Charlottesville-area residents and pickleball lovers Adam Raines and Vincent Riccobana took home the win after wrapping a two-day tournament hosted by the University of Virginia Pickleball Club at the Snyder Tennis Center over the weekend.
The sport, which resembles tennis but takes up about half of the court space, has had a boost in popularity since the onset of the pandemic. Interest in the sport is so high that UVa has converted some of its traditional tennis courts for pickleball use. Casual games and competitive tournaments now regularly attract hundreds of locals to play a sport that until recently wasn’t particularly well-known out of its home state of Washington.
Raines, who club members describe as something of a team coach, and Riccobana beat UVa students Lauralei Singsank and David Bieger in the third set of a best-two-out-of-three match on Sunday.
The tournament began on Saturday as a round-robin competition, meaning all 24 teams of two played against each other before moving up, on or off the bracket.
“We initially had the tournament set to be a lot smaller, and then we had a lot of signups right off the bat,” said Sydney Newburn, a fourth-year student and president of the UVa Pickleball Club. “So we expanded our capacity, and based on the courts that we had, we made it bigger and fit as many people that signed up as we could.”
By the time the tournament resumed on Sunday morning, the competition had shrunk to 12 teams. The last four hours of the tournament moved at lightning speed as teams were quickly eliminated after a single loss.
Just as Raines, Riccobana, Singsank and Bieger began the third set of the final game that would determine the winner of the tournament, club members and onlookers had to relocate to another court that was an eight-minute walk away because another group reserved the court for lessons.
Club members said they are used to having to switch courts as the university adapts to the rapidly increasing interest in pickleball.
UVa students founded the club in 2021 after returning from long periods indoors and limited physical team activities during the pandemic. Today, there are more than 600 students in the UVa Pickleball Club. The club includes two tournament teams and hundreds of pickleball lovers.
“There is definitely a lot of interest, especially after COVID, for people just to play in a noncompetitive environment that is low-cost,” Newburn said. “I started playing with my mom during COVID, and then I came back to school and a lot of people had also done that similarly, so a lot of clubs have been started in the past couple of years. This is our second year as a club, which started after COVID and has just blown up since then.”
In 2021, UVa converted three tennis courts at Snyder and one court at the Perry-Fishbourne Tennis Courts so they could be used for pickleball games. Because pickleball courts and nets are smaller – one tennis court is equal to two pickleball courts – the renovation has given the club access to at least four pickleball courts.
Newburn said the club can still use the other 15 tennis courts at Snyder to play pickleball, as long as they are not already reserved.
The UVa Pickleball Club streams matches and tournaments on its Instagram page.