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Sports Talk: Pickleball has Vista’s MacGregor back in the swing of things

Luke Jensen, a former tennis pro, took one look at Cammy MacGregor and shook his head.

“What are you doing here?” Jensen asked.

It wasn’t as if MacGregor was in a pickle. Instead MacGregor was at the recent USA Pickleball National Championships where she won the senior women’s single and doubles titles.

Jensen was providing the commentary for ESPN, and like many tennis players, he’s added another racket to his repertoire.

“You can do both,” MacGregor said.

The sport is sweeping though North County and elsewhere. Tennis courts are being converted into pickleball courts, which feature a smaller area to cover as the sport combines the elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong. Many of the shots used in tennis, especially at the net, are equally effective in pickleball.

MacGregor, a Vista resident who was ranked professionally as high as No. 75 in singles and No. 39 in doubles on the women’s tennis tour got bit by the pickleball bug in 2015.

“I picked it up and kept going with it,” MacGregor said of one America’s fastest rising sports with more than 3 million players nationwide.

At the USA Pickleball National Championships in Indian Wells last month, McGregor was among the more than 2,200 participants ranging from ages 8 to 90. MacGregor, 50, was the queen of the singles and doubles in the senior division. Carlsbad’s Jennifer Dawson, who with her husband, Steve, own the Bobby Riggs Racquet and Paddle Club in Encinitas, was MacGregor’s partner.

“It’s been great to be able to win but let me tell you it gets tougher and tougher each year because you are seeing more tennis players and more badminton players getting into pickleball,” said MacGregor, a tennis and pickleball teaching pro at Carlsbad’s Omni La Costa Resort and Spa. “So the players are just getting better and better and you have to try and keep your skill level up.”

McGregor was usually up at the net as a tennis player. She leaned on her serve-and-volley approach to win points, leaving those wanting to hug the baseline to others.

“The less ground strokes the better,” MacGregor said. “That was why pickleball was suited for me because there is a lot of touch and feel with your volleys.”

With the players in such close proximity to each other it makes for some wicked exchanges at the net. That’s as long as a competitor doesn’t enter “the kitchen” which is a 7-foot area extending from both sides of the net where the ball must first bounce before being struck.

And with the courts being about half as big as a tennis court, athletes whose movement is compromised can still participate in pickleball.

“Absolutely because some people can’t play tennis anymore,” MacGregor said. “They try pickleball and they love it because they don’t have to cover the whole court. A lot of people that I have met have told me that story. It’s not that they don’t love tennis, don’t get me wrong. But it’s easier for some to play pickleball and the sport is also unbelievably social.”

Those worried that pickleball could alter their tennis have it wrong, MacGregor said.

“I’ve heard some tennis players say it was going to hurt their game and that’s absolutely not true,” MacGregor said. “When you get in a volley exchange 14 feet from your opponents, it’s great work for you hand-and-eye reflexes.”

That comes straight from a player who was head-and-shoulders above her rivals at the USA Pickleball Championships.

Contact Jay Paris at jparis@aol.com. Follow him @jparis_sports

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