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What is pickleball? New sport taking tennis millions

Have you ever heard of pickleball? It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the United States and it’s now starting to grow in popularity in Australia.

Millions have been invested into Major League Pickleball (MLP) over the past year from the likes of big sporting stars such as LeBron James, Naomi Osaka and Nick Kyrgios.

It’s now gaining traction back home, with 12,000 playing the sport across Australia, according to the Pickleball Australia Association (PAA).

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“Pickleball is starting to be available everywhere in Australia,” PAA Administration Officer Paul Chambers told Wide World Of Sports.

Chambers said membership has been increasing by 20 per cent per year, with the association now with more than 4000 members.

“It is fun to play. It gives people with past sports skills an opportunity to play sports again,” he said.

There are 69 clubs, groups and business affiliates across the country, with the largest club based in the Gold Coast.

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However, the rapidly growing sport hasn’t been immune to criticism, with a high profile Australian leading the opposition to tennis players who are spending their money on pickleball rather than investing in their own sport.

Rennae Stubbs was the women’s world No.1 doubles player in the early 2000s, winning four grand slams between 2000 and 2004.

Late last year she voiced her frustration with pickleball’s infiltration of top level tennis, igniting a war of words with Kyrgios, who has a share in a pickleball team that Forbes estimates to be worth around $4.4 million.

“Just to let everyone know, I will NOT be investing in a Pickleball franchise & will never turn a TV on to watch Pickleball,” Stubbs posted to Twitter.

“I would rather watch paint dry. Why all these tennis players think Pickleball is worth investing in & not the game that made them all the $$$ is beyond me.”

Kyrgios responded immediately saying “I think LEBRON JAMES & KEVIN DURANT have a bit more of an idea of ​​what to invest in.”

Regardless of Stubbs’ point-of-view, pickleball is collecting more and more converts from top level tennis.

Pickleball is a kind of mini-tennis, played on a badminton-sized court with a perforated plastic ball and paddles about twice the size of ping-pong paddles.

There are about 4.8 million players in the US, according to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association Single Sport Report on pickleball.

The sport was invented in 1965 and has gained international attention after NBA star Kevin Durant and entrepreneur Rich Kleiman’s Thirty Five Ventures, NFL quarterback Tom Brady and six-time tennis grand slam champion Kim Clijsters all purchased MLP expansion teams.

In the 2023 MLP season, former world No.11 and two-time Wimbledon semi-finalist American Sam Querrey will represent the Washington DC Pickleball team along with former top 10 player Jack Sock.

Current ATP player John Isner, who will play in the Australian Open next week has also previously taken to the pickleball court. Chambers said it was “wonderful to see” more people playing the game.

“I have made more friends playing pickleball than any other time in my life, other than since school days,” he said.

“As soon as I hear the sound of pickleball being played, I smile, because I know I’m about to catch up with friends and have some fun playing pickleball.

“It gives people with past sports skills an opportunity to play sports again. The rules are quick to learn and the physical requirements are up to the players.

“As younger players are becoming more involved, the elite standard has also rapidly increased.”

There was also an increase as everyone started to discover pickleball after all the COVID-19 lockdowns, Chambers said.

“Most players then start playing once or more per week and then they start telling their family and friends about this wonderful new sport they are playing.”

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