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Pickleball's Year in Photos: 2023 News Review

by Adam Forziati on

We've already recapped the 2023 professional pickleball scene here; placed our bets for 2024 predictions here; and even covered 2024's first slate of news, which broke within the first few days of the year.

But now, as we're anticipating what's to come in pickleball, it's time to look back on the momentous year in the rearview.

Pickleball in 2023 involved broken records, new ways to enjoy the game, and plenty of pro league drama.

We've assembled a recap of the year below using photos to tell the story:

Celebrities continue to bring pickleball some pop culture notoriety

Source: Page Six

The addiction to pickleball isn't just for us regular folk, there's been no shortage of celebrities picking up paddles this year.

Consider some of the following icons who invested in pickleball this year:

Even Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez bought-in (by purchasing a mansion complete with a luxury court).

The impact of having so many recognizable names effectively vouch for pickleball cannot be understated.

New paddle testing process announced; paddle controversies persist

Major League Pickleball, the PPA Tour, and USA Pickleball announced a revised, more technologically-advanced paddle testing process to address paddle legality issues early in 2023.

They now use "automated equipment specifically designed for the sport of pickleball" to conduct lab and on-site testing of paddles and balls.

Of course, that system has already undergone edits and will likely mature into something more efficient, accurate, and easy to explain in 2024.

Only a month after the announcement, we saw our first onsite paddle disqualification at the PPA Tour's OGIO Doubles Shootout.

Protestors and noise complaints reach an inflection point

Source: Santa Monica Mirror

Of course, not all news is good news. In 2023, pickleball's reputation grew in both positive and negative ways – and the negative ones were, shall we say, colorful.

Nets were slashed; sheds full of equipment were set ablaze (see above); people chained themselves to trees in protest of new courts...all to oppose pickleball taking over (mostly unused) tennis courts or making a little noise.

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Pickleball's number one player sets a Triple Crown record

Anna Leigh Waters claimed the 20th Triple Crown of her career on the PPA Tour in 2023.

Let that sink in: she's surpassed Ben Johns (though the two won gold at Nationals together in addition to an incredible doubles run). She's surpassed everyone.

Two warring pro pickleball leagues have an unbelievable exchange

We couldn't hope to summarize the MLP vs. PPA saga in just a few sentences – so here's the gist:

  • 2023's start promised a merger between PPA's VIBE League & MLP
  • This summer, Steve Kuhn and other MLP execs start calling up and signing pros to exclusive contracts; PPA responds in turn; the bidding war begins
  • The two again agree to merge; Kuhn steps down; players are offered pay cuts to make the business model more sustainable

Meanwhile, the OG pro league quietly expands the sport globally and bridges age gaps

While all this was going on, the newly-named Association of Pickleball Players has been continuing to quietly grow with a stronger focus on amateur play.

In 2024, they:

  • Launched international tournaments in several nations.
  • Announced high school events and expanded their collegiate ones

...and, oh yeah, a team-based format.

Colleges finally invest seriously in pickleball

Drury University

In addition to the biggest collegiate tournament in pickleball history, 2023 saw a rise in overall collegiate investment in the sport.

Drury University in Springfield, MO broke ground on its new “Panther Pad,” featuring tennis and pickleball courts, pavilion grill, and beverage area.

The University of Mississippi spent over $60k to replace three tennis courts with eight new pickleball courts.

Meanwhile, Utah Tech University started offering pickleball scholarship money to talented students.

Nationals embodies pickleball in 2023

Despite racking up its fair share of complaints, Nationals also broke records and showcased explosive growth in 2023 – perfectly emblematic of pickleball itself.

The PPA Tour says attendance more than doubled initial projections, with over 50,000 picklers throughout the 7-day event.

A Guinness World Record-breaking 264 participants made for the most players in a pickleball exhibition match during the event.

Adam Forziati