The congenial atmosphere among the ever-expanding global community of pickleball enthusiasts was particularly evident during the opening day of the AARP U.S. Champions Cup at Pictona in Holly Hill.
None other than Ivan Lendl, the renowned tennis champion with 94 singles titles and eight major tournament victories to his name, dazzled the crowd with his pickleball skills as he partnered fellow ex-tenista Vicent Van Patten in the men’s doubles competition.
How Much Pickleball Means To Him
Lendl, now 63, has embraced pickleball and was a typically low-key addition to the 500 competitors in the 50+ age bracket tournament.
Ivan Lendl used to be renowned for his on-court intensity and his Ivan Drago-like facade but all that has melted away with the years and he’s quick to point out how much pickleball means to him:
“Obviously, it’s a different sport, but it’s fun,” he told The Daytona News-Journal. “I just enjoy competition and you’ve got to compete to do well.”
From Pest Control To Pickleball Pro
On a neighboring court, 50-year-old Chuck Jacobs had traveled about 90 miles north from Satellite Beach to compete in the amateur division and he told a similar story:
“When you get older, tennis really puts a beating on the body. I love how fast-paced pickleball is. You can stay out and play all day and your body will not hurt as much.”
He’s so hooked he actually wants to move out of pest control and become a pickleball pro.
“It’s a great group of people, whether you’re just playing socially for fun or in a tournament like this,” he said. “I mean, where else can you see freaking Ivan Lendl?! That’s pretty awesome.”
Six Pillars For Brain Health
The AARP Cup, sanctioned by the Association of Pickleball Players as part of the national APP Tour, boasts the largest senior pro purse in the tour’s history, with $75,000 awarded to winners in the Champion (50+) and Masters (60+) professional divisions. The tournament attracts pro and amateur players from 38 states.
The Pictona tournament is the second that the organization has hosted in Florida, following their January event in Punta Gorda, said Dionne Polite, AARP State Operations Director.
She also mentioned that pickleball supports AARP’s six pillars for brain health, encompassing social interaction, stress relief, activities that engage the mind, exercise and good nutrition.
“We know that particularly after COVID, many older adults have experienced social isolation and loneliness,” she added. “With the social aspect of the sport, we find that it helps older adults not only physically, but mentally, as well.”
“It’s Just So Addictive”
Kara Neal, a 54-year-old pediatric nurse from Jacksonville, also talked about the addictive qualities of pickleball, its positive impact on both physical health and how it improves your social network.
“It’s just so addictive,” she said. “The people are amazing. You meet new friends wherever you go, and it’s good exercise. I was invited to play one evening and I never stopped.”
“I played ping-pong as a teenager,” she said, adding that she didn’t exercise much until she discovered pickleball. “I’ve never been healthier than I’ve been this past year because of it.”
J.D. Ross, 57, of Fort Mill, South Carolina, leaves us with an enduring image. He said, “The beauty of it is that you can pick it up at any age and you can play it at any level.
When you love pickleball, it’s really like when you’re 12 years old and you’re just having fun. Someone always says, ‘Let’s play one more, let’s play ‘til it gets dark.’”
The AARP U.S. Champions Cup
Matches start at 8 a.m. daily through Sunday at Pictona at Holly Hill, 1060 Ridgewood Ave., Holly Hill.
There is a $15 spectator admission for adults at the gate or in advance online at theapp.global, with ages 12 and younger free with parent or guardian.
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