St. George pickleball pro earns gold at two recent tournaments

Rob Davidson competes in men's singles at Gamma Classic pickleball tournament in Pittsburgh, Pa., July 1, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Rob Davidson, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Professional pickleball player and St. George resident Rob Davidson recently won two regional tournaments, one in northern Utah and one in Pennsylvania.

In late May, Davidson, 40, captured gold in the men’s singles open division of the USA Pickleball Association-sanctioned Brigham City Memorial Day Pickleball Tournament.

Then, the last weekend of June, Davidson won the men’s singles open division at the 2018 Gamma Pickleball Classic held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, defeating Eden Lica of New York in the finals match Sunday, July 1.

Rob and Shonda Davidson, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Rob Davidson, St. George News

Davidson’s wife Shonda won the bronze medal in her singles division at Pittsburgh and teamed up with Rob to place fourth in mixed doubles. The couple, who first met each other on a pickleball court, now travel around the country playing and teaching the sport to others.

Pickleball is often described as a cross between ping pong and tennis. Players use large paddles to hit a plastic whiffle-type ball back and forth over a net, with a scoring system similar to those used in tennis, ping pong, badminton or volleyball. Davidson says pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, with 3 million participants and counting.

Davidson, a lifelong tennis player since the age of 10, said he didn’t start playing pickleball until mid-2014. Within a year, he said, he’d switched over entirely, giving up tennis for pickleball. He’s now one of the top-ranked pickleball players in the country.

L-R: Men’s singles silver medalist Eden Lica of New York, gold medalist Rob Davidson of St. George, Utah, and bronze medalist Frank Anthony Davis of New Jersey pose with their medals at Gamma Classic pickleball tournament in Pittsburgh, Pa., July 1, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Rob Davidson, St. George News

Davidson said the Brigham City event, although similar in format to the Fall Brawl and the West Regional tournaments held in St. George, does have a differing aspect in that prize money is awarded to the top winners. Davidson earned $300 for winning the Brigham City tournament and $400 for winning the Pittsburgh tournament, which attracted some 600 players, mostly from the eastern United States.

Davidson explained his connection to the Gamma Pickleball Classic, now in its third year.

“I work for Pickleball Magazine doing camps called LevelUP Pickleball Camps, and the owner of the magazine lives in Pittsburgh, so I do a couple camps before this tournament and then play doubles with him,” Davidson said, adding that the tournament is a charity fundraiser for the Parkinson Foundation of Western Pennsylvania.

The tournament was played on the polished concrete courts of Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center, using indoor balls made by Gamma, the main sponsor of the tournament. Individually, Davidson uses and promotes Selkirk Sports’ paddles and accessories.

A link to a video of the full 49-minute finals match between Davidson and Lica was posted on Facebook.

Rob Davidson at the net, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Rob Davidson, St. George News

Davidson said he found the shiny concrete surface interesting to play on.

“Right now, the sport of pickleball is really still in its early stages of development as far as competitions go, and there is not really an accepted standard for which ball is to be used or which court surface,” he said, noting wood and hard tennis court surfaces are the two most common types, but that various other court surfaces are sometimes used, including concrete, asphalt and even indoor carpet.

Davidson said the St. George community is fortunate to have its own 24-court complex devoted specifically to pickleball, namely the Little Valley Pickleball Complex located at The Fields at Little Valley.

“Many cities have pickleball lines painted onto tennis courts, allowing multi-use, but then require players to bring and set up their own portable net systems.” Davidson said. “I think that is an acceptable compromise at the moment since not many cities want to give up their tennis courts quite yet, but with St. George having its dedicated courts, that is really nice. We are spoiled here!”

In addition to year-round pickleball leagues, St. George also hosts a major round-robin tournament at the SunRiver community in September, the Fall Brawl tournament and the Huntsman World Senior Games in October, plus city tournaments in the early spring, among other events. Click here for St. George City Recreation’s pickleball web page.

Davidson said as he and his wife travel around the country promoting pickleball, they often encounter two obstacles or “bottlenecks” that they believe may be hindering pickleball from being more readily accepted as a popular sport.

The first is that people are deterred by the name. Pickle-what?” he said, adding, “This is a temporary problem that will go away as pickleball’s popularity makes it become a mainstay in the sports industry. No one scoffs at squash or ping-pong, right? It’s because of the associative imagery; you hear ‘squash’ and think of the racket sport, you hear ‘ping-pong’ and you think of table tennis. The imagery association between pickleball and pickles will be gone within the next couple of years, I believe.”

Rob Davidson competes in men’s singles at Gamma Classic pickleball tournament in Pittsburgh, Pa., July 1, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Rob Davidson, St. George News

“The second bottleneck is the stigma that pickleball is a senior sport; that only older people play it,” Davidson added. “This false belief keeps many people, particularly younger athletes, from trying it. This is not to say it is not a great sport for our elders. One of the best things about pickleball is the fact that players can have lots of fun, even if they are not athletic, not the most mobile, or if they’re young, or old. It really is a game for all ages and abilities.”

With the increasing number of younger players entering the sport and more widespread media coverage of competitive events, Davidson said he believes the misconception that only seniors play pickleball will also be short-lived.

“Despite those bottlenecks, the sport of pickleball is growing incredibly fast.” he said.

Email: jrichards@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • uprightandmovingforward July 5, 2018 at 6:20 am

    WAY TO GO, ROB!!!

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