As Pickleball has picked up in Maharashtra, it has spread its wings in states like Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttarkhand and Delhi. The 5th National Pickleball Championship is set to roll from 3rd August 2018 at Bengaluru. The 3-day tournament is an affiliated event of All India Pickleball Association (AIPA) and is organized by Karnataka State Pickleball Association.
The growth of Pickleball in India has taken a dynamic shape in the last 10 years since the inception of AIPA. The Association, that started its journey in 2007, has started promoting the game first in Mumbai and then gradually to the other part of the nation. Till date, there are over 500 AIPA registered players in India and around 1500 players in the list for registration.
Maharashtra, being the hub of Pickleball in India, has the highest numbers of players representing the state. But it is being closely followed by Rajasthan. The desert-state of India is shaping into a fast-growing Pickleball centre. Precisely, Rajasthan has a rich sporting culture where old and new coexist; where indigenous sports play well with modern ones. Thus, Pickleball has taken its space in the midst of Polo, Camel riding, Aero dives and other Adventure sports.
Pickleball was first introduced in the spring of 2012 in Rajasthan when Sunil Valavalkar, Secretary of AIPA, visited Jaipur and handed over the charge of the promotion of the game to Karan Singh Shekhawat. A sports administrator and a Handball coach, Karan Singh found Pickleball to be extremely interesting both for its skill and fun. Karan and Sunil Valavalkar went on a demonstration spree of Pickleball throughout Jaipur. Sometimes it struck to people while sometimes it just went in vain. But the promotion continued through the hands of Karan Singh even after Valavalkar left for Mumbai.
Being a Handball coach, it was a bit easier for Singh to attract players in Pickleball. He also targeted Tennis players playing at Vidhyadhar Nagar Stadium, the place for various sporting activities in Jaipur. Being a cross of Tennis, Badminton and Table Tennis, Pickleball is easier for Tennis players to learn. And thus, Karan Singh had hit the bull’s eye.
The charm of Pickleball appealed to the players playing Tennis in the two courts of Vidhyadhar Nagar Stadium. They tried their hands in the game; some accepted it, some others rejected it and there were some others, like Niraj Sharma, who completely switched themselves from being a Tennis player to a Pickleball player.
“I was a regular Tennis player at Vidhyadhar Nagar for almost 8 years. It was sometimes in 2016 that I found some players practicing hard for a National Games in an unknown sport. It was played with Paddles and Ball having a lowered net. Out of curiosity, I went there to know about it. Karan Sir was present there and he asked me to try the game. I played it for just 5 minutes and my whole conviction changed. From that day till today, my Tennis raquet remained untouched and I played only Pickleball,” Niraj Sharma reminisced.
Sharma is now a noted player in national and international circuit of Pickleball. Being a bronze medallist in Mixed Doubles in the 4th National Championship, Niraj represented India in the Bangkok Open Tournament in 2017. There he came back with a silver medal in Mixed Doubles category. “Why I played Pickleball, has a definite answer. After playing it for the first few weeks, I found that it has tremendous potential for growth. Tennis was something that I loved but it has tremendous competition in the circuit. But, being a new sport, Pickleball provides space for sportsmen to bring in recognition both for themselves and for the nation. I found myself fit in contributing towards this game and promoting it to any extent,” Niraj explained while asked about chosing Pickleball over Tennis.
Niraj’s Mixed Doubles partner Megha Kapoor has equally interesting anecdote to share. It was by chance, when Megha was having a very casual workout at Vidhyadhar Nagar Stadium that she stumbled upon Pickleball. After having quite an idea about the game, she started to play it regularly and for the first time thought of pursuing a game seriously. “It was that period when my exams were just over and I was having some free time before joining my job. Everyday, I went to the stadium in the morning, practiced Pickleball till lunch and then returned to the nets in the evening. I was so much helped by the entire Jaipur team that I became ready to play for the upcoming Nationals within 18 days of picking up the paddle,” recollected Megha Kapoor while speaking about her initial brush with the game.
Jaipur now has a set Pickleball structure where there are around 25 registered players across the state. There are the likes of Nikhil Rajput, Rekha Choudhry, Bharatraj, Ashwini Wada and Geetam who have won several national and international medals. Their achievements speak volumes about their love for the game and it is their success that has attracted paddle manufacturers like Shelkirk to sponsor players like Niraj and Megha. Karan Singh, who himself won two silver and one bronze in National Championships, revealed, “We have a definite agenda of promoting the sport in different districts of Rajasthan. We play in cities but unless and until it reaches the smaller towns and villages, Pickleball cannot become popular among the cross-section of the society.”
So somehow or the other, Pickleball has spread in certain districts in Rajasthan. A bright example of this has happened in a small town of Kotiya where an armyman- Arjun Singh- has taken the initiative to build a Pickleball court. The place has become such a desired destination for this game that the Rajasthan Pickleball Association is keen on hosting the state championships of 2018 at Kotiya.
Karan Singh further revealed, “We also give demonstrations in schools and corporate houses. Recently, we demonstrated the game in some elite schools like The Palace School and Ryan International. Those were highly successful ones and The Palace School is considering to include Pickleball in their co-curricular syllabus.”
Thus, Rajasthan is gearing up for the upcoming State Championships in July and the winners will be considered to play in the 5th National Championship later to be held in August. Next, in their calendar is the Pickleball Open in Spain where 8 players from the state are going to represent India.
Megha, who has already confirmed her participation remarked, “There will be approximately 300 players from across the world in the tournament. I will be there is Mixed Doubles along with Niraj Sharma. We have started our preparations for that by training under experts like Atul Edward and Manish Rao in Mumbai. These training programmes will help us in knowing the finer aspects of the game.”
In this growing scenario, the State Association is thinking of building up an Academy exclusively for Pickleball in Jaipur. There will be both indoor and outdoor courts that will be open for young and old, men and women. If that happens then it will be a path-breaking achievement not only in India but in the world as a whole.