What It Was Like to Watch Pickleball in 2023

Pro player Jw Johnson
JW Johnson (picture Nick Uzunyan)

Despite my limited time watching professional pickleball in 2023, the experience has been richly rewarding, offering a glimpse of the best players in action.  Almost every tournament has brought surprises, upsets, and notable achievements, with more coming as the sport grows and the talent roster expands.

Lacy Schneemann, Lauren Stratman, Linda Padegimaite, Gabriel Tardio, Dylan Frazier, Jorja Johnson, Christian Alshon, and many others–promising players–are improving and advancing; veterans like Tyson McGuffin and Irina Tereschenko still have their best stuff and have made younger athletes fight for every point. Some players have won their first gold medal; others have earned their first stand on Championship Sunday.  The Johns brothers have played against each other in mixed doubles one day and won medals together the next; friends (Waters and Parenteau) have done the same. Anna Leigh Waters and Ben Johns have lost singles matches but always return and battle another opponent, having learned something significant from defeat. The rest of the players are warriors too, never forget that, which is why they enter tournaments and grapple like maniacs for a shot at Gold, Silver, or Bronze. Anybody can win a big match on any given day. For the above reasons alone professional pickleball is unpredictable, fascinating, and entertaining—and, some might say, addictive.

True, Anna Leigh Waters, Catherine Parenteau, Ben Johns, and Collin Johns have dominated in tournament after tournament. There are fans who don’t like that. What’s wrong with you win, you move on? Why, I wonder, would anybody want it to be different? Remember, their rankings (and their medals) are there for the taking.  Who’s going to power-up their game and ascend Championship Mountain? Respect, reward, and acclaim come to those who have desire, talent, and perseverance.  For now, though, the players moving up must keep training and never stop reaching for the gauntlet—turn their dreams and fantasies into reality.

pickleball participation over 3 years
(graph Dan Langston)

Tournament crowds have been larger (according to this report, participation has increased by over 159% over the last three years), excitement has been spreading,  players have been spending extra time interacting with fans. What’s more, PickleballTV runs 24/7: matches are shown and free instruction is given by the best in the game. Pickleball websites are really taking off, and of course Pickleball Portal is at the forefront 😉

Following pro tournaments has made me appreciate pickleball a great deal, that passion and wisdom spilling over into my recreational game. I’ve enjoyed rooting for all the players, even those who haven’t gotten much attention (see the “promising players” list above). The referees and line judges have taught me a lot and I respect their professionalism and how they keep matches going and try to make the right calls. One small thing I really enjoy watching: team chemistry. When I see it, I smile, imagining how it must feel to be in synch with another player and have a bond that endures even when the team is struggling and facing elimination.

The year 2023 has been pickleball fun no matter where I have trained my eager eye. I can see on the horizon much to look forward to and be intrigued by, not only in professional competition but also in recreational gaming. I’m going to savor it all, put it into words as best I can and share it. Thank you—players, readers, supporters—for being pickleball crazy and for visiting the Portal! I’m grateful that you’re here and that you care. Let’s keep talking! Have a merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, prosperous 2024!

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About David Boyle

A versatile and diversified writer, David Boyle has written three short story collections, published by independent presses. Though he earned his readership by writing reality-based fiction, Boyle has gained a reputation for literary stories, essays, articles, reviews, interviews, analyses, travel writing, reportage, and poems, a good number of which have appeared in both print and online magazines. Inspired by his wife's passion for the sport, David now loves pickleball and aims to illuminate current pickleball events and subjects with a fresh, creative perspective, offering readers something they can't find anywhere else. | My website | boyled411@gmail.com | My Pickleball Journal

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