CHICAGO (CBS) – Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and some of the country’s best players will be heading to Highland Park this weekend for the Association of Pickleball Professional Tour’s Chicago Open.
CBS 2’s Matt Zahn caught up with top singles player Zane Navratil, who is enjoying his newfound celebrity status.
ZAHN: How much are you looking forward to the big event here in Chicago?
NAVRATIL: Yes, I certainly cannot wait. It’s good to have an event near my home, the Chicago Open. I’m from Milwaukee, so don’t blame me.
ZAHN: How did you get to this point where you’re one of the best in the world at pickleball?
NAVRATIL: Yeah, so a lot of professional pickleball players at this point have very non-traditional paths to where they are. So I played college tennis at (the University of) Wisconsin Whitewater and got a job as an auditor. I quit my job in July 2020 because the APP Tour was basically coming and getting more and more prize money so I could make it my career.
ZAHN: How’s it been to watch the sport you love so much grow?
NAVRATIL: Every day I knock on wood saying I’ve found the sport and basically the perfect time. It’s pretty cool to be almost famous in a certain setting. Obviously the Chicago Cubs are famous everywhere they go, but if I’m famous at a pickleball tournament, I’m famous at a pickleball tournament, and I never thought that would be the case.
ZAHN: So how do you deal with that fame?
NAVRATIL: It is growing. I’m starting to get noticed at airports and with random people. Oh man, that pisses off my fiancé. [laughs] She’s like, ‘You’re a pickleball player. Are you kidding me?
ZAHN: What do you like about pickleball?
NAVRATIL: I love that you can go into a community and play a game, regardless of your skill level. You can show up at Danny Cunniff’s Park in Highland Park, when there’s no APP tournament, but you can show up there and get in the game whether you’re a newbie or a fairly solid player.
ZAHN: Is this something you see yourself doing for a while now?
NAVRATIL: I love pickleball. I love all the different elements of it. Right now I’m a player, but I see myself moving to the business side of things when I’m done as a player. I run the APP Academy, which has pickleball clinics for the general public that are added to many of these tournaments. It’s awesome.
You can watch Navratil and the other players at Highland Park over Labor Day weekend.
This is the fourth year the tour has stopped in the Chicago area. A Libertyville native is actually the founder of this tour.
How fast is the sport developing? USA Pickleball had over 53,000 members at the end of last year. That was more than a 40% year-over-year jump.