Local Pro Rick Witsken Wins at US Open Pickleball Championships
Photography / Provided
In April, Zionsville’s own Rick Witsken competed in the 2021 US Open Pickleball Championships in Naples, Florida, winning three medals.
Witsken, a former professional tennis player, coach of Zionsville Middle School’s boys’ and girls’ tennis teams, and founder of Team Witsken, an organization aimed at providing professional instruction to tennis and pickleball players, says he was introduced to pickleball about a decade ago.
He says an employee asked him if he’d be interested in playing. “He and I were in between teaching tennis lessons, and he’d been involved in pickleball so I played him in some singles for a workout and, while I felt a little clumsy the first game, I knew it was a sport that I would love because it felt a lot like ping pong and racquetball,” Witsken says.
Witsken started competing in Pickleball tournaments professionally in 2014. He’s won four gold medals at the US Open Pickleball Championships prior to this year. Witsken says he’s having the professional career in pickleball at 50 that he didn’t have when he walked away from professional tennis in his twenties.
Almost as competitive as the tournament itself is the registration for the US Open Pickleball Championships. “Usually when they open up the sign up online, it usually fills up within 5 minutes across the country and the world of people signing up. They have 2,500 participants, they have a ton of courts, but they can’t handle more than that,” he says. “So, usually you want to sign up, you better be on your computer, open the window or win a lottery in the drawing to get in the event.” Players also must have a certain rank or designation to compete in the pro-level events such as the US Open Pickleball Championships.
The US Open Pickleball Championship takes place over seven days, with separate events taking place each day. Witsken competed in five events in seven days. He says one of the toughest competitors at this year’s competition was the weather. “There were a lot of rain delays. It rained a lot, and it was super-hot and humid. So, guys like me, Yankees that, you know, aren’t used to 88° in super humidity,” Witsken says. “The first day, the first event was my best event which was singles but the level of humidity and the level of heat, I am in pretty good shape, but I couldn’t be prepared for that and I almost died.”
Despite the weather, Witsken finished the week with three more medals to his name, a gold in the Men’s Senior Pro Doubles, and bronze in the Men’s Pro Split Age and the Mixed Senior Pro Doubles. Witsken says he’s pleased with the results, especially with what he calls the defining moment of the competition: when he and his partner rallied from down match point in the blistering heat to win the Men’s Pro Split Age quarterfinals. “That was pretty cool that my body allowed me to get through that event,” he says.
When he’s not competing, Witsken is hosting and teaching at pickleball events all over the city. He and his wife are hosting Zionsville’s first-ever professional sporting event, the Indianapolis Pickleball Open, June 4 to 6 at the Zionsville High School tennis courts. For more information on upcoming pickleball events, visit TeamWitsken.com.