John McEnroe tries his hand at Pickleball
Tuesday, November 21, 2023 — (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC via Getty Images)Nathan Congleton/NBC via Getty Images
John McEnroe, the former tennis champ and outspoken commentator, has had a change of heart about pickleball. McEnroe, 64, once famously dubbed the sport as “the worst” during a stand-up comedy gig last year. However, he seems to have embraced the game since then, recently promoting a new pickleball sports brand called OWL Sport alongside retired NFL quarterback Drew Brees. As per the brand’s claim, their paddles reduce noise by 50%, a relief for anyone who’s heard the cacophony from local pickleball courts. This newfound appreciation for pickleball led McEnroe to compete in the inaugural Pickleball Slam earlier this year, where he and rival tennis greats Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick took part.
The former tennis standout is also set to feature in the upcoming Pickleball Slam 2 next February. McEnroe opened up about his first encounter with the sport during an exclusive interview, explaining how pickleball was an “equalizer” that got him started. The association of Pickleball Players reported that over 48 million American adults, representing 19% of the population, have played pickleball in the last year. Additionally, the sport has seen a 202% increase in participation over the past three years.
Despite his newfound pickleball interest, McEnroe made it clear that tennis will always be the “king” of racket sports. Nonetheless, he hopes that the pickleball craze will help attract more people to racket sports in general. He pointed out that although tennis requires more skill and athleticism, pickleball’s accessibility has the potential to make it a more popular amateur sport. McEnroe isn’t the only prominent figure to get drawn to the game, as other sports icons like Tom Brady and LeBron James have also invested in Major League Pickleball. Meanwhile, former tennis players such as Jack Sock and Sam Querrey have transitioned into the professional pickleball scene.
While McEnroe acknowledges that pickleball is gaining momentum, he remains hopeful that this trend will not overshadow the sport of tennis. Rather, he sees the growing interest in racket sports as a positive development for all sports within the category. As pickleball continues to grab headlines and attract new fans, McEnroe embraces the possibility of driving interest in a variety of racket sports. The recent surge in participation across various racket sports, according to ConnectSports.com, suggests that pickleball isn’t taking away from other sports like tennis and badminton. In fact, the U.S. Tennis Association has reported a significant increase in tennis participation over the past few years, indicative of a resurgence in interest across all paddle sports. McEnroe hopes that this rising tide can lift all boats and possibly breathe new life into the ‘king’ of racket sports.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball and Tennis insider who contributes to The New York Times, NJ Advance Media and newspapers nationwide. He is the author of two books and an award-winning filmmaker. He lives in Manhattan with his family and their dog.
Jessica Roberts serves up the latest in the world of tennis. With a love for the racket sport, she reports on tennis matches, player rankings, and Grand Slam events, ensuring readers stay informed about the tennis world.