Pickleball centre stage

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Ruben Garcia at EA Networks Centre with the paddle and wiffle ball used in the game of pickleball.

Ashburton will host the South Island’s first ever pickleball tournament from tomorrow.

A cross between tennis, badminton and table tennis, pickleball is played on a badminton doubles-sized court and uses paddles and a hollow, plastic ball with holes in it.

The net is slightly lower than a tennis net.

The fast-growing sport began in New Zealand five years ago and is played regularly by around 3000 people.

Some 75 to 80 players, including a local contingent, will compete at the Mid Canterbury Winter Classic at EA Networks Centre, which runs through until Sunday.

Pickleball Ashburton was started a little over 12 months ago by American-born Ruben Garcia, who was introduced to the sport in his former homeland.

Around 25 regulars now turn out at thrice weekly sessions at EA Networks Centre.

Mr Garcia, who is also president of Pickleball New Zealand, says a high standard of play can be expected at the tournament, which would feature both singles and doubles matches. Spectators are welcome.

The tournament had been six months in the planning and he was excited that Ashburton was hosting it. It was a first for the South Island, and an opportunity to raise the sport’s profile.

“Pickleball is a fun, sociable game and it really is suited to all ages. It’s not hard on the joints like some sports, yet it is still competitive.”

Mr Garcia said he was pleased local businesses had come on board to support the tournament, even though pickleball was a new sport and new to Ashburton.

Among the local players taking part is former tennis player and regular badminton player Karen Bishop.

Mrs Bishop will team up with husband David and says pickleball is fun.

It was similar to badminton and tennis in some respects, but needed different tactics.

The rules also differed, and included no-go zones.

Pickleball was not about power, but more about placement, Mrs Bishop said.

“The good thing about pickleball doubles is that there is less running needed.” Three-set matches usually lasted around 25 minutes.

The tournament runs until 3pm Sunday.

By Mick jensen