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Opinion: The Evolution of Pickleball

Simone Jardim and Andrea Koop battle in Delray Beach, Florida.

I moved to The Villages in Florida where I was introduced to the game in 2005. There was a tournament held where West Coast players came to The Villages to compete. As of that point, the game that I knew of was basically played from the baseline with a "banger" mentality. The West Coast players introduced the "soft dink" game that incorporated long rally points in doubles and that style of play dominated thereafter for over14 years.

In 2019 the game would see a major change as a 12 year-old girl Anna Leigh Waters and her mom Leigh Waters played with a total all out war of an offensive game. They took down the long time defending champs Simone Jardim and Lucy Kovalova in an Atlanta semi-final match. The next evolution had begun. Younger players now enter the fray. The game from there especially for the pros evolved into the gifted athletic game of lightning quick hands. Now, players like Ben Johns, JW Johnson, Riley Newman and many others are at the top of the game.

I can't forget to mention Kyle Yates whom I met when he was a 16 year-old and became the face of pickleball for years. Kyle also brought "new guy" Ben Johns into the pickleball world.

With the infusion of tennis pros, now the singles game has also evolved into a more tennis style; a baseline game with strong passing shots and stronger serves. As Anna Leigh Waters dominates in the women's singles arena, newcomers like Paris Todd look to bring that style of singles to an even higher level. New players on the mens side such as JW Johnson and Frederico Staksrud have made singles competition a higher challenge as Ben Johns' style once did a few years ago.

Ever evolving paddle technology, better national TV coverage such as CBS broadcasting live pickleball, and now the Tennis Channel broadcasting an entire tournament with over 30 hours of live coverage, has pickleball on the verge of exploding on the national scene like never before. The potential of pickleball has a limitless upside and to see where the next evolution of this sport goes next, is what is exciting for all of us to witness. Written by Mark Stemerman


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