While pickleball has been around as a sport for a few decades now, it’s only in the last few years has it gained the kind of popularity that it has.
So much so that some had been talking about the possibility of the inclusion of pickleball at the Olympics as well.
While there are rules around taking a call as big as that, what could expedite that process, as indeed it would hasten the spread of the game is to have some big-ticket players emerge in the game of pickleball.
It’s with that in mind, we look at some of the top players in pickleball at the moment – those who can go on become ambassadors of the sport and carry it far and beyond with their play.
Pickleball is a great sport.
If you are in the USA, you’ve likely seen pickleball being played or you’ve played it yourself. By the way, if you are thinking that the pickle rackets or pickle balls have anything to do with pickles, they do not. The game was named after the original creator’s dog – Pickles!
Pickleball is one of those ‘tennis’ sports that is played on a smaller court, using specially designed paddles as rackets and a specially designed ‘pickle’ ball.
It can be played on the spur of the moment with a “Hey, let’s have a quick game of pickleball” and does not need huge organization.
Saying that, pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the USA, with over 15 thousand indoor and outdoor pickleball courts. More and more people are joining hands to become a part of pickleball with celebrities making it their favorite pastime.
People of all ages play pickleball, for recreation or as competitive sport, and America in particular has a lot of successful pickleball players. Some started playing pickleball as teens, for fun, with their parents or at college.
Many of the really great pickleball players were or are also tennis or badminton players. All have great hand-eye co-ordination, and all love the sport.
Pickles the dog may have been the original pickleball player – disturbing the game and chasing after, and getting, the ball, but there are many talented and brilliant ranked pickleball players.
Here are some of the top American pickleball players of all time but before you read about them, if you are looking to understand how to play pickleball, here’s the rule-book!
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Jennifer is an incredible athlete. Not only is she a professional pickleball player, she’s also a tennis champion with a combination of amazing power and nimble grace, both on and off the court.
She is also the first person to have ever won a Triple Crown, achieving the feat at the 2017 Minto US Open. She did that by clinching the top spot in the Senior Pro Singles, and the Women and Mixed doubles.
It’s no surprise that Jennifer began her career playing tennis, as many pickleball players have done this. But you don’t need to be a tennis player to play pickleball.
As Jennifer says, you only need to have a love for ball sports, a love for competition, drive and determination. As a veteran tennis champion, pickleball was a natural progression for Jennifer.
Today she is the owner of the Bobby Riggs Racket and Paddle Centre in California, together with her husband and partner Steve Dawson. It’s no surprise that their son, Callan, is a pro player too.
Tyson McGuffin was 24 when he began playing pickleball and the rest, as they say, is history. A former wrestler and tennis player, McGuffin switched to pickleball when he was invited to play the sport by a student of his tennis coaching.
With a major title win coming at the 2017 USA Pickleball National Championships just two years after he began playing pickleball, McGuffin soon became a household name in the world of pickleball.
Here’s our in-depth piece on McGuffin and his growth as a pickleball player.
Leigh Waters is the youngest professional pickleball player. She is just twelve years old, lives in Florida and started playing pickleball with her grandfather for fun.
She soon became obsessed with the game, realizing how fast and how much fun it was, and also realizing that she was pretty good.
With her parents’ encouragement Leigh started playing pickleball professionally – there are numerous pickleball courts in Florida – and by 2018 she had won several championships.
Leigh plays singles and doubles, her double’s partner is her mom, and the game has opened up a whole host of opportunities for her.
Travel, meeting incredible professional and non-professional players, learning sports skills but also life skills, and studying virtually through IVLA (the International Virtual Learning Academy) so she can focus on her studies and her sport.
Ben Johns was the first player to get himself a sponsorship deal in pickleball and has gone from strength to strength, having become the number one pickleball player according to the official rankings.
Having played a plethora of sports, including tennis and padel, he settled in on pickleball and for that the sport would be grateful to him! We have written an in-depth story about Ben Johns and how he transformed himself into the number one pickleball player in the world here.
Kris has always been a tennis player and in 2014 she was all ready and set for an important game when the weather changed and the heavens opened. A friend suggested a game of pickleball at the gym and Kris played the game for the first time, loved it and went out and bought her own pickleball paddles.
That was a few years ago, and today, Kris is one of America’s top women pickleball players.
She loves the speed of the game and the skill of the game, and her competitive nature has seen her rise in the rankings, today being one of the top doubles players.
Kris, originally from Scarsdale New York, played competitive tennis while studying at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
While she will always love tennis, and still plays the occasional game, she is extremely grateful to the United States Pickleball Association, who have firmly put the game of pickleball on the map, allowed her to excel and exceed, to travel and open up a whole new world for her.
