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Can a Tennis Player Share His Heart, and Courts, With Pickleball?


Allow me to start with an admission. I haven’t exactly been a fan of pickleball, the game that’s sweeping America like thorny tumbleweeds blowing across the windswept plains.

I’ve all the time been jarred by the sound of it: Thwack!

Though pickleball, a hybrid paddle sport, is increasingly sharing space with tennis at many courts and clubs across the country, it has nothing just like the feel of tennis or the booming sound of that fuzzy ball on the strings, struck good.

As a substitute, graphite pickleball paddles careen against yellow plastic balls, emitting a high-pitched bleat.


For a lifelong tennis player like me, that high-pitched wail is an insult to the ears, the auditory equivalent of a root canal.

Then, there’s the aesthetic. The appear and feel of pickleball. In contrast with the elegance of tennis, this sport appeared to me to be an easy something parents would dream up to maintain the youngsters busy on a lazy summer day. Seems that’s just about how the sport began back on Bainbridge Island, Wash., within the Sixties.

Pickleball? Why not read a book, walk the dog, take a nap or simply go ahead and play Ping-Pong?

I had intentionally and assiduously avoided it until last week.

Then pickleball sucked me in.

I went right down to one in every of the sport’s recent meccas in my hometown, Seattle, a sliver of courts within the verdant park that wraps across the aptly named Green Lake. To explain it with higher accuracy, these are three tennis courts which have been roughly commandeered by pickleball.

It’s a turf war that’s turn into common nationwide in recent times because the pandemic drove demand for each sports. Pickleballers are clamoring for respect, more resources and courts, making a sensitive balancing act for parks and recreation departments across the country.

I naturally landed on one side of the battle. Way back when — read, in the course of the administrations of Presidents Reagan and Clinton — I used to be one in every of the higher players within the Pacific Northwest and infrequently the most effective for my age division in Seattle. From ages 14 to 30, I won the town championships a half dozen times, sometimes playing matches or warming up on the three Green Lake courts.

On my pilgrimage to the transformed (pickled?) venue, I quickly found a shepherd. “So, do you wish to give it a try?” asked Peter Seitel, a former owner and manager of a computer-engineering firm who’s now often called the mayor of those courts. He’s an organizer, champion of pickleball and one in every of the locals attempting to get the town to pay more heed to the game.

I played my first games with Seitel, 68, as he taught me the principles and techniques. And I used to be hardly the one newbie greeted with open arms that day. In all places I looked, experienced players were guiding rookies with welcoming patience. The scene felt open and democratic compared with my experience with tennis, during which you regularly must prove you’ve got game before you possibly can really be accepted.

There have been intense games and relaxed ones. A 60-year-old woman held her own against a muscular 20-something. A fourth grader was just learning the ropes, moving from court to court to face off against people he’d never met. The racial and age diversity of the people playing pickleball felt refreshingly cool for a component of the town with a mostly white population and teeming with youthful tech employees.

Pickleball’s cozy community partly owes to the low barrier to entry. The time between learning the sport and having fun with it is sort of negligible. For those who can play Ping-Pong and run eight feet in any direction, you’ll be rallying inside a single day.

Seitel and I played just a few games, and I immediately held my very own. It was competitive but not so rigorous that I couldn’t wear my straw, wide-brimmed hat while playing. Don that hat during a tennis match and it could have fallen off during every other serve and sprint across the court.

Still, there have been nuances. The scoring and positioning as an illustration. I’m used to hitting 120-mile-per-hour tennis aces, however the pickleball serve is a floppy underhand shot that hardly results in a bonus. During rallies, that pesky little plastic ball seems to have a mind of its own. Certainly one of the sport’s biggest weapons is a soft knuckler that hardly clears the web and is often called the dink. Not exactly my style.

Nicole Bideganeta urged me on. If Seitel is the mayor of the Green Lake courts, Bideganeta is the chief of staff. She may talk a whole lot of smack to opponents and back it up so, after all, I wanted her as my partner.

Bideganeta, 28, might need regretted saying yes.

In our second game, I got bored with dinking around. “I’m gonna poach, similar to in tennis, and take this thing over!” I told myself.

This was not the neatest move. Or the safest.

When a floater got here, I dashed for it, coiled, swung — and my racket collided with Bideganeta’s elbow, right on the funny bone. “Ouch!” She winced in pain. I felt embarrassed, like a bull in one in every of those ever-shrinking tennis-racket stores.

The rating was tied, but we needed to end that game. I got my partner some ice and a mango popsicle to assuage her pain.

Lesson learned. With its small court and swinging paddles, pickleball will be a bit dangerous.

No sweat, Bideganeta assured me. “We’re going to get back on the market. You’re not done yet!”

And sure enough, we returned, only this time with more focus. I didn’t wish to let her down — dink, dink, curveball, smash to the feet. I used to be stepping into it now.

Thwack! — that paddle-against-plastic sound I had thought was so obnoxious? Well, in the warmth of the moment, I didn’t even notice it. What I did notice was that I couldn’t stop smiling as I played. And I saw far more smiles and joy throughout me than once I’m playing tennis, where intensity and furrowed brows dominate.

We won that game, 11-0, which I learned is often called “a pickle” and isn’t easy at any level. “You’re just getting began,” my recent partner said. Several other stalwarts surrounded us, urging me on.

I’m not giving up tennis. No way. An excellent match is sort of a flowing waltz — and a way more demanding workout. But I’m able to make some room for pickleball in my life.

Just don’t tell my tennis friends.

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