Frontenis is a sport that is played in a 30 meters pelota court using rackets (a tennis racket or a frontenis racket, which is quite similar) and vulcanized balls. It can be played in pairs or one-versus-one, but only pairs frontenis has international representation. This sport was developed in Mexico around 1900, and is accredited as a Basque pelota speciality.
Frontenis consists of one player of the pair hitting the ball with the racket (before the ball bounces twice in the court) and it must hit the front wall and then it must bounce within the court. As with other racquet sports, the best stroke is one that the opponent cannot return. There are many technical moves to get this objective. Frontenis demands having a great mobility, skill, physical agility, mental agility, coordination and training.
There are a few components that make up this sport:
- The player.
- The rules.
- The court.
- The racket.
- The technique, the tactic and the strategy.
The history of frontenis, itself, starts in Mexico in 1900. The most famous tennis players (Buttlin, Sharp, Crowle, Pérez Verdia, Maldonado, Clifford...) started playing with rackets and a tennis ball hitting it against a wall. This new game, with its first modern pelota court, built in Fernando Torreblanca’s house (Mexico), was called “frontontenis” (from fronton and tenis — “pelota court” and “tennis” in Spanish, respectively), and later its name was reduced to “frontenis”.
Because of the increase of the number of pelota players, pelota courts proliferated, and frontenis expanded from Mexico to neighbor countries and later to Europe. Frontenis was introduced into the Iberian Peninsula in the 1940s by way of the Canary Islands. In the 1960s, Olympic ball was introduced in Mexico, and a lot of Mexican players used to travel to Spain and they used to teach the technique. The game and all its innovations were taken from Spain to other countries of Europe.
Every European country that plays pelota is member of the Union of European Basque Pelota Federations (UEBPF), and all the countries that play Basque pelota are members of the International Federation of Basque Pelota (IFBP).
Frontenis (recognized by the IFBP) started being played in international competitions in 1952, in the First World Championship in Donostia-San Sebastian (Spain).
The player 
It is the human component of the game. It must: perceive the opponent’s position and the velocity and trajectory of the ball; decide the move he’s going to do depending on the spaces in the pelota court and on the level of itself to do the technical moves and their probability of success; carry out what he had decided.
The time that the player can take to do these things depends on the velocity, rhythm and difficulty of the match.
The rules 
Frontenis has its own rules, like every sport. There are international rules, national rules and territorial rules, and they differ from each other in several things.
The court 
The court used in frontenis is a pelota court of the Very Short type — 30 meters long, 10 meters wide and 10 meters high. Its walls must have signs to establish the distances of service, and to help the player to situate itself in the court. There are several parts that form the court:
Front wall (frontis) 
It is the wall situated at the front of the court. All the balls must hit this wall to be valid. It is the most important wall. It has to measure 10 meters wide and 10 meters high. The most characteristic thing of this wall is that it has, from the ground to 60 centimetres high, a surface that is not valid in the game. So, the useful surface of this wall is finally 10 meters wide and 9.4 meters high. The rims of this useful surface must have a 10 centimetres wide metallic sheet (chapa in Spanish, txapa in Basque).
Left wall or help wall 
It must be marked with the numbers of the pelota court (one number each 3.5 meters long), so it must have 8 numbers and 2 extra meters. In its rim it must have a 10 centimetres wide metallic sheet. This wall is very useful because it lets the player situate itself in the court.
Rebound wall 
It is the wall situated in the back of the court. It must be clear, with no marks on it. It must also have metallic sheets in its rims. It’s very important, because delimits the court, and lets the game to be longer. Many pelota courts don’t have this wall, so they aren’t chosen to play an official competition.
The racket and the strings 
The tool used in frontenis is a racket that, according to Spanish Pelota Federation (SPF) says: “They will be similar or equal to tennis rackets, made of wood, fibber, metal or graphite. Their weigh and strings braiding is not limited, and double strings can be used. The rackets length and width are not limited.”
The rackets have changed a lot since the beginning of professional frontenis (at the beginning of the 20th century).
At first, rackets were made of wood and the strings were made of animal guts. They were very heavy and they didn’t provide a comfortable play, but they were used for more than thirty years, until the times of the great player Jose, the “Poison” Becerra, who revolutionized this sport. Companies that made tennis products started to manufacture products for frontenis since this player started to win championships. In the 90s a Mexican company, “Master Pro”, was created only to manufacture frontenis products. Recently, some specializing in frontenis companies has been created.
Simple strings is used in Preolympic frontenis, and the tension varies depending on the ball — PENN (15-19 kilos), VIP (17-21 kilos), or CHAMPION ELITE (17-23 kilos). Double strings (duplication of 4 horizontal strings and 3 vertical strings) is used in Olympic frontenis, and it is to give more effect to the ball. This modality demands higher tensions, between 21 and 27 kilos.
The ball 
The ball in Olympic frontenis (the only modality accepted by the IFBP) is the Olympic ball.
In 1916 somebody had the idea of playing with a racket and a tennis ball in a big pelota court. There was too much space and, in addition, the bounce of the ball was very reduced, so frontenis was seen as a very slow sport. Pelota court was reduced and the cover of the ball was got out. Later, balls were imported from England and the United States, and they were made of oilcloth, looking for a better movement.
During the Second World War, balls stopped arriving, and the necessity of keep playing demands Francisco Beltran to look for the solution. And it was: injecting pressure to the balls, putting them a patch, and then, vulcanizing them. After the Second World War, Beltran imported a lot of oilcloth, and he started investigating and manufacturing balls. In a few years, he started to make them in the shape of two eights, instead of two middles.
A few years later was founded the first frontenis balls company, “201”, founded by Francisco Beltran (who gave the knowledge) and Doctor Jesus Ledezma (who gave the money). The ball has kept developing until today.