Mumbai to host first open pickleball championship on October 28-29
At 8.30 am, we walk into PL Deshpande playground in Vile Parle East to find Swapnali Agre, 20, Kunal Bare, 21, and Ashish Mahajan, 21, engaged in what looks like a tennis match on a 20x44 ft badminton court. But, instead of the thump of a felt ball, we hear sharp, rhythmic music from a perforated plastic ball that bounces off Agre's racquet as she tries an underhand shot. "Hold the paddle tighter," Bare guides her, referring to the racquet, which resembles a bigger and rectangular version of a table tennis bat. The net is also tied much closer to the ground. This hybrid of lawn tennis, badminton and table tennis, is called pickleball.
A game in progress at PL Deshpande playground in Vile Parle East. Pics/Falguni Agarwal
The trio, who are part of a 100-member community of pickleball enthusiasts in Mumbai, will participate in the first Indian Open Pickleball Championship next weekend. "The idea is to spread awareness about pickleball and showcase it as a professional sport, rather than a recreational activity," says Kashif Mohammed of Sports Wizards, a sports management enterprise that he co-founded with Abhijeet Malve, which is organising the championship in collaboration with All India Pickleball Association (AIPA). The event will feature 96 participants from across the world, including a class eight student from Jalgaon and players from the UK, USA and Thailand. While pickleball can be played in singles too, the championship will only feature Mixed Doubles, Men's Doubles and Women's Doubles.
Championship participants Ashish Mahajan, Swapnali Agre and Kunal Bare (top right)
Learn the rules
The sport arrived in India only 10 years ago, when tennis enthusiast Sunil Walavalkar learnt it in Canada and returned with the equipment. He founded AIPA, India's official governing body for Pickleball, which now has 15 states under its umbrella and organised four national competitions so far.
Pickleball is easy to learn, assures Bare, who took to the sport four years ago, when it was introduced at ML Dahanukar College of Commerce in Vile Parle, and has won medals at several district-level competitions. "Players must focus on the ball and keep a calm temperament," says Bare, as Mahajan adds, "You need to follow the rules. The server must play diagonally and hit only underhand shots. The team that receives the ball needs to let it bounce once before hitting the shot. The kitchen area is important too." That's the seven-foot zone marked on both sides of the net, which serves as a non-volley area.
Organisers Abhijeet Malve and Kashif Mohammed
Across the net
For players, finding top-notch quality paddles and perforated balls is a challenge. "There's only one store on Charni Road that stocks the equipment, which is imported and of good quality," says Bare.
"Finding space for practice is also a challenge as several clubs aren't willing to include a new sport in their activity line-up; they are unconvinced about its commercial value," reasons Malve. Through their enterprise, the duo is also keen to include the sport in school curriculum but it is still a work-in-progress. However, they are optimistic about pickleball's future. Mahajan says, "Several international competitions help with exposure. Once the government recognises it as an official sport, we can also get employment benefit, with other sports."
Walavalkar sums up, "Unlike badminton or tennis, where competition creates a war-like situation, this sport inculcates a strong feeling of bonding. It's also economical and non-injurious."
ON: October 28 and 29, 8 am to 10 pm
AT: Jamnabai Narsee School, Vile Parle West.
Pickleball originated in USA in 1965 as a family sport when three friends decided to improvised plywood to make paddles to hit perforated wiffle ball. The sport's name is supposedly derived from the name of one of their dogs, Pickles that would chase after the errant balls.
* Kitchen: The seven-feet non-volley area on both sides of the net
* Paddle: The composite wood or carbon fibre rectangular racquets used for the sport
* Dink: A soft bounce shot that lands in the non-volley area