These days, you can’t go anywhere without seeing people play or hearing people talk about pickleball. On the streets, in the park down the road, or at the gym, America’s fastest-growing sport has taken the country by storm.
American Express has a long-standing history of not just embracing culture, wellness and the arts but also using its network to support moments of the cultural zeitgeist—so, of course, the company is getting in on the pickleball trend.
As part of its ongoing health and wellness member programming, AmEx kicked off the Equinox x American Express Platinum series. Pro tennis champion Andy Roddick—who recently played at the ESPN Pickleball Slam alongside John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang—led guests in some tennis warm-ups at Arthur Ashe Stadium alongside some pickleball matches on the outside courts.
We caught up with Andy before the clinic began to chat pickleball and get some tips from the pro.
We’re here at Arthur Ashe celebrating the launch of the American Express Platinum x Equinox partnership. How do you feel?
Yeah, it’s great. It’s weird coming here today where you’re doing a clinic that doesn’t have a ton of personal consequences. Coming to this stadium, I still get a little nervy. But no, it’s great to be here on behalf of Equinox and American Express helping with their Platinum Series. I’m a member of both companies and use both companies personally. So, both of them in this venue seemed like a fit, and I was happy to be thought of for it.
It’s great to see American Express really use its resources to push and support a growing sport. Obviously, you’re super involved in pickleball. So, what’s that transition from tennis been like? What’s been driving you?
We certainly played the match on TV with a bunch of retired tennis pros, and it was really fun. It was an interesting process to [go from not having] played at all and then, to signing up for something where three months later you’re live on TV doing something you don’t know if you’re good at [or not]; you don't know if the people that you’re playing against are going to be good at [it either].
What I will say is, going into that match, I didn’t think that I would continue to play and be as enthused as I was about the game. I still play socially with friends at least once a week. I’ve really, really enjoyed it. The process has been fun, learning the nuances of a new game where there are obvious similarities, but also some differences. The participatory side of it is something that I have a ton of faith in. Now, it’s just a matter of if they can build and package a product that people want to watch on TV.
It seems like it’s a pretty easy sport for people to pick up, which has had a big effect on its popularity. Why do you think that is?
Before I was a fan of the game, I got in trouble with the pickleball cult for saying it’s like tennis minus the speed and learning curve and then a couple other adjectives—but no, I think it’s nice.
Tennis is hard, and you have to learn it over time. It’s not instantly gratifying. It’s frustrating before it’s great. In pickleball, you get those sensations satisfied early, and you hit a good shot. The ball sounds good when it comes off most of the time. It’s easier to square it up. Different levels can play with different levels. So, it has a ton of advantages. Even for tennis clubs, it takes up less real estate, you can fit more people, so there’s more involvement.
So, pickleball definitely has a lot of advantages. And if you should decide to, it’s probably easier to play with a cocktail in your hand than tennis, as well, isn’t it?
Absolutely. It also seems quite easy to pick up and play with friends, thus gaining a bigger groundswell among people in the country.
I think we’re currently, probably, in the honeymoon period, and I think a lot of people will try it. I think the measure will be, a year from now, how many people are still doing it? I think there will be a significant amount of retention.
To your point, a couple of weeks before, I was at a friend’s house in Los Angeles, and she is a huge pickleball person, one of my wife’s best friends. In the bottom driveway of her house, she had measured out tape, they had a net, and they played pickleball every day! It’s not actually a court. They just put tape down on concrete, and she goes, “Hundreds of hours of our lives have been spent with tape and a net.” Unfortunately, I [don’t] think there’s a way for tennis to do that. I think that, as a starting point, they have a depressurized ball for kids now to make it a gentler entry, but I think pickleball really has an advantage.
Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick play pickleball in Florida.
What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to somebody who’s about to pick up a pickleball racket and get out there this weekend and play?
I would ask for advice along the way because it’s this weird thing. Andre Agassi was my partner, and we were sending text messages. It was a great excuse for me just to text my idol for three months—but we’re texting back and forth and he goes, “It’s just so confusing because, in tennis, you’re chill. You’re patient. And then when you get your shot, you’re aggressive, and you don’t let go.” Right?
He goes, “In pickleball, it’s the opposite. You hurry up, and then have to chill out.” It’s the opposite type of thing where you want to get in position, but you might hurry up and then have to play down for a couple of shots. So, the instincts, especially if you come from any type of racket sport, are completely counterintuitive. That was the biggest learning curve for me.
The Equinox x American Express Platinum series continues all summer with stops at the Brooklyn Museum, Sheats-Goldstein Residence in LA, as well as the Rubell Museum in Miami. Learn more via americanexpress.com.
Photography by: Manny Hernandez / Getty; Matt Ritchie