Pickleball: The emerging racket sport 

- June 11, 2024
| By : Yusra Nazim |

While many Delhiites are taking up the new sport to unwind and relax, there are others who are looking to compete at the international level

DUAL ROLE: Nileshver, who competes in tournaments, is also a coach at the Rebound Ace Pickleball Academy in Vasant Kunj

Pickleball, a racket sport like tennis, badminton, and squash, is rapidly gaining popularity among certain sections in Delhi. 

It is not only growing as a recreational activity but is on way to becoming an elite sport, attracting interest from various high-profile individuals and professionals. 

The sport, which combines elements of tennis, table tennis and badminton and played on a tennis court-like arena, has surged in popularity by nearly 40% over the last three years, making it the fastest-growing game in America. 

In India, pickleball is relatively new but is quickly gaining traction, becoming popular across all age groups, especially among CEOs. Experts note that many trainees from other racket sports are switching to pickleball. 

Origin of the sport

Pickleball began in the United States in 1965 and moved to other countries over the last few years. Many people in India discovered it during the COVID-19 pandemic as a non-contact sport with health benefits.  

It has especially picked up in the country over the last one year with people from the busy streets of Mumbai to the peaceful backwaters of Kerala, and Delhi’s posh societies picking paddles and joining in on the fun. 

The game’s simplicity makes it easy for everyone to learn and enjoy. People from ages eight to 80 are playing the game for recreation, exercise, and even professionally. 

At the Rebound Ace Pickleball Academy, the home of pickleball in Delhi, the noise of paddles and the giggles of players create a lively scene. 

The rhythmic sound of paddles hitting plastic ball echoes throughout the facility. 

Nileshver, a pickleball player and coach at the academy, said, “Pickleball is an inclusive and social game that allows people of every age — from a 10-year-old kid to a 90-year-old — to play. There is no age bar for playing this sport, and it is very easy to learn.”  

Nileshver called it “a mixture of all racket sports” and that people with some grounding in them can learn it more easily.  

“A person, who is already playing a racket sport like squash, tennis or badminton can pick it up in one day because they have that feel of the ball or the paddle. Pickleball is actually a participation sport, meaning an 80-year-old can play a 20-year-old.”

The academy began just a year ago with 40 participants. In one year, they have enrolled over 400 participants in various age groups.  

Nileshver added, “Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in Asia. Trainees from the academy are now travelling abroad to participate in tournaments.” 

The 24-year-old said that many of the players want to take it up seriously, and explore it as a full-time option, and not just as a hobby. 

Pickleball: There is also a growing participation of women at the Rebound Ace Academy, where players of different age-groups play
INCLUSIVE: There is also a growing participation of women at the Rebound Ace Academy, where players of different age-groups play

“A large number is coming because they find other racket sports like tennis and badminton little tough to play. Pickleball is fun to play and easy to go with.” 

There is a perception that the sport is played only by the rich and the elite classes. 

Nileshver agrees, saying, “I agree that it’s an elite sport and rich people turn up for it. It’s a trend, people enjoy it, anyone can play this sport. It’s a social game too. So, it is a nice way to socialise. Rich people party at pickleball courts. They gather and play. So, these things are making this a new favorite of the upper-class people.” 

Switching sports

Rahul Belwal, a pickleball player who owns a tennis academy in south Delhi, told Patriot why he chose pickleball. 

“Firstly, all my friends are involved in pickleball right now. We just come here and have fun. It is a very social game, so you come and enjoy. You win, you lose. 

“Second, is obviously the competitive part. Tennis is a tough and competitive sport. But I like the spirit of this game. I am also going for tournaments. I will not call myself pro in this sport but semi-pro. I have played a few tournaments also and have done well. I also play for fun, so, it is like being a semi-pro.” 

Aditi, a mother of two and an architect by profession, said that she started playing pickleball during her time off from work. 

“I am enjoying the ‘me time’ as pickleball is fun and easy to learn. I come here to play with my friend and enjoy. It’s also good to stay fit,” said the resident of Vasant Kunj. 

Aditya Ruhela, who is currently among Asia’s top 10 players, also practices at the Rebound Ace Pickleball Academy. 

For now, there is no national governing body for pickleball, but tournaments and championships have started helping sport to gain popularity.

Recently, the sports for sure hosted a groundbreaking ‘Pickleball Sports Carnival 2024’. 

Organised by the La Riva Club, Gurugram and sponsored by ‘Sports for Sure’, the event attracted 150 national and international pickleball players in all age-groups. The youngest competitor was 10 and the oldest was 73. 

The atmosphere in the competition was full of enthusiasm as well as friendly. The carnival provided a platform for parents, children, families, and friends to play the sport together and learn and improve as players. 

Cricketers Robin Singh, a former India international, and Shailender Gehlot, a first-class player, graced the event, encouraging players and distributing awards. 

Priyanka Chabra, who represented India in Asian Open Pickleball Championship in Vietnam in May, told Patriot, “Honestly, it’s fun to play pickleball. We are enjoying it and can play it in any age and stage of life. It’s not as stressful as tennis. Hence, I picked it two months ago. I am 40-plus and it is easy and fun to pick. 

“The event is a great initiative for each one of us, because it helps in boosting our rank along with giving a platform to upcoming players. They have people from every background. Female participation is also increasing and it is good to see women picking it.” 

WINNING POSE: Winners of the ‘Pickleball Sports Carnival 2024’ posing with the organisers and sponsors; (left) Nileshver (centre) poses with some winners of ‘Pickleball Sports Carnival 2024’

Sahil Chabra, a 10-year-old, said, “It was fun. I enjoyed it a lot. I played two matches, won one and lost one. It’s an exciting and fun game to play.” 

The Pickleball Carnival 2024 was a display of community involvement, education, and sportsmanship. Gurugram warmly embraced pickleball as players enjoyed the excitement of competition, with rackets clashing against balls. 

“There’s no question that this significant event will have a lasting impact on the local pickleball scene,” concluded Nileshver.