Former tennis pro James Chaudry is urging people to give pickleball a go in the UK, after falling in love with the nation’s rapidly rising racket sport.
The 32-year-old from Southampton has become an advocate for the sport after giving it a go during Covid and has immediately become hooked.
Pickleball was invented as a children’s backyard game in Washington, US, in 1965 and is now quickly climbing the ranks in the UK at both community and elite level.
And Chaudry revealed that the sport was an unexpected and welcome find after a lifetime of tennis.
“I’m technically a tennis convert but it’s a little more complicated than that,” he said.
“I was living in the US playing tennis before settling in Los Angeles in 2017.
“Pickleball was really starting to take off in the States at that time, but I refused to play the sport because I had a misguided view that it’s not as complicated or as skilful as tennis.
“But I moved back to the UK during Covid and as a consulting practice on the side I fell in with Pickleball England and of course I went to try it when the client asked.
“All of my perceptions of the sport being slow, and everything were undone within the first ten minutes.
“It was a lot of fun, challenging but very easy to start.”
Chaudry naturally took to the sport, grabbing gold in the men’s doubles at the 2021 National Championships just months after taking it up, and since claiming the 2022 doubles European Championship title.
The former tennis pro admitted that his world now revolves around the sport, both sitting on the Pickleball England board and being an international competitor and participant.
Now one of England’s fastest rising sports, Chaudry believes it’s cosmic take-off is down to the incredible community spirit at its heart.
“The people and the community really are the best part of pickleball,” he said.
“The low barrier to entry means that people who might feel intimidated playing on a tennis court won’t feel that on a smaller badminton-sized court which makes it easier to start.
“Pickleball England have also taken the passion at community and grassroots level to drive the sport, we’re able to put on events that let people meet new people and mix with their community in a new way.
“The media attention from the US and celebrity endorsements really has transitioned back here too. I mean if you see Tom Brady playing pickleball you might want too as well.”
In his role as a Strategy and Development Advisor for Pickleball England, Chaudry has helped develop the NGB’s five-year strategic plan and led commercial programme to grow the game at grassroots and community level.
The sport has since seen exponential growth in the community, with over 682 athletes registered to attend this month’s National Championships at the Bolton Arena, up from 430 at the 2022 event.
Set to return to the court himself from the 26th to 29th October, Chaudry is reminiscing about the reasons he fell in love with the sport in the first place as he looks to defend his 2022 mixed doubles title.
He said: “We’re very fortunate in the UK that we have about the top three men and women in Europe here,” he said.
“It has become so competitive and when the National Championships comes along, it’s nice to see everyone competing for those spots.
“I will be competing this month; I love to get on court, and we have several other international competitions to close out the year so it will be a great opportunity to prepare for them.
“It’s exciting to see the growth of the sport year on year at the top end level of National Championships and the English Open.
“I’ve made so many friends from all different walks of life playing pickleball and it’s a brilliant community feel sport.”
2023 English Nationals takes place at Bolton Arena from Thursday 26th October to Sunday 29th October. This year’s English Nationals is sponsored by Franklin, Skechers, Scan and UK Pickleball Shop, Play will commence from 9am each day. Head to https://www.pickleballengland.org/ to find out more or to find your nearest place to play.