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Pickleball's popularity is skyrocketing. Now you can play inside at the PickleMall in Tempe

Pickleball is the hottest sport in the country right now — often to the chagrin of tennis players vying for court space and neighbors with sensitive ears. The Show’s Nick Sanchez just might have found a solution. 

On a recent Sunday afternoon at Arizona Mills Mall in Tempe, patrons are shopping for clothes, piercing body parts, relaxing in massage chairs, succumbing to the smell of Wetzel’s Pretzels — and playing pickleball. 

Walk past Kay Jewelers and Johnny Rockets, out the front door on the east side of the mall, and head to the 104,000 square-foot space that once housed a furniture store, which is now the PickleMall.

Long considered a retiree’s game, pickleball is suddenly for everyone. And it’s everywhere. 

The sport traces its beginnings all the way back to the 1960s, when a bored congressman improvised a badminton match with ping pong paddles and a plastic ball.

More pickleball facilities in the Valley

But America’s fastest-growing sport is evolving.

Indoor pickleball courts are opening up around the country, especially here in Arizona. Over the last year and a half, facilities have opened across the metro Phoenix area alone, including Pickleball Kingdom in Chandler, Pickleball Backyard in Gilbert and Chicken N Pickle in Glendale.

Despite — or perhaps because of — pickleball’s increased profile, the sport has seen its share of challenges over the last few years. Turf wars with tennis players and noise complaints from bystanders have polarized the game.  

"HOAs don't like the noise, cities don't want to build them," said West Shaw, CEO of PickleMall. "They cost a lot of money, there's fights between tennis players and pickleball players about taking their courts. There's just a lack of space."

He described the demand, and issues, that he and others saw when it comes to court space.

"People don’t wanna play in the heat, people don’t wanna play in the cold," said Shaw. "They want to have everything in a consistent environment so that there are no excuses for your game, right? It ultimately came from “pickleball’s evolving, how do we evolve with it?”

PickleMall features A/C, amenities for players

Players appreciate the increase in courts. On a weekday afternoon, Nathan Tang is wrapping up a training session with a few friends. He’s a sophomore at Arizona State University and president of the school’s pickleball club. 

"We lined some of the public tennis courts right next to our dorms," said Tang. "However, they’re not in very good condition and there’s not a lot of courts."

The club has grown to over 330 members since last semester, and outdoor court space has become hard to come by. 

Tang says they’ve tried other indoor pickleball facilities around the Valley. But PickleMall has emerged as their preferred spot to work on their game.

"It’s a huge open space with a lot of room for privacy," said Tang. "We can bring 20-30 players who all want to get in good games and we’ll have enough space. We’ll have great amenities like bathrooms, air-conditioning, food if needed. It’s just a place where we can play without having to wait in a long line of, who knows, 100-200 people at a public park when we’re trying to get in some good practice before a competitive game or a competitive tournament."

Aside from being the latest Arizona Mills attraction, PickleMall itself is leveling up. The facility is set to host its first Minor League Pickleball tournament October 14-15.

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Nick Sanchez is a senior producer for KJZZ's The Show. He joined the station as an intern during the spring of 2022, where he developed a passion for audio storytelling in the Valley.