Clooneys love it, DiCaprio too. Now this wacky sport is gaining Indians | India News

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What if it was a yellow plastic ball with holes that ricocheted off my racket with a “thwack” before floating towards my opponent who threw it gently over my head. For someone whose last contact with sports was playing dodgeball at school or wielding a mosquito bat as an adult, just tossing a ball through the net with a setback, made for a sufficiently inflated ego and a glorious introduction to pickleball.
Prick what? A sports craze – best described as a mixture of tennis, badminton and table tennis played with a square paddle and a perforated plastic ball on a tennis net lower than usual on a badminton court – is currently sweeping the United States and is quietly emerging from the fringes here in India for reasons not too difficult to understand.

For starters, it’s people like me – with rudimentary sports skills – who can jump onto a court and play a real game. It takes a few minutes to learn the basics; can be played single or couple; on an existing tennis or badminton court as well as on the patio, backyard or driveway. All you need is a net, a paddle and a ball to get started. The goal, like all racquet sports, is to send the ball through the net and prevent your opponent from returning it.
“If you’ve ever played a racquet game, you can master pickleball on the 15th ball. What makes pickleball exciting is how easily you can conquer a backhand or forehand shot with a lightweight racquet and ball, as opposed to the heavier, high impact tennis racquet. No chance of getting a tennis elbow,” smiles Sunil Valavalkar, founding secretary of the All India Pickleball Association (AIPA) which introduced the sport to Indians over a decade ago. Initially, people made fun of the game, and the name didn’t help. “People’s usual response was: ‘ Kya hai yeh pickle ka ball? Achaar ka gola?“recalls Valavalkar.
Leena Mulgaonkar, a 46-year-old mother and housewife, had never played a sport in her life until a neighbor recommended pickleball to her. “It took a few tries to hit the ball, but I got hooked and kept going. “Having played regularly since 2018, she recently picked up two silver medals at a national tournament in Hyderabad last month. She is also one of 60 women at her housing complex in Goregaon who picked up a pickleball paddle.
Ajeet Bhardwaj, 64, a tennis player from Delhi had laughed off the idea but is now a convert who won gold at this year’s Asian Pickleball Open in Thailand and formed the Delhi Pickleball Association in April. “I think pickleball complements my tennis game, makes me more agile. At Vasant Vihar Club, we have about 60 pickleball players converted from TT, badminton and tennis. We plan to promote pickleball and make so that Delhi is a force to be reckoned with,” he said.
Billed as the fastest growing sport in the United States with a cult following of more than 4 million pickleballs, including Bill Gates, George and Amal Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and the Kardashians, how far has pickleball come in India ? The AIPA has seen its membership grow from a few hundred to more than 10,000 registered players in 15 states over the past two years. Dedicated pickleball courts have sprung up in private clubs and sports complexes in Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, Bangalore, Indore, Chhattisgarh, Sikkim and Hyderabad. India is also set to host the fifth edition of the Bainbridge Cup in Mumbai in November with 1,500 picklers from around the world descending on NSCI for a five-day pickleball extravaganza. “The total prize money offered is US$50,000, the highest ever for this championship,” says Valavalkar.
Two of the country’s best players – 23-year-old Tejas Mahajan and 16-year-old Snehal Patil – hail from Chopda, a village 38km inland from Jalgaon, says Arvind Prabhoo, AIPA president and former footballer. tennis, confined to a wheelchair after having an accident 30 years ago. “Both jog for miles to get to a field for training, every day,” he adds. Snehal picked up four gold medals and Tejas won a bronze medal at the inaugural Asia Pickleball Open in Phuket last June.
Prabhoo does some quick math to chart the prospects for pickleball in India. “The United States with its 4.8 million players is heading to the major leagues. Most Indians are familiar with racquet sports so even if 1% of our population starts playing, that’s 13 million. ”

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