The 10 years journey of Pickleball in India, from 2007, is really satisfying. The sustained growth of the game in this country has enabled All India Pickleball Association (AIPA) to conduct five National Tournaments in these 10 years. After organizing the first two Nationals in Mumbai, the hub of Pickleball in India, AIPA expanded it to the other states like Uttarakhand and Rajasthan. The 3rd National was held at Panipat and the 4th edition was at Jaipur. Continuing with this tradition, the southern city of Bengaluru was chosen for helming the 2018 edition.
The Karnataka State Pickleball Association (KSPA) chose Bhikshu Dham at Adkamaranhalli area as the venue for the tournament. But being at the outskirts of Bengaluru, it was stressful for the teams to reach there from the airport or the railway station. However, State Secretary of KSPA, Rajath Kankar revealed- “Since we were very new and moreover Pickleball is not known to many people, it was difficult to get a proper venue. But we are really grateful to Bhikshu Dham to open the location for us for the competition.”
Whatsoever, teams started coming in; players from 16 states poured in at Bhikshu Dham on 2nd August 2018. The Sikkim team travelled for approximately 2,500kms just out of their attraction for Pickleball. “We travelled for almost 4 days- first from Sikkim to New Jalpaiguri and then to Bengaluru by train. It was tiresome but still we came to play in the tournament,” revealed Sanghy Lepcha, one of the administrators of the Sikkim team.
There were teams from states like Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry. The initial impediments were there as the teams were dissatisfied with room allocations, water supply, food etc. But those were soon met by the able intervention of AIPA officials and organisers and players settled down only to concentrate on their matches.
It was 3rd August, 2018 and all were set for the inauguration of the 5th Senior National Pickleball Tournament. And the opening ceremony was a scintillating affair. Teams were lined up, officials were ready, guests were on stage and the atmosphere seemed to match that of any other professional tournament. Thus, the official commencement of the tournament was done and it was time for the actual competition to begin.
There were almost 150 participants in Men’s and Women’s Singles, Men’s and Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles sections. The competitors were categorised in different ‘Pools’ and each has to play a minimum of three matches to reach to the quarter finals. Gauri Biswas, a representative of the West Bengal team, had a great learning experience while in this tour. “We play is a very small court being provided to us by a local club in Kolkata. We practiced there for the tournament and came here. But after coming here, we actually understood the magnitude of the game. There’s a whole lot of skill, professionalism and expertise involved. We learnt every bit of it and will return with some great experience for improvement in the future.”
After two days of grueling pool matches, quarter finals and semifinals, the finals were decided. The Men’s and the Women’s Singles final was all about young guns. Raw talent Kuldip Mahajan of Maharashtra was up against Sonu Kumar of Jharkhand in an engrossing Men’s Singles final. Though the match went to Kuldip by 11-7, 11-7, still it was anybody’s game as Sonu displayed some great forehand skills. But Kuldip showed much maturity in handling the pressure of the situation. He kept his cool compared to Sonu’s overactive reactions in the final and pulled the match in his favour.
The Women’s Singles was however an easy affair for Vrushali Thakre. The Maharashtra girl fought for the title against her teammate Pooja Wagh in the final. But Pooja was a bit off-colour in the match as Vrushali easily sailed against her by 11-2, 11-1.
If the Singles were for new talents, the Doubles were a mix of youth and experience. The understanding of the game by Neetu Sharma doubled with the freshness of Madhulika Chaudhury played the trick for Rajasthan in the Women’s Doubles. Neetu and Madhulika won the first set by 11-3 against their Madhya Pradesh opponents Kritika Giri and Divya Pawar. But the MP girls made a determined comeback in the second set. Kritika/Divya’s young intelligence saw them through in the second set by 11-9. However, experience always matters and that was proved by Neetu who ably guided Madhulika to emerge triumphant by winning the third set by 11-4.
Another absorbing encounter was between Abhijeet Madbhavi/ Saumitra Korgaonkar of Maharashtra and Nikhil Rajput/Prashant Kalani of Rajasthan in the Men’s Doubles. Till the last moment of the match it was hard to understand who would actually come out as winners. It was definitely a hard clash well won by the Maharashtra duo by 11-9, 11-9.
And the last match of the event was the star-studded Mixed Doubles final. The glamorous Niraj Sharma/Megha Kapoor team was up against the esteemed Atul Edward and his 14-year old partner Sakshi B. Atul and Sakshi put the final feather on the title crown that was getting ready to be handed to the Maharashtra team. They won the match against Niraj and Megha but not before the Rajasthan duo put up a hard fight. The result went in favour of Maharashtra by 11-4, 6-11, 11-8.
Thus, Maharashtra defended their winner’s trophy for the second consecutive time. But eager participation by other states and enthusiastic competition from them is definitely paving the way for the emergence of a new winner in near future. And here lies the challenge for the apex organization. These initial years can have hitches and glitches. But the nation-wide growth, that has already started, needs a better structured vision and that is only possible through a more-organized approach. The anomalies that generally take place in newer and less-popular sports in India should be effectively avoided by the organization. This will definitely set an example to the other organisations about how things should be planned. It is only then that Pickleball will turn the nation on; it is only then that the initiators can think of a united Pickleball nation.