A "feel good" story which warms "the cockles of my heart" in every sense.
The Pickleball dreams of two friends and their single journey together.... and a happy ending.
Congratulations to Pini and Varsha for their Silver Medal in the 50+ women's 4.5 doubles category in the 2022 US Nationals. They beat the two top seeded pairs to claim their podium finish.
Pini also took home the Silver in the 50+ mixed 4.5 doubles with her US partner Todd Headley two days earlier.
With over 5.6 million pickleball players in the US alone, the sport is extremely competitive. Pini and Varsha's success in the 2022 US Nationals at Indian Wells have put Singapore players in the limelight on one of the two biggest pickleball stages in the world. (The other one is the US Open at Minto).
This is the venue where the best of the best pit their skills against each other. To play at Indian Wells is every pickleball player's dream. With 48 pickleball courts, the venue is absolutely amazing. Just getting into the main draw of this tournament (in any age category/ division) is no mean feat by itself.
To qualify for the 2022 Nationals, Pini and Varsha played in four US tournaments in their previous trip (August 2021), three of which they won Gold. It was the Western Regionals @ Fountain Valley, where they won Gold in the WD 50+ 4.5 which gave them the Golden Ticket for the US Nationals. The Western Regionals was a USA Pickleball sanctioned event for qualification to the Nationals.
Success does not come easy for this partnership. Long hours of daily hard work and practice, as well as strong family support, are the formula for this successful pairing. They were both hampered by knee injuries in early 2022. Varsha missed the APO 2022 tournament in Phuket, Thailand. She had a meniscus tear and had to go through intensive rehabilitation to strengthen her knee before she was allowed to play again.
The versatility of pickleball knows no bounds. This "Covid Duo" formed their first partnership in the Asia Flex League tournament in 2020. Asia Flex League is the brainchild of AFP's CEO, Jimmy Tan. Singapore took the lead in Asia to play in the Flex League, and other AFP member countries followed suit.
During that time, Pini was looking for a doubles partner to play in the advanced women doubles 50+ age category. This is Pini's ultimate pickleball goal - to do the best she can in her age group world-wide. Here comes Varsha. Varsha first started pickleball in the US on a visit to her son who was studying at a US university. She played socially there for a while. She picked up the game again in Singapore on her return towards the end of 2019.
A mutual friend who saw Varsha playing, noted her desire to play at a competitive level, decided to introduce the two ladies as they are both in the same age group. They played together for a few sessions and decided to form a team hoping for bigger things. They formed their first partnership in the Asia Flex League, won all their matches, gaining a first-place finish. The rest, as they say....is history.
Following are some of their recent tournament results since their partnership:
Their successful partnership came about due mainly to their compatibility with each other. Primarily as friends and openness to each other. They understand that playing doubles requires team effort, and unless you support each other, you could be in for a very frustrating match.
In many of their matches where I was the referee, I observed that their teamwork is the main strength of their partnership. With relentless attacking, resetting, timely poaching, and good communication, this well-developed team has beaten more talented team players who do not communicate well.
Without giving away too much on the strengths of this Pin-Var partnership, one thing is obvious: they always stay positive encouraging each other to the last point. Many doubles teams don't do this.
Pini and Varsha have set the example to show that picklers from Asia can and will be competitive in this game on a world stage. They would love to encourage the younger (and not so young) players to believe in themselves. Nothing is impossible if players work hard on their games.
Their commitment to pickleball far extends beyond tournaments. Both players devoted many hours giving back to the community by volunteering their time to coach beginners, bringing the game to the heartland in Singapore, assisting Pickleball.sg to teach kids the game, as well as promoting the game by taking part in SportSG virtual pickleball workshop during the Covid lock down period in Aug 2021, encouraging the community to stay active and keep healthy during the challenging covid period.
Pini and Varsha would like to extend a big shout out to their team and members of Bukit Gombak, Nike, and Team ProKennex, for their support. We await with bated breath on this dynamic duo in their quest for more pickleball adventure.
What's next for them? Bainbridge Cup 2022 in Mumbai, India and Asia Pickleball Open (APO) 2023 on 14-18 March at Phuket, Thailand...very best of luck, ladies. Have fun!!
Article contributor: John Ng
AFP and SPA referee.