U.S. Open Pickleball completes comeback with all-local pro doubles finals
The tournament that calls itself the largest pickleball party in the world closed out its weeklong festivities with a celebration of a more local flavor.
The Minto U.S. Open Pickleball Championships returned from its one-year COVID hiatus with its largest event yet. More than 2,000 players from 48 states and 13 countries came to Southwest Florida for one of the sport’s major tournaments.
Yet the final match of the U.S. Open, which wrapped up Saturday night at East Naples Community Park, pitted two Naples residents against one another for a gold medal.
Catherine Parenteau, who teaches pickleball at Collier Reserve Country Club, and her partner Callie Smith won the women’s pro doubles title live on CBS Sports Network and in front of a few hundred fans on the Zing Zang Championship Court. The pair beat Simone Jardim, who runs the Peak Performance Pickleball Academy at the Bonita Springs YMCA, and her partner Lucy Kovalova.
Parenteau, 26, moved to Naples two years ago because of the town’s rapidly rising reputation has a pickleball hotspot. A native of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Parenteau was playing in the U.S. Open for the first time – last year’s tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been an incredible week here at the Open,” Parenteau said. “It’s a local tournament for me now. It’s a great thing. There are no words to describe how awesome it’s been.”
It was more than a matchup of locals. It also was a bout between student and teacher. Parenteau played tennis at Michigan State from 2013-15 when Jardim was the Spartans' head coach.
Parenteau also works for Jardim at Peak Performance Pickleball Academy.
"She's the one who introduced me to pickleball," Parenteau said of her former coach. "It's a very weird feeling playing against her. We feel bad for each other and we're happy for each other at the same time."
The men’s pro doubles finals had a little bit of local flair, too. Brothers Ben and Collin Johns beat Dekel Bar and Adam Stone for the gold medal. Ben Johns, 22, lived in Estero as a kid before moving to Maryland for college.
The past week marked a strong bounceback for the U.S. Open, which started in 2016. After last year’s event was canceled, organizers didn’t know if they’d be able to hold the tournament this year until January.
But thanks to support from avid players and more than 500 volunteers, the U.S. Open came roaring back. The tournament had more players than ever. On Thursday alone, 951 matches were played at the park, a tournament record. And organizers estimate the total cumulative average attendance in the event’s seven days was around 50,000 people, all in a 47-acre park.
“This was the greatest pickleball comeback in the history of the sport, to be able to pull this off,” said Terri Graham, co-owner of the Spirit Promotions company that founded and runs the U.S. Open. “It just seems that people wanted to get out, and they wanted to come to Naples.”
Although players come to the U.S. Open from around the world, many of the participants live in Southwest Florida. Many play year-round on the 64 courts at East Naples Community Park, making it the largest permanent pickleball facility in the world.
The U.S. Open also generates between $1 million and $2 million in economic impact each year.
“To get pickleball back going again, it’s pretty satisfying,” Graham said.
Jardim, 41, did not have as successful of a return to her home tournament as she would have liked.
She came into the tournament with eight previous gold medals at the U.S. Open. In 2016 and 2017, Jardin won the triple crown, taking gold in the women’s singles and doubles and mixed doubles divisions. Before this week Jardim has lost just once at the U.S. Open in four years, going 45-1.
However, Jardim lost in the third round of the women’s pro singles bracket and didn’t medal. She won gold in the mixed pro doubles with Ben Johns, but lost in the finals of the women’s pro doubles.
Parenteau and Smith prevailed in straight sets in Saturday night’s finals, winning 12-10, 11-8.
“They played better, that’s it,” Jardim said of losing on Saturday. “It wasn’t a great tournament for me. I lost. It happens. But, I’ve got to go back to work and get ready for the next tournament.”
Ben Johns won the triple crown on the men’s side. Along with winning mixed pro doubles with Jardim, he also took the men’s pro singles title. Johns also won the singles championship in 2017, when he was 18 years old, and won the men’s doubles title in 2019.
The Johns brothers were playing together for the first time as pros this week. In the doubles finals Saturday they beat Bar and Stone in straight sets, 12-10, 11-3.
“It’s been a longtime goal of mine to win the triple crown here,” Johns said. “I couldn’t be happier with our play and our results.”