Pickleballin’ — Interview: US Open Pickleball with Terri Graham & Chris Evon— Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, Apr. 11, 2023

Happy Tennis Tuesday, y’all! I should actually say “Happy Pickleball Tuesday,” since we’re switching things up today! The sport is slowly taking over the world, but this weekend, there’s a tournament that has been a mainstay since before its meteoric rise.

Continue reading with a subscription to The IX

Get unlimited access to our exclusive coverage of a varitety of women’s sports, including our premium newsletter by subscribing today!

Join today

The US Open Pickleball Championships are this weekend in Naples, Florida and I have to say, it looks lit:

The IX Newsletter: Six different women’s sports in your inbox every week!

Subscribe now and join us, just $6 a month or $60 a year. It’s the women’s sports media network we all wished for, and now it’s here!

I was checking out the entry list and wanted to highlight a few names to keep an eye out for. Some you might’ve heard of here.

  • Salome Devidze
    • The top seed of the Women’s Pro Singles is currently ranked No. 3 in the World Pickleball Rankings by pickleballtournaments.com. However, the Georgian (country, not state) had a first career as a professional tennis player, where she peaked at No. 254 in singles in 2004 and No. 250 in doubles in 2005. She last played a professional tournament in March 2020, but her body wouldn’t allow her to compete the same level and she found — and fell in love — with pickleball.
  • Simone Jardim
    • If you’re wondering why that name sounds familiar, it’s because we spoke with her last year! Some call her Pickleball’s GOAT, or even the sport’s Serena Williams, but the Brazilian-American is a Naples local and former Head Coach of the Michigan State women’s tennis team. Jardim, the No. 7 singles player, originally announced that 2022 would be her final season on the circuit, but she’s due to play all three events. When not dominating on the court, she is extremely involved in grassroots of pickleball, teaching camps all over the country.
  • Allie Kiick
    • Allie is another IX Friend and is still active on the professional tennis scene. She holds career-high rankings of Nos. 126 and 214 in singles and doubles, respectively. While she’s had professional success, the unfortunate story of her career has been injury-riddled — specifically with her knees. Pickleball is less taxing on the body since it only takes a fourth of a normal-sized tennis court, but Kiick’s foray into the sport might just be a flash in the pan. She made her professional debut with former ATP player Noah Rubin but didn’t have much luck. Still, she is ranked No. 76 in women’s singles and No. 126 in women’s mixed doubles and a deep run could unlock a career change like it has for Rubin. She’s perhaps the one wildcard to keep an eye on.
  • Tina Pisnik
    • A former Top 30 singles and Top 70 doubles player, Pisnik has been based out of the United States as a private coach for many years. She currently resides out of Florida and pickleball has become her new addiction. Though she had more success in singles on the tennis court, the Slovenian is only registered for women’s doubles and mixed doubles, where she sits on the rankings at Nos. 68 and 141, respectively. A common theme here are tennis players trading their racquets for a paddle, but Pisnik is 42 years old. Though a year younger than Jardim, Pisnik is new to the professional game, so I’ll be curious if she can work her way up the ladder. Doing doubles-only might be the correct gamble.
  • Gigi Fernandez
    • Though last on our list, Gigi Fernandez is certainly the most accomplished. A Tennis Hall of Famer with two Olympic gold medals, 2 singles titles and 69 doubles crowns, she won a total of 17 Grand Slams and was named Puerto Rico’s Female Athlete of the Century in 1999. After retiring, she has spent the majority of the years teaching all over the world about doubles through her “Gigi Method.” Pickleball was able to pique her interest, especially with how social the game is. She mainly plays senior pro events, but she’s registered to play both women’s doubles and senior women’s doubles.

After you check out the links below, be sure to read my interview with the tournament’s founders! Be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

This Week in Women’s Tennis

The Credit One Charleston Open had a rematch of the 2022 final, but a reversal of the result. Ons Jabeur held off Belinda Bencic to claim her first title of the season. In doubles, it was an all-collegiate final with Desirae Krawczyk (Arizona State) helping Danielle Collins (Virginia) win her first WTA doubles title over Giuliana Olmos (Southern Cal) and Ena Shibihara (UCLA) in a dramatic match tiebreaker.

At the Copa Colsanitas, Tatjana Maria captured her second consecutive tournament at the event with a gritty three-setter over first-time WTA finalist, Peyton Stearns. The doubles title went to Irina Khromacheva and Iryna Shymanovich, who beat Oksana Kalashnikova and Katarzyna Piter. Due to her strong week in Bogota, Stearns is the newest member of the Top 100 and is the fastest for a collegiate player this century:

Ed McGorgan penned two features on American players. The first was on Jessica Pegula on attempting to break through and be the WTA’s No. 1, while talking to Shelby Rogers — who has had her big moments and upsets but still is missing that WTA singles title.

Part of the Board of Directors for WTA Ventures — as part of the new CVC Capital deal — was announced with representation from tennis, entertainment and finance included.

This year’s Charleston tournament was the last for Eleanor Adams, who sat for a Five at The IX in the past. Congratulations on retirement!

