. “The techniques are different. You’re swinging harder now, and there’s a lot of baseline tennis going on when you watch the pros play. Many of them don’t even come up to the net anymore. They’re afraid of being passed because their opponents are hitting the ball so hard.”
After 40 years in business, what is Patton’s secret for success?
“The whole key to staying in business is customer service,” he said. “Maintaining the hours that are posted on the door, being here when I’m supposed to be here. If they come and I’m not here, they don’t come back. I’m thankful that people look us up on the Internet to find us. They like coming here. They know I’ve got it, and if I don’t, I’ll get it for them.”