Feast Your Eyes On A Vlasic, Er, Classic Lineup For The Inaugural Pickleball Slam On ESPN Sunday
"I'm actually going into this, for the first time in my life, deliberately under-preparing," ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe says before covering the first-of-its-kind competition featuring tennis legends Roddick, Chang, Agassi and John McEnroe
If you have yet to hear –and it’s hard not to — pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. On Sunday, April 2 at noon ET, immediately ahead of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship, ESPN will exclusively air the inaugural “Pickleball Slam. ”
This first-of-its-kind competition stars four tennis legends: In singles matches, Andy Roddick duels Michael Chang and John McEnroe battles Andre Agassi; in doubles, the final match of the day, it’s McEnroe/Chang versus Roddick/Agassi.
The doubles teams will be competing for a $1 million purse, the largest in pickleball history. Additionally, the four tennis legends will also be playing for $100,000 donation to a charity of their choice.
The event is produced by Horizon Sports & Experiences and InsideOut Sports & Entertainment (ISE) and takes place at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Calling the action courtside will be ESPN tennis commentators Patrick McEnroe, younger brother of John, and Chris Fowler.
Front Row asked Patrick about his first-ever professional pickleball announcer gig, and he assesses his brother’s pickleball game.
I also saw Chris posted a video recently of himself playing pickleball. It is going to be fun, and on Sunday, the burning question for all of us tennis players will be answered — is pickleball a real sport or not? – ESPN tennis analyst Patrick McEnroe (R), who will call the Pickleball Slam with Chris Fowler
On his preparation and expectations.
I have absolutely no idea what to expect. And that’s exciting. I’m actually going into this, for the first time in my life, deliberately under-preparing.
I want to be surprised as I think this will be more fun and exciting for the fans and there will also be two pickleball experts in the booth with us.
I’ve played pickleball a couple of times and have a reasonable understanding of the rules.
I also saw Chris posted a video recently of himself playing pickleball. It is going to be fun, and on Sunday, the burning question for all of us tennis players will be answered — is pickleball a real sport or not?
On pickleball’s exploding popularity.
We have yet to go down the pickleball rabbit hole at our John McEnroe Tennis Academy on Randell’s Island (NYC). But you know, many tennis facilities are thinking of changing a lot of their courts to pickleball. Anything that gets rackets in people’s hands, I’m all for.
On his brother’s pickleball game
I’ve seen John play, and I’m confident that he is going to be pretty darn good. He’s got the perfect tennis strokes for pickleball.
Nobody had better hands or better volleys in the history of tennis than John. Pickleball swings are small and short, like a strong volley swing, not a lot of backswing — and that is John’s natural stroke. John will also want to be as close to the kitchen as often as possible. It’s against the rules to go into the kitchen, but John will be as close as possible to the kitchen.
Roddick, Chang, and Agassi are from a more modern era of bigger swings, and that might make it harder for them to make the adjustment to pickleball. But something tells me they’ve all been practicing.
Last summer, SportsCenter producer Jon Fish and reporter Gene Wojciechowski traveled America to get pickleball perspective for the SC Featured vignette “One Nation Under Pickleball.” Watch the feature on ESPN YouTube above, read about the storytelling in this Front Row post here, and learn some interesting facts about the sport below.
- Pickleball was invented in Bainbridge Island, Wash., in 1965 by three dads creating some summertime fun for their kids.
- Pickleball is a hybrid of three sports: badminton, table tennis, and tennis.
- Players are called “Picklers.”
- A pickleball ball travels about 1/3 the speed of a tennis ball.
- In pickleball, you can only serve using an underhand stroke.
– Ardi Dwornik