The old and historic city of Nanded, located some 570kms away from Mumbai, has the passion to embrace the new. With a literacy rate of almost 88% and a gender ratio of 924 females for every 1000 males, it is a progressive city. And this is clearly evident with Nanded’s eagerness to accept a new sport like Pickleball.
A combination of lawn tennis, table tennis and badminton, Pickleball is the newest sport in town. Played with a paddle and a ball with a net in between, it is a highly proactive sport liked and loved by old and young.
Recently, Maharashtra Pickleball Association organized its 7th State Championship at Yeshwant Krida Complex in Nanded. 17 districts from Maharashtra participated in this tournament with Dhule emerging as the champion district.
The Men’s Singles was won by Tejas Mahajan of Dhule district who beat his younger brother Kuldip Mahajan by 11:0, 12:10. In the Women’s Singles, Vrushali Thakare beat Pooja Wagmare, both representing Dhule, by 11:7, 11:6. The much-awaited Men’s Doubles crown was taken by Abhijit Madbhavi & Saumitra Korgaonkar of Sindudurg district who beat their arch rivals from Mumbai City- Ashutosh Madbhavi & Shravan Kumar by 12:10, 11:5. The seeded pair of Aurangabad sisters- Karishma & Rutuja Kalike beat Arpana Chaoudari & Madhuri Vispute by 11:5, 11:5 in an easy contest. The Mixed Doubles was also an exciting affair as one of the most experienced player of the tournament Atul Edward paired with teenager Sakshi Baviskar to represent Dhule district. They emerged winner by beating the Aurangabad pair of Mahesh Pardesi & Saloni Deoda in straight sets- 11:2, 11:2.
Sunil Valavalkar, the General Secretary of All India Pickleball Association (AIPA) reported that this year’s State Championship saw the largest player participation. The prolific growth of Pickleball in Maharashtra and across Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Rajasthan and some other states indicates that this sport is very warmly received by cross section of the society.
The AIPA, along with some really enthusiastic players, is instrumental in the promotion, development and enjoyment of Pickleball in India. However, the game did not find its way in India till 2006, though being played in the USA from 1965. It was in that summer, that Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum-three friends- formed this game as a part of their kids’ summer activity. Sunil Valavalkar had a tryst with the game when he visited Canada in 1999 with a group of young tennis player. Himself being an ardent tennis player, Valavalkar found the game engaging and started playing with his landlord, Barry Mansfield, during his lengthy stay at British Columbia.
But after returning, Sunil Valavalkar, in some ways forgot the game and was back in his normal routine. But in a chain of events, he was again in the West, that time in Cincinnati to attend a tennis workshop. In one of the training sessions, a sudden instruction of ‘Sunil Sideways and Swing’ from his coach brought back the memories of Mansfield who used to shout in a similar fashion. Valavalkar remembered the exciting Pickleball that once turned his head. He came back to India again but this time with some Pickleball paddles and balls.
Good work begins at home and so Valavalkar first trained his daughter and niece to play the game. As the two young sports lovers showed tremendous enthusiasm, he started giving demonstration of Pickleball at various places-in clubs, schools, campuses, building societies and even on open lanes. “But I knew that an official entity in needed. So, I approached my family, friends to form an organization under which this game would prevail. Some agreed, may be reluctantly, some others disapproved but the association came underway,” Sunil Valavalkar said while recollecting the initial days.
Gradually, the game progressed. State championships happen, so is the National Championship. Many enthusiasts, just for the love of this sport, associated themselves with the organization and work for its development. “I love the way it is played. There is no such high-level anxiety in Pickleball but we cannot lose our concentration while playing it,” revealed Manish Rao, a fanatic of this game who sincerely tries to bridge the East-West gap by organizing high-profile Pickleball players’ visit in India.
Predominantly a doubles game, the serve in Pickleball must be hit underhand and each team must play the first shot off the bounce. After the ball has bounced once on each side, both teams can either volley the ball in the air or play it off the bounce. To volley a ball means to hit it in the air without letting the ball bounce. No Volleying is permitted within the 7-foot non-volley zone, preventing players from executing smashes from a position within this 7-foot zone on both sides of the net. “The rules are very easy. It requires some days to adapt it and one can play professionally after practicing it regularly. It is not a hard and fast game and is full of fun. This makes it interesting and acceptable to people,” stated Atul Edward while identifying the reason for the growth of Pickleball in India.
Acceptance by people is always a must and Pickleball has gone past that stage. It is now waiting for some further governmental recognitions that can make it available to people in rural and grassroot level. Amit Vengrulekar, a Tennis player who has now converted himself into a Pickleball player feels that there is an urgent need of worldwide spread of this sport. “It has all the potential to be a global sport. The more it is played worldwide, the more it has the chance to be included in global Games,” added Vengrulekar.
It is not very impossible for Pickleball to conquer the world. The sport that can very easily win the heart of people has every right to become the people’s game. To sign off with the words of a die-hard Pickleball fan, Uday Dhonde, “The game transcends the barriers of age, gender and strata…it brings people to an equal level where they live happily and peacefully. So it is definitely a health insurance to all of us.”