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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Top Pro is Another Tennis Convert

Simone Jardim was a 2-time All-American tennis player in college. Last week she won the Women's Pro championship at the US Open Pickleball Championships, stating "I got that pickleball bug. It’s hard to not play anymore."

Article from the Naples Daily News:

 big week in Naples ends

Nicholas Idler, Naples Daily News 2:06 p.m. EDT May 2, 2016

(Photo: Naples Daily News)

It had been more than a decade since Michigan State women’s tennis coach Simone Jardim picked up a racket and actually competed on a high level. Her “glory days” as she called them, date back to 2001-02, when she became a two-time All-American doubles player at Fresno State.

Jardim stepped back on the court again on Sunday, but it wasn’t a tennis court. And, she traded her racket for a paddle.

With her 11-4, 11-5 win over Lucia Kovalova, she became the first women’s pro champion at the inaugural U.S. Open Pickleball Championship at East Naples Community Park. Packed with title matches for different divisions and age groups, Sunday capped off the six-day event.

Jardim started playing the growing sport just over a year ago and quickly found out what the fuss was about.

“I got that pickleball bug,” she said. “It’s hard to not play anymore.”

Jardim and Kovalova didn’t appear to be rivals while they battled for one of the tournament's biggest prizes. They exchanged compliments and laughs throughout their match. Even when Kovalova tossed her paddle after a missed opportunity for a sure point, she did it with a grin instead of frustration.

Jardim finds pickleball to be an easygoing, fun sport, even when playing at the highest level, and she attributes that to some of its unique features. Although it appears similar to tennis, courts are a fraction of the size and matches are much shorter.

“You’re very close to each other,” Jardim said. “And it’s quicker. You’re not playing three hours and draining each other physically and mentally. It’s very short and compact, so I don’t think there’s enough to create that environment.”

In the men's division, Kyle Yates made it all the way to the men's single pro finals. The 21-year-old from Fort Myers eventually fell to Marcin Rozpedski, but not before bringing him the distance. He won the first set 12-10, but dropped the final two, 8-11, 4-11.

Yates added his silver medal to an already successful weekend. He claimed a gold on Saturday after winning the men’s pro doubles competition with partner Dave Weinbach.

Event director Jim Ludwig estimated 10,000-12,000 people attended the event as over 800 athletes competed. They descended on East Naples Community Park, which expanded over the last four years from four pickleball courts to 48.

Co-founder Terri Graham got the idea for the U.S. Open Pickleball Championship after being introduced to the sport while working in the sporting goods business.

“Every place I went, they were talking about pickleball,” she said. “Seven years ago, I was like, ‘What the heck is pickleball?’ But, it was just booming. So I just thought the sport was ready for this monster event.”

And, the craze isn’t going anywhere. Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala said contracts have been made with Parks and Recreation and CBS Sports to continue bringing pickleball to Naples. Fiala is hoping to see more development to the pickleball complex in East Naples Community Park as well.

“Because this has been so successful, I think I’ll get the other commissioners to work with us on upgrading it even more,” she said. “It was upgraded fantastically, but it needs more.”

A player returns the ball during the US Open Pickleball Championships at East Naples Community Park on Sunday, May 1, 2016. (Kelli Krebs, Staff) (Photo: Naples Daily News)

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