Though she couldn’t make it back-to-back in Charleston, Belinda Bencic is pleased with her week in the low country and is confident heading into the European season.

TW: abuse

Jelena Dokic opened up about abuse she suffered from her father and the effect it still has today:

College tennis was well-represented in Charleston, with ITA No. 1 Fiona Crawley of UNC playing her first professional main draw against Alize Cornet and NC State’s Diana Shnaider upsetting Veronika Kudermetova to make the third round. Unfortunately, because of her deep run, Shnaider had to miss the season’s most-awaited matchup since the Top 100 player was cleared to play collegiately.

Hoping to follow in the footsteps of Emma Navarro and Peyton Stearns, the NCAA Championships are a must-follow for any tennis fan. This year, it gets a little easier with the USTA National Campus hosting all three Division championships at their site — a first for the sport. Among those hoping to play are Duke’s Emma Jackson and Ellie Coleman’s, whose history precede their Blue Devil days. The Arizona State Sun Devils also plan to send their squad there with help from assistant Matt Langley, the star of this feature.

Kaja Juvan announced she will be taking a break from the sport to properly grieve the loss of her father and gain the motivation to play on tour:

Hologic and WTA Charities formally launched their season’s ACEing Cancer campaign and are honoring Carla Suarez Navarro, the former Top 10 player who was named WTA Comeback Player of the Year in 2021 following her battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Want a tennis connection to this year’s Masters tournament? Here’s a fun one:

Tweet of the Week

IX Friend Gugu Olmos might’ve lost the Charleston doubles final, but she won on IG:

Five at The IX: US Open Pickleball Founders Terri Graham & Chris Evon

Q: Tell us about your journey into pickleball and how it led you to where you are currently?

In 2014, I (Terri) was the business director of indoor racquet sports at Wilson Sporting Goods.  Although pickleball was not part of my portfolio, I could not stop hearing about it.  But when I brought it up at meetings, most felt it was just a retirement community game.    So I decided to spend a year, gather data and developing a strategic plan for Wilson to step-up it’s focus on the sport.  It was clear to us that the demographics of the sport and the country were about to create a perfect storm.  However, management kept denying the numbers and obvious growth potential.  Seniors were clearly the backbone of the sport but it was obvious the youth would find it and explode its popularity.  Chris and I knew that if we wanted to be positioned to capitalize when the time was right, it called for taking a leap of faith.  So, we jumped.  Our first event had 800 players and this year, the Minto US OPEN Pickleball Championships will once again be the largest pickleball tournament in the world with 3,000+ players from 29 countries and all 50 states.

Q: I’m very curious about your opinion on the tennis vs. pickleball debate. Obviously, there’s room for both, but how can the two sports coexist not only on a professional level, but a grassroots front?

I believe that both sports should, and will, survive.  Tennis has been around for over a hundred years.  Tennis was great sport a hundred years ago and it is still great today.  The governing body is very strong and the USPTA continues to focus on grass roots growth.  It is a fine-tuned machine with very talented, smart people in charge.  The sport continues to grow in participation.

Pickleball has been around 50 years. We should keep in mind it is relatively a young sport.  However, It keeps getting stronger and better as the sport evolves with knowledge of the game and strategies created.  The growth of pickleball will continue, not because of the baby boomers, but because of the youth entering the game.  Pickleball is welcoming to all, fun, social and as competative as you want it to be.

There may be some tennis courts conversions in parks districts.  But this will introduce more people to pickleball and at the same time keeping some tennis courts for grassroots play.  There is room for both.

Q: The Ballpark Festival Series was recently announced, but will there be collaboration with tennis tournaments in the future? Specifically with the North American hardcourt series? Is it hard to break into the WTA/ATP arena?

The explosion of pickleball over the past two years makes it awfully difficult to predict anything.  If you asked anyone involved in the sport two years ago where pickleball would be today, I’m not sure anyone would have predicted the current state of the sport.  Although I would never say never, I could not imagine a scenario in the next few years in which professional tennis opens its marquee events to another sport.  But I’m not really sure pickleball needs this.  With unique events like the US OPEN, the ballpark series, private facilities being built at breakneck speeds and even the temporary courts being built over Wollman Rink in Central Park in New York City, there are plenty of places for people to experience pickleball. 

Q: There seems to be a bit more cohesion in the sport, but there’s still a bit of “fighting” between circuits (PPA, APP, MLP, etc.). What do you think has to happen? A merge between everyone? Could that ever happen?

It is hard to believe how the sport has evolved since the first US OPEN in 2016.  Just 8 years ago there was no such division called “pros”.  Then the US OPEN came along and started to shape what the “pro” division could look like.  We felt it was critical for the growth of the sport to develop a pro image.  The US OPEN created a platform for the tours to launch off from.

I don’t see a merger happening with the two tours anytime soon.  Big money has certainly entered the sport in a wild way.  It is disappointing, in a sport as welcoming to all as pickleball is, that the change that it has created in the game has done exactly the opposite.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon