Just because he’s no longer swimming, doesn’t mean that Michael Phelps‘ competitive juices are waning.
Later this month, the most decorated Olympian in history will add pickleball to his resume when he plays in a special celebrity match at the season kickoff Desert Ridge Open tournament as part of the Professional Pickleball Association Tour.
Besides winning a record 28 Olympic medals, 23 of which are gold, Phelps has achieved success in other sports as well. His 159-foot putt in 2012 is the longest putt ever made in a televised round of golf.
Now he’ll take to the pickleball courts where he’ll face off against future NFL Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald in a series of celebrity matches.
The 36-year old Phelps will face off against the 38-year old Fitzgerald, who played last season for the Arizona Cardinals but whose retirement from the NFL appears eminent. Fitzgerald ranks second all-time in NFL career receiving yards, second all-time in career receptions, and sixth all time in receiving touchdowns.
- Date: Friday, January 28th, 2022
- Time: 7 PM MST
- Location: JW Marriott Resort & Spa Desert Ridge
- Men’s Match: 1 game to 11 (Larry/Male Pro vs. Michael/Male Pro)
- Mixed Match: 1 game to 11 (Larry/Female Pro vs. Michael/Female Pro)
- Tiebreaker: In case of a tie, we’ll have a singles game 1 game to 7
Pickleball is a paddle-and-net sport that is similar to tennis on a basic level, though it has more similarities to the sports of padel or paddle tennis. Opponents stand on the opposite side of a net and hit a ball back and forth using a paddle that’s bigger than a table tennis or ping-pong racket but smaller than a tennis racquet.
The court is less than half of the size of a tennis court, and the ball is a hard plastic whiffle ball, which encourages more fast-paced at the net play. A game that relies as heavily on strategy and finesse as much as power and athleticism, the sport features a “non-volley zone” that keeps athletes away from the net. This means that hitting the ball soft can be as effective as hitting the ball hard.
The Boston Globe last year said that pickleball is growing at an “almost unprecedented rate” and is billed as the fastest-growing sport in America.
While there are no signs of Phelps’ pickleball prowess on his social media channels, there is plenty of evidence that he has remained active in his retirement. That includes lots of posts him golfing, horseback riding, frequent posts about his fitness work, and even the occasional shadow of a swim.
Fitzgerald is also an avid golfer, but he likewise has not posted any indication of his pickleball skills.
This newly-announced event is part of a rapidly-evolving professional pickleball scene. The PPA Tour was founded in 2018, but recently received a major investment from billionaire Tom Dundon. Along with purchases of Pickleball Central, the sport’s biggest retailer, and PickleballTournaments.com, the sport’s biggest tournament platform, Dundon is pushing a lot of new money into the game in an evolution that feels similar to the inroads by billionaire Konstantin Grigorishin and his International Swimming League into the sport of swimming in the last few years.
Dundon is also the majority owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and of the TopGolf company, which is a chain of entertainment-focused golf driving ranges.