The game of pickleball has grown tremendously since its first known tournament was held over forty years ago. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, pickleball boasts more than 4.8 million players, and in 2020 two different professional tours were introduced. Each year more and more people discover just how exciting the game is, and so it comes as no surprise that a select group have gone beyond casual play and dedicated their lives to the sport.
These leading athletes are those who have taken the plunge into the newly created professional pickleball world and transformed their initiative and desire to succeed into a rewarding career—and about 40% of them are women. In fact, some of the greatest pickleball players of all time are female, and their number and accomplishments only increase as time goes on.
Armed with ambition, skill, and unwavering determination, these women in particular have climbed the ranks and made a name for themselves in professional pickleball, proving to the world just how much they can accomplish.
Anna Leigh Waters
Matches (W-L): 43-2
At only 15-years-old, Anna Leigh Waters is the number one female pickleball player in the world, and she stands as a testament that the sport is indeed for anyone and everyone.
Waters first picked up a paddle at age 10 after her grandfather asked her to play a match with him. At first she declined, thinking that the sport was only for older people. After a few hits, though, she was shocked at how much she loved it.
“I was immediately hooked and wanted to play every single day,” Waters said in an interview with Insider.
And play she did. Waters went pro at 12 and won the Nationals the same year playing doubles with her mom, Leigh, who is also a pickleball celebrity. Now, only five years after picking up a paddle for the first time, she has 10 professional singles titles to her name and is on track to claim many more.
Matches (W-L): 34-12
Catherine Parenteau is one of many pickleball pros who began their athletic careers in tennis. Originally from Montreal, she played the sport at the collegiate level until her eligibility ran out. Her coach, Simone Jardim (who is also now a pro pickleball player), suggested that she try pickleball. Her reactions to the sport, both before and after she first stepped onto the court, echoed many others’.
“I just looked at her and was like, ‘What are you talking about? Pickleball?’” Parenteau told interviewers. “But, of course, after resisting at first, I finally gave it a try… and I fell in love with the game.”
Parenteau won her first pickleball gold in the 2018 USA Pickleball Association Nationals, and her career has since taken off. While she’s recently been usurped by Anna Leigh Waters as the No. 1 female in pickleball, the fast-paced nature of the sport means that Parenteau has a shot at taking back her place on that pedestal. Her upcoming matches will certainly be worth watching.
Image from PPAtour.com
Matches (W-L): 40-19
Known for her fierce personality and powerful performances, Jansen quickly became a key player in the pickleball world when she fully committing to the sport in 2019 after competing in that year’s Beer City Open.
Having been a long-time tennis player, she had to quickly adjust to the pickleball mindset—getting to the no-volley line, patient rallies, tweaked strategies—and admits that she’s still having to learn even while at the pro level.
Jansen proudly states that she has no regrets about the switch, though, telling the PPA that “coming from tennis, pickleball offers an amazing and completely different atmosphere. Pickleball has come so far even in the two short years that I have been playing… I am really excited to see where we will be in another couple years.”
Image from PPAtour.com
Matches (W-L): 34-25
Though Moscow native Irina Tereschenko didn’t begin her pickleball journey until 2015, she boasts 20 years of playing and coaching racquet sports. Her previous experiences and love for pickleball combined into a driving force that has blown her competition away and carried her to win 35 career gold medals, two USAPA Nationals gold medals, and one US Open gold medal.
Going pro in pickleball hasn’t deterred Tereschenko from her other passions, as she is also an adjunct professor and research assistant at the collegiate level. While others might find the workload overwhelming, the pressure that comes with high stakes is what drives Tereschenko—especially the all-or-nothing mentality she brings to pickleball.
“Pressure is a privilege no matter what type of match you are playing,” she said in an interview with Hong Kong-based pickleball pro Venise Chan. “As the stakes get higher in pickleball and the stage gets bigger, the excitement of a center court match will rival some of the rowdiest college crowds or professional tennis tournaments… It pumps me up and brings the best out in my game.”
Tereschenko is considered by many to be one of the greatest of the greats in women’s pro pickleball—in all pickleball, really—and has no plans of stopping any time soon.
Image from PPAtour.com
Matches (W-L): 33-25
When she’s not defending her position as a Top 5 ranked player in all three divisions of women’s pro pickleball, Callie Smith is busy being a mother of two and teaching both tennis and pickleball lessons to those who dream of accomplishing the same feats she has. Smith currently holds five titles from the Professional Pickleball Association Pro Tours and has won over 30 professional medals since 2019.
Beyond her undeniable aptitude for the game, Smith is known for her considerate personality and positive outlook both on and off the court, and she uses her skills and experience to teach others to be the best players they can be.
“I [love it], honestly,” Smith said of her encouraging experiences in the pickleball community. “Everyone I’ve met has been really positive. Helping each other out, working with each other, even in the competition. Obviously it’s competitive, but the people are nice. It’s fun.”
Smith aspires to one day obtain the coveted No. 1 ranking, and she certainly possesses the skill to do so.