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Pickleball Fever: Sharapova vs. Tennis Legends in $1M Slam!

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By Jacob Jackson

Whatever sport she is playing doesn’t matter, according to tennis legend Maria Sharapova. “Once a competitor, always a competitor” is something that characterizes her consistently.

The four-time Grand Slam champion and former world number one has picked up pickleball as a new hobby.

Pickleball has now captured the attention of sports fans worldwide, attracting several of the most well-known tennis players as well as increasing interest in the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA).

Sharapova

This Sunday, February 4, 2024, Sharapova will compete in the highly anticipated Pickleball Slam 2, where she will face off against fellow tennis greats John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, and Steffi Graf.

Sharapova says: Pickleball Is not fun

Pickleball is not “just for fun,” but rather brings out the best athlete in everyone, including Hall of Fame-caliber tennis players, as suggested by Sharapova, who has so far been waiting her turn to participate on the largest of venues.

In our interview on Friday, Sharapova said, “I think all the legends on the court come from very competitive backgrounds, and there will be no holding back, which will make it so much more exciting and fun.” It’s been hilarious to watch how much I laugh each time I play, but some of the games may irritate me.

Sharapova continues, saying that her pickleball skills frequently “span a variety of emotions” when she plays and even practices the sport.

Fans of tennis will witness Sharapova and McEnroe play against Agassi and Graf, a husband and wife pair, this weekend for a $1 million purse.

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Sharapova in Pickleball Slam 2

Pickleball Slam 2, shown live on ESPN during an evening at 8:30 PM from Hard Rock Live at Seminole at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida, is a project developed and produced by Horizon Sports & Experiences (HS&E) and InsideOut Sports & Entertainment (ISE).

Fans witnessed Agassi and Andy Roddick defeat McEnroe and Michael Chang at the first Pickleball Slam event in April 2023, taking home the first-ever $1 million purse—the biggest in pickleball history.

Even said, pickleball is still largely “new territory” for Sharapova, who over her 19-year career amassed a 645–171 singles record.

Sharapova’s Dream Match

Sharapova says, “Playing against Steffi Graf, who I have admired for so many years, was the main reason I wanted to participate in this event.”

Sharapova match

When Graf won the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open in the same year in 1988, she became the last tennis player to achieve the “Calendar Slam.” Graf retired from professional tennis in 1999.

Sharapova didn’t make her debut until 2004, the year Graf was admitted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. At the age of seventeen, she defeated Serena Williams in two straight sets to win Wimbledon.

“It’s going to be amazing to compete against Graf and Andre alongside John—all of us participating in this exciting sport,” added Sharapova. “We’ll see, I’ve been practicing a lot.” However, I believe John and I will make a strong team.

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This weekend’s Pickleball Slam 2, according to co-CEO and founder of HS&E David Levy, “is the ultimate showcase for the fastest-growing sport in the world.”

“This year’s event is generating a lot of interest from fans, and it’s playing for a $1 million purse in primetime on ESPN, featuring four former world No. 1 tennis players.”

Levy continues, “Big-time sponsors have been hammering down the door. State Farm, Brighthouse Financial, Franklin Sports, E*Trade, AstraZeneca/Calquence, and Hard Rock, the host of Slam 2, have all jumped in to participate in sponsoring pickleball, one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.”

Levy said “Florida residents can place bets on the Slam 2 via Hard Rock Bet” as an additional authentic aspect this year.

Sharapova: Different feel, different game?

However, what about Sharapova’s famous swing? I asked her if she felt that a tiny racket/paddle sport like pickleball would benefit from her elite tennis talents and large court movement.

“At first, pickleball surprised me with how different everything felt.” “I anticipated a greater degree of resemblance,” stated Sharapova. “However, it seems that there is never ‘enough’ power.”

Sharapova stated that she will “definitely use a lot of that strength that I had in my tennis career” on Sunday in addition to her competitive mindset. However, hitting the short balls in the kitchen, or the non-volley zone directly in front of the net, requires a new skill set.

She continued, “Learning all these new terms has been an entertaining journey.” “But all in all, I believe you can incorporate a few tennis elements, but I was surprised at how different it felt.”

Sharapova in Pickleball Slam 2

In addition to offering both weekend warriors and top athletes a brand-new challenge, Sharapova believes pickleball has a promising future as a sport.

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Pickleball’s Rising Popularity

“On the business side, it’s growing, and how could it not? The engagement across the country is extremely high. You can see why people are having fun with it.”

Sharapova observes that tennis and recreational clubs around the country are “engaging with it and building pickle courts on their properties,” contributing to the game’s rise. Any sport has inherent obstacles, she acknowledges, but “by having more of it on TV and accessible to people, it grows the game.”

Naturally, I had to question the tennis phenomenon about her first love, the game, and the new generation of WTA players making waves.

The two players who have most impressed Sharapova are rising star Mirra Andrea, who is now ranked 35th on the WTA, and world No. 3 Coco Gauff, who won the US Open last year.

Sharapova said, “I’ve loved watching a new generation step up to the occasion.” “How Coco handled the triumph in New York last year pleased me. It’s also fantastic to see fresh athletes like Mirra Andreeva succeed and get possibilities.

“We’re seeing so much more consistency in the women’s game, and that has been refreshing,” says Sharapova.

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