$25,000 Pickleball tournament coming to Naperville
A first-time tournament offering "big-time money" in a fast-growing sport is opening Wednesday in Naperville.
The Chicago Pickleball Open is a professional-level competition offering $25,000 in total prizes to winners who will emerge by Sunday from a field of more than 400 players, tournament Director Ken Herrmann said.
Traveling from across the country, these players 14 and older will compete in five age divisions playing a sport defined as a cross between tennis, badminton and squash.
Pickleball has grown in popularity in recent years, and Naperville Park District has taken notice, building courts dedicated to the sport at Nike Sports Complex.
Herrmann said many of the 250 members of the new nonprofit group Chicago Metro Pickleball, which is hosting the tournament, are used to bringing their own nets and playing on tennis courts where pickleball lines have been added.
"You don't see a lot of park districts that have actually put in designated pickleball courts like Naperville has," he said.
So the facilities at Nike Sports Complex, 288 E. Diehl Road, where the tournament will take place, are a step up, Herrmann said. While three other parks in Naperville offer pickleball lines atop tennis courts, Nike park at 288 W. Diehl Road includes four pickleball courts with lights and wind shields.
"That's just beautiful," Herrmann said.
The dedicated pickleball courts, as well as all of Nike park's eight tennis courts, will be used for the tournament from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Registration for players is closed, but spectator admission to watch games is free.
Before official play begins, the event will kick off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a pickleball clinic and two professional exhibition games Wednesday evening.
Naperville City Council member Kevin Coyne will be on hand to hit the first ball after the ribbon-cutting at 5:45 p.m., and Brad Wilson, Naperville Park District's director of recreation and facilities, said park district staff members will be there as well to launch the largest pickleball event yet at a district site.
After the ribbon-cutting, a free clinic begins at 6 p.m. for "anyone who ever wanted to play pickleball or learn about the sport," Herrmann said. Sponsoring company Wilson will offer pickleball balls, which are lightweight with holes, like a Whiffle ball, and other products while newbies get an introduction to the sport.
Wilson said the park district also offers pickleball classics led by instructors and open gyms where players can play pickup games at Fort Hill Activity Center.
The USA Pickleball Association defines the game as "a paddle sport created for all ages and skill levels" played on an indoor or outdoor surface the size of a doubles badminton court with a modified tennis net.
Players say the lightweight ball and small court size make the game easier to master than the original sports on which it is based.
"You can get fairly good at it fairly quickly," Herrmann said. "You can have more instant success on a pickleball court than you can on a tennis court."
Players with professional success will take part in two exhibition games beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday in men's doubles and mixed doubles, featuring teams of one man and one woman.
The men's doubles match is set to include Kyle Yates and Frank Anthony Davis against Zane Navratil and Ernesto Fajardo. The mixed match will feature Scott Moore and Leigh Waters against Bill Muno and Lindsey Newman.