When Andy Roddick agreed to join John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang in the Pickleball Slam, the 2003 US Open champion thought he had two distinct advantages over the three other inductees into the International Tennis Hall of Fame who were on the television show Hollywood, Florida.
At 40, Roddick is the junior member of the quartet (McEnroe is 64, Agassi 52, Chang 51). And Roddick’s serve, topping 150 mph in his tennis tour days, was the fastest in the group of retired Grand Slam title winners who signed up for something that includes a $1 million prize pool and will be played on Sunday at 12:00 p.m. EDT on ESPN will air the women’s March Madness championship game.
“As I went through the (Pickleball) rules, I saw that they took away my youth with (limited) moves, and they took away my serve by having to serve sneakily,” Roddick said with a chuckle, “that’s it.” I’m not sure what’s left.” He will face Chang, then McEnroe will face Agassi before a doubles contest between McEnroe-Chang and Agassi-Roddick at the Pickleball Slam — the latest in a string of tries To draw attention to a sport that’s taking over neighborhood squares all the time, it’s still struggling to gain a foothold on television.
“Everyone likes it immediately. It’s quite appreciated by the people who play it,” Roddick said. “But you also don’t know if it’s ever going to get televised and be a very watchable product without knowing the intricacies and nuances, which I honestly don’t know people have the time to learn.”
ESPN/ABC have shown Pickleball in the past, have a deal with a league for some of their competitions, and have ongoing discussions with others.
“We’re obviously not writing big checks for Pickleball right now,” said Tim Bunnell, ESPN’s senior vice president of programming. “The state of development of the sport is: we are all still considering how it will be translated into the media world. We know how it translates in terms of participation.”
Horizon Sports & Experiences (HS&E) is producing the Pickleball Slam. The idea, explained David Levy, co-CEO of HS&E, was for bold names from one racquet sport to help promote another.
“Today, right now, nobody really knows the best pickleball players. Nobody can even name the top 50 pickleball players,” said Levy, former president of Turner Networks. “(But) it’s a huge emerging phenomenon in esports. And we decided to enter in a unique way.”
Levy compared the appeal of Sunday’s event to what drew fans to “The Match,” a televised golf show that began under his watch in Turner with Tiger Woods playing Phil Mickelson in 2018, saying: ” I’ve done this magic before.”
He said he would love to get tennis stars like the Williams sisters, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal to play pickleball in future editions.
“Keep building this incredible, budding sport,” Levy said, “with great brand names.”
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