Levy Makes His Mark as Pickleball Champ
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Levy Makes His Mark as Pickleball Champ

Georgian Mark Levy has claimed the U.S. Championship two years in a row.

After 37 years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and now with the AJT, , Jaffe’s focus is lifestyle, art, dining, fashion, and community events with emphasis on Jewish movers and shakers.

Pickleball champion Mark Levy states that age is “just a number.”
Pickleball champion Mark Levy states that age is “just a number.”

Pickleball has recently experienced unprecedented growth in the U.S., and especially in Georgia. Columbus native Mark Levy, a 5’4” energy packed and strategic thinking 77-year-old, has claimed the U.S. Championship two years in a row. Known for his good sportsmanship, superman Levy stated, “Even though I have won a gold medal in singles last year and doubles this year in Naples at the U.S. Open, my most memorable gold medal victory came at the Atlanta Open in 2021 six months after a total hip replacement as my first opportunity to play in a large draw in my age bracket which was 70-plus 4.0/4.5(level). My partner and I lost in the second round of double elimination and came back to win the gold. The temperature was 90-plus, and we played 14 grueling games!”

Levy plays at least three times a week for two hours. He laughed, “I would play more if my body allowed me that luxury. Playing competitive tennis for 50 years has broadened my mental toughness. Tournament play and social play are different for me. Tournaments, I always give 100 percent in every point. Social, I want it to be fun for everyone. Not being a large man, I was always extremely agile and quick.”

Levy has claimed the Top Place Golden Ticket several times.

Age brackets can be factors. Someone 55 may perform stronger in an older bracket that caps at 70. Levy says “Not so fast. When you enter your age category, it does help a little to be on the younger side. However, age is a number. When you are playing in the 70-plus division, being 70 or 71 is an advantage over a 74-year-old. However, when you make it to over 75, we are all old and aged, it is what it is. My first tournament was with an 80-year-old man. We played in the over 60s. I have seen people playing in their mid-80s.

Dealing with tournament pressure and stress, Levy recounts, “When over 3,000 people are around and playing on 60 courts, it’s more than a normal match. You know the best of the best are there from all over the world giving it their best.”

Pickleball equipment is big business. Amazon sells two paddles and three balls for under $40. Then there are graphite and more costly variations.

Levy mused, “I have never been much on my equipment. There are so many wonderful paddles now being manufactured. Some produce more power, others touch. I’m a finesse player so I look for both power and touch. I like a longer grip because I use a two-handed backhand. Always read in the descriptions to see what they offer. Joola, Head, Selkirk, Engage are amongst a few of the better ones.”

At 5’4” Levy counts on his agility and strategy. His advice is to serve “deep.”

In terms of injuries, Levy stated, “My only injury was my fault at the Nationals in Dallas — playing singles on the first day going for a ball I shouldn’t have. Smart thing would have been to simply say ‘good shot.’ Fell badly and hurt my back.” As far as his diet is concerned, Levy says that he doesn’t eat healthily, but he watches his quantities.

Playing various sports as a child, including ping pong and tennis, Levy went to the University of Georgia, then worked in the automobile industry. He and wife, Devon, have four children, Karen, Sam, Daniel, and Joshua, and six grandchildren.

Next up for Levy: Nationals in Arizona is the goal.

Tips from the Pickleball Champ

* Learn to serve. Depth is the most important thing in pickleball. It can be hard or soft but deep is my goal. A good follow-through is important.
* Return the serve down the middle and deep.
* As you return the serve, move forward while hitting and try to get to the kitchen line.
* Learn how to dink.
* A third shot is most important. Mix it up between a hard drive and putting the ball in the kitchen
* Balance is so important. Think about having good balance.

Pickleball by the Numbers

* As a sport in the U.S., pickleball has surpassed golf and tennis. Only cycling and running are more popular.
* In 2021, the largest age segment was 55-plus. Now players are skewing younger. The cohort of 18-34 constitutes 29 percent of players.
* Men (60.1 percent) still play more than women (39.5 percent), though female players are growing at a faster rate.
* 36 million (14 percent) of the adult U.S. population played last year. Another source claims that the U.S. has 43 million players.
* 130 new pickleball locations open per month. Atlanta is ranked fourth in the U.S. for total locations.
* The most popular pickleball states are Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North and South Carolinas.

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