Pickleball: The Rising Aussie Phenomenon Bridging Tennis Traditions

Pickleball: The Rising Aussie Phenomenon Bridging Tennis Traditions

Aug 7, 2023 · 4 min read

Julie Campbell, a former successful junior tennis player and daughter of a Wimbledon champion, has found a new passion in a sport that is rapidly gaining popularity in Australia.

What is Pickleball and who is playing it?

While the racquets may be smaller (paddles rather), the excitement and enthusiasm remain the same. Welcome to the world of pickleball, a sport that has quickly captured the attention of athletes and enthusiasts alike.

Combining elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong, pickleball has an intriguing history and a unique name. It draws inspiration from various sports, incorporating bits and pieces to create an exciting and dynamic experience. As the fastest growing sport in the United States, pickleball is now making its mark in Australia, with a growth rate of 20 percent per year, according to the Pickleball Australia Association.

Pickleball Demographics

Pickleball attracts a diverse range of players, including those who have never participated in sports before. As people reach retirement age, they seek new ways to stay active and engage in physical activities. Pickleball offers an accessible and enjoyable option for individuals to pick up a paddle, develop skills, socialise, and progress quickly. It's not just a sport for ageing bones; it appeals to a wide range of age groups and fitness levels.

From Kings to Legends

In the United States, pickleball has already established itself as a fully fledged professional sport, with approximately 5 million players.

The sport's popularity has led tennis superstars like Nick Kyrgios, Naomi Osaka, and NFL legend Tom Brady to invest in pickleball leagues.

While the growth of pickleball has created some tension between pickleball and tennis communities, Tennis Australia plans to introduce the sport to clubs across the country.

Pickleball Can’t Avoid The Paparazzi

Media headlines reflect the growing interest in pickleball.

From The New York Times to The Guardian and Sports Illustrated, the clash between pickleball and tennis players has captured attention both on and off the court. The ongoing competition for players and facilities has resulted in spirited debates and turf wars between the two sports.

Pickleball racquets, known as paddles, are lightweight and larger than table tennis bats but smaller than tennis racquets. The balls used in pickleball are made of perforated plastic, providing a unique playing experience. While there is potential for conflicts between tennis and pickleball, administrators in Australia aim to foster a spirit of cooperation and mutual support. Tennis clubs are exploring the incorporation of pickleball as an additional activity to cater to their members' diverse interests and generate additional revenue.

A New Australian Staple

To showcase this spirit of collaboration, pickleball recently made its debut at Kooyong, a revered tennis venue, during the Kooyong Classic, a warm-up event for the Australian Open. Spectators lined up to experience pickleball firsthand, emphasising the sport's growing popularity.

For Julie Campbell, the game holds a special significance. As the daughter of a Wimbledon mixed doubles champion, she has a deep connection to the world of tennis. While she could have pursued a career in tennis herself, she chose a different path after leaving her mark in juniors during the 1970s. Now, she finds herself back at Kooyong, experiencing the thrill of competition on a smaller court that still brings immense satisfaction.

With an estimated 12,000 players nationwide, including 1,500 in Victoria, pickleball is rapidly gaining traction in Australia. The Victorian Pickleball Association, established just two years ago, has experienced significant growth, with 420 members joining since September 2020. The Bellarine Peninsula and bayside suburbs are witnessing significant growth, while the Gold Coast remains a hub for pickleball with nearly 2,000 registered members.

So What’s Next for Australian Pickleball?

As the sport garners more media coverage and attracts competitive players, pickleball is set to experience rapid growth this year. Major tournaments and events are becoming regular fixtures, providing opportunities for players to showcase their skills and compete at a higher level. The Victorian Open in March and the Australian Pickleball Championships in October are just a taste of the exciting events on the horizon.

David Wassell, responsible for promotion and sponsorship at Pickleball Victoria, notes the increasing popularity of the sport, with tournaments now occurring almost every month across Australia. The addictive nature of pickleball and positive word-of-mouth recommendations contribute to its expanding community.

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