Jan papi
2018-04-25 10:00:04

Naples' JoAnne Russell goes from Wimbledon champ to pickleball pro
JoAnne Russell fell in love with pickleball almost as soon as she picked up a paddle.
As a former Wimbledon champion, it took her a bit longer adjust to subtle nuances that differentiate the sport from her first love, tennis.
"Now I'm better because I can hit (the ball) soft," Russell said Monday in between matches at the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships at East Naples Community Park. "In one of my first tournaments, I think I hit this lady (with the ball) 10 times. She finally said, 'You know, you're supposed to say 'Sorry.'"
Russell has adjusted her game, and now she's having as much fun playing pickleball as she did when she was a professional tennis player in the 1970s and '80s.
Buy Photo JoAnne Russell and her partner, Stephanie Lane, work together to score during the semifinal game of the Women's Doubles Age 50+ on Monday, April 23, 2018 at the Minto US Open Pickleball Championships in Naples. (Photo: Katie Klann/Naples Daily News)

After growing up on the tennis courts of Naples, Russell won the Wimbledon women's doubles title in 1977. She earned six titles on the WTA Tour and was ranked as high as No. 22 in the world.

Following retirement, Russell became a tennis pro at Grey Oaks Country Club in Naples. About three years ago the club's director of tennis, Steven Vaughn, approached Russell about picking up pickleball so she could teach it to club members.
Russell, 63, still teaches tennis at Grey Oaks, and in the summer she's a tennis pro at Linville Ridge in western North Carolina, about 60 miles northeast of Asheville. But as pickleball continues to grow in popularity, Russell finds herself conducting more and more lessons in her new sport at both clubs.

Last year Russell won a gold medal at the U.S. Open in the women's doubles 5.0 skill division with partner Gee Gee Garvin.
On Monday, Russell and Stephanie Lane lost in the semifinals of the women's doubles 50-and-over age division. They lost to elite competition - Alex Hamner and Jennifer Lucore, their opponents, won the silver in women's pro doubles at the 2017 U.S. Open.
"Win or loss, she is just a dream partner," Lane said. "It's so exciting to get to play with such a champion as JoAnne."
Lane lives in Asheville, where she met Russell. This year's U.S. Open is their first time playing together because it is Lane's first year of eligibility in the 50-plus division.
Pickleball came along at the perfect time for Russell. A few years ago her doctor told her she needed a shoulder replacement for her right (serving) arm. Russell is reluctant to undergo surgery, and it's hard to serve overhand in tennis.
With pickleball, serves are underhand, so there's no pain. And Russell's best tennis stroke - the forehand chip return in which she puts underspin on the ball - plays perfectly in pickleball, where a most of the action occurs at the net.
"It's the same exact stroke I use in tennis," Russell said. "People ask if (pickleball) bothers my tennis game. No. My footwork is so good for tennis. If you're playing (pickleball) at a pretty good level, you start moving better in tennis. Your legs are so fit."
Opponents took notice of Russell's footwork Monday. Russell and Lane won their first two matches 11-2, 11-2, and 11-4, 11-4.
Though she's learned how to dink, the pickleball lingo for a soft hit over the net, Russell's tennis power served her well Monday. It was a windy day at East Naples Community Park, and Russell's hard smacks helped the ball cut through the breeze.

"She hit it hard, and it was tough to do any kind of soft game here," said Teri Schrock, who teamed with Dolly VerStrate and lost to Russell-Lane in the first round. "It's fun to play against that caliber of play. Our goal was just to get a point. It felt good to score a couple."
In addition to teaching the game, Russell, who beat teams with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova to win at Wimbledon, adds name recognition to a sport still growing outside of the senior demographic. While Russell rested between matches Monday, a 56-year-old woman approached to shake her hand and say Russell was one of her idols when she was learning tennis.
"I'm so thankful that she and some other tennis pros have found pickleball to continue their legacy and to come to such a social sport and support it," she said.

Minto U.S. Open Pickleball Championships
At East Naples Community Park
19-and-over - Kyle Yates-Brian Ashworth
25+ - Dave Weinbach-Matt Wright
30+ - Rob Davidson-Kyle Thieme
35+ - Dave Fleming-Adam Stone
40+ - Chris Heck-Jack Oxler
45+ - Matthew Schiller-Rick Witsken
50+ - Phil Bagley-Brian Staub
55+ - Scott Moore-Del Kauss
60+ - Larry Moon-Tyler Sheffield
65+ - Jim Hackenberg-Ted Meyer
70+ - Tony Girodo-Bob Costanza
75+ - Gary Carpenter-Larry Miller
80+ - Walter Knestrick-Rex Lawler
19+ - Simone Jardim-Catherine Parenteau
25+ - Sarah Ansboury-Christine McGrath
30+ - Andrea Koop-Jaylen Brennan
35+ - Nicole Buckmaster-Dominique Levin
40+ - Mary Helen Atkins-Lucy Kitcher
45+ - Gigi LeMaster-Lisa Naumu
50+ -Jennifer Dawson-Cammy MacGregor
55+ - Susan Baze-Cherie Chao
60+ - Mona Burnett-Helle Sparre
65+ - Yvonne-Hackenberg-Hilary Marold
70+ - Carolyn Thompson-Susan Vinson
75+ - Alice Tym-Diane Keller
Pro - Tyson McGuffin
Senior - Scott Moore
Skill level 3.5 and below
19-and-over - Jeffrey Sozio
35+ -Nick Galvez
50+ - Jim Nici
60+ - Tom Ratzki
60+ - Mark Vogel
70+ - LaVelle Greg
75+ - Dick Johnson
80+ - Grady Sparks
Skill level 4.0 and above
19+ - Anton Gudz
35+ - Paul Olin
50+ - Ken Henderson
60+ - Joe DiMauro
65+ - Peter Popovich
70+ - Bob Costanza
75+ - Gary Carpenter
Pro - Simone Jardim
Senior - Cammy MacGregor
Skill level 3.5 and below
19+ - Ashley Dietrich
35+ - Michelle Herbert
50+ - Denise Myers
60+ - Vicki Taylor
70+ - Debi Dorne
75+ - Sharlene Peter
Skill level 4.0 and above
19+ - Anna Leigh Waters
35+ - Sarah Saari-Francis
50+ - Lisa Dollard
60+ - Marsha Wolak
65+ - Hilary Marold
70+ - Deb Harrison
75+ - Diane Keller