It is time to accept that Pickleball is sure to rule the coming years of sports in India. The way it is being played and promoted, the skill level of Indian players and the professionalism with which international tournaments are organized in India, is commendable to the core. And the credit goes to the able administrative functionaries of All India Pickleball Association (AIPA), the sole national governing body of Pickleball India.
The 2nd season of Indian Open Pickleball Championship 2018 has concluded after a three-day extravaganza at Goregaon Sports Club in Mumbai. The tournament which was named in memory of A R Natarajan- the noted late sportsperson of Mumbai, had a strong participation of 160 Indian players and 20 foreign players. At the opening ceremony, Malathi Natarajan, wife of Mr A R Natarajan, proudly announced, “I am in all praise for AIPA who has given us this opportunity to support this unique sport. Had he been around today, AR Natarajan would have loved to be part of the Pickleball revolution in India.” Mr Manish Rao, the Tournment Director, presented a plaque to her in order to honour the entire sporting family.
The tournament was divided into Men’s Doubles, Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles. The Men’s and the Mixed Doubles events had 32 teams while the Women’s Doubles had 16 teams. There were best players from India who were chosen by AIPA according to their seeding to represent the nation. From the international front, there were quite some stars in the line up. Alison Fulton, the former Scotish Badminton player who has been a top-graded 5.5 Pickleball player partnered with Jang Evans from Chiang Mai of Thailand. The other two players representing Chiang Mai was Arrirat Noonyod. Then there was Reino Anderson from Denmark and Blake Stephenson from USA. Indian-origin players like Ravi Shetty, Supriya Deshpande and Sachin Pathare also came from the US. Representing Czech Republic was Lenka Minickova.
The gathering of Indian and foreign players with a jamboree mood, was indeed the highlight of the tournament. It was a competition but a healthy one; the players abided by the rules and regulations and a feel-good fraternity prevailed throughout the tournament. This experience was further enhanced by the presence of Jan Papi from Pickleball Global- the one-stop website providing league and tournament creation software. Jan was accompanied by his two daughters, Vivienne David and Sarah David who played in the Women’s Doubles event.
Though there were only 16 teams in Women’s Doubles event, the competition was tough for the international players as the Indian girls showed some real grit. And finally the title was won by the young Indian pair of Vrushali Thakare and Sakshi Bavishkar. The two teens faced the experience of veterans Alison Fulton and Jang Evans. Though being in her early 60s, Alison showed the true character of a player who in spite of the hot condition, displayed much amazing skill and control. She was duly supported by Jang Evans whose chops and spins deceived the opponents. But Sakshi and Vrushali won by 11-5, 11-3 to take the gold. As the silver went to Alison and Jang, the bronze medal went to Arrirat Noonyod and Lenka Minickova who defeated Megha Kapoor and Supriya Deshpande by 11-8, 8-11, 11-5 in the third-place play-off match.
Vrushali won herself more glory as she emerged as one of the best players of the tournament by winning silver in the Mixed Doubles event while pairing with Ajay Chaudhuri. What stood against the young Indians was the experience of Atul Edward, the master who is undoubtedly the best in the business. Edward faced a setback on second day of the Open when his partner Lenka Minickova had to withdraw from the event due to serious health issue. Lenka could not take the toll of six matches on the the previous day while she played Women’s Doubles with Arrirat. However, the management committee was quick in action and issued a special permission for Edward to find a new partner. Vivienne David agreed to play with him and that was perhaps the most scintillating fact of this year’s Indian Open Pickleball Championship. The duo who came to know each other just some hours before the start of their event, created some of the best coordinated moments of the tournament. Atul, like a true senior, guided Vivienne on and off the court to lead their way to a tough victory against Ajay and Vrushali. They won the final match by 13-11, 12-10. However the Indian pair won everybody’s heart by their sheer courage of fighting against a player like Atul Edward.
Edward, however, did not play the Men’s Doubles this year as he wanted young players to come up. And he was right in his decision as the Indian players showed some high level of Pickleball brushing their shoulders along with the well established foreign players. Sachin Pathare and Kunal Bare had some great wins throughout, thus ruling the event. They defeated the established Indian doubles pair of Nikhil Singh Rajput and Niraj Sharma in the final by 11-5, 7-11, 11-5 to win the gold. Bare, who is popularly known as coach Ku, grabbed everyone’s attention as he was in all praise from his partner. Pathare, who travelled from USA to play the Indian Open, reflected, “You were awesome Kunal …loved playing with you….what an amazing playoff run we had, you were on a roll.”