Kris won her first pickleball tournament in 2014 at the USAPA Nationals, in the Women’s 50+ division, with her double’s partner, Tracy Worley. Her latest win was in 2019 at the Texas Open, mixed doubles with partner Dave Weinbach.
Tony has an extraordinary story and is pretty inspiring to most. He and his wife are travellers and explorers and spend a few years touring America in their RV.
The story goes that one day they were parked in Palm Springs nearby a pickleball game. He was intrigued, went over to watch and before he knew it, had a Paddle in his hand and was playing the game.
Tony comes from a tennis background and was immediately excited by the game – the speed, the ease, the fun, and of course, the good exercise and friendships. Soon, between trips in the RV, he and his wife were chasing pickleball tournaments around the USA.
His 2019 wins include the national Senior Games Mixed Doubles (Silver), the Wickenburg Ranch Men’s Doubles (Gold), the Grand Canyon Mixed Doubles Skill/Age (Gold) and Robson Ranch Mixed Doubles Skill / Age (Silver), but there have been many wins since he started playing competitively in 2016.
If you listen to Gregg, you will learn the pickleball is not that dissimilar to tennis (smaller, faster, easier), and that top spin is super important. Gregg who is over 60 and is a retired painter, and was a competitive tennis player, started playing pickleball for fun and for fitness, and soon turned pro.
He not only plays the sport well but also teaches others to play. He practices regularly by doing intense drills, while coaching and putting together videos and content for his pickleball training website.
Gregg is competitive. He worked hard towards winning medals at the USAPA Nationals and at the US Open Pickleball Championships in the 5.0 division, and he did it, winning gold.
Dan is another semi-retired pickleball player, is over 65 years of age, and is a former tennis player. He is also known as one of the best pickleball players in the USA. Dan is a super competitive player, he travels the country to join tournaments, and as a team player, prefers mixed and men’s doubles.
His most recent wins include a gold in the 2019 US Open Men’s Skills/Age for doubles with Jim Hackenberg, and Bronze in the mixed doubles with Jo Anne Russel.
Dan’s relationship with Hackenberg goes back a long way, who initially invited him to play the game more than 35 years ago. He said no so that he could focus on tennis, but when he started in 2014, one of the first people who encouraged him was Jim Hackenberg.
Dan commutes between Michigan and Florida, giving him the opportunity for great weather and lots of good play, including the US Open each year.
Paul is ranked Number One in the Men’s Single Senior Pro Pickleball Championships and Number 15 in the Men’s Senior Pro Doubles. His biggest wins were this year’s 2019 US Open (Silver) and The Lakes Spring Fling (Gold) but he’s been winning medals since 2017.
Like most pickleball players, Paul was a tennis player playing at college. He didn’t play much after college, focusing on his work as a Naval Aviator, retiring in 2011.
He then had more time to focus on family, hobbies and exercise. Once his mom introduced him to pickleball, he became hooked. If it sounds familiar, it is. Paul says everyone who love sport and fitness, and especially those who love or loved tennis, will love pickleball.
He practices often, loving the fitness levels he achieves from the sport, loving the competitive side of the sport and loving the sport itself.
Here is another professional tennis player who turned to pickleball, quickly rising up in the rankings and becoming pro.
His latest win was a gold medal at the 2019 US Open in the men’s senior doubles section. Waddell, who still loves tennis but started having a few knee problems, discovered pickleball at age 47 and hasn’t looked back since. He played his first game in a pair of flip flops, his claim to fame, but has since moved on to tennis shoes!
Waddel plays more for love than for the competition. He says pickleball keeps him slim, healthy and in good shape. And of course, he is very good!
There are pickleball players of all ages and sizes, but there’s only one who was a body-double for actress Emma Stone in the movie The Battle of the Sexes.
That would be Kaitlyn Christian, a tennis pro who has since moved on to pickleball too. Kaitlyn’s last win was not an Oscar, but was Bronze in the 2018 USAPA Margaritaville Nationals Women’s Open singles.
She’s a great player, says she owes her pickleball success to her tennis background and her favourite pickleball shot is the – smash shot!
Terry is a Canadian pickleball player who plays in Canada and the USA. Terry is competitive – it’s all about the win for him, and he likes to play with doubles partners who are as committed as he is.
Terry’s latest win as the Duel in the Desert in 2019, where he and his partner Barrie Hill won Gold in the Men’s 65+ doubles. He’s won a combination of 8 gold, silver and bronze medals, since he started playing competitively in 2017.
Terry was introduced to the game by an older friend of his who told him ‘he would love it.’ He now plays 5 days a week, enters as many tournaments as he can and is inspired by Buzz Summers, a tennis coach and 82 year old pickleball player.