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RSW Living Magazine

MEET AN ELITE: SIMONE JARDIM - Best, most-decorated woman pickleball player in U.S.

Mar 09, 2021 08:17PM ● By JEFF LYTLE

The first time I saw Simone Jardim on the pickleball courts at the Bonita Springs YMCA, she was on her back after a tumble in a match. A doubles opponent showed no mercy and fired the ball right at her. Hard. She returned it.

She could not get up fast enough and the next attack shot succeeded. Jardim and her partner, Fort Myers native Kyle Yates, went on to win the tournament, as they usually do around the country.

That was spring 2020. Fast forward to a November morning. Jardim was holding court in a different way, as lead instructor of 22 students on six of the eight YMCA pickleball game sites. She rotated with two skilled helpers from her business, Peak Performance Academy, giving each student personal tutelage on the basic drills that build winners. Students were as attentive as she was in command, yet always smiling and quick with compliments and encouragement.

Jardim is the best, most-decorated woman pickleball player in the U.S. and that’s why the students, average age 60 and up, were there for two hours and stayed after school to test what they learned. As Christine Andrews puts the experience: “Excellent—learning from the best.”

“The Bonita Springs YMCA is very fortunate to partner with Simone Jardim and Peak Performance to offer pickleball lessons, tournaments and clinics,” says Angel Cerritos, the Y’s executive director. “Her expertise and passion for pickleball is very visible and it is admired.”

Jardim also teaches at the Valencia Bonita subdivision, where there are as many pickleball courts as tennis courts—eight each. Her following there is equally enthusiastic. “It’s a privilege to get a lesson from her,” says resident Gary Lefkowitz. “It’s like playing basketball with Michael Jordan. There are a lot of great players, but to take her game to that level and keep it there is incredible,” he adds, noting many of her tournament opponents are half her age, 41.

Her employer at Valencia, developer GL Homes, is enthused too. “She’s a true competitor who focuses on excelling in every aspect of her life,” beams Amber Martin, GL’s lifestyle and amenities director. “She’s used this energy and focus to help develop and grow Valencia Bonita’s love for pickleball, tennis and bocce. We now have close to 50 teams who participate in intra-community leagues.”

Jardim is a force—of skill, good will, education (in person and online in videos) and business via endorsements from Prince Pickleball, Jigsaw Health (maker of sports drinks and other nutrition aids) and possibly Nike. She is a face of the sport, which she knew would explode in popularity when the former all-American tennis star left her job as women’s tennis coach at Michigan State University to move to Naples, Florida, in 2016.

Jardim fell love with Naples via tennis conferences and a pickleball tournament at a vast complex of 54 courts. She sensed a dual opportunity—trading Michigan winters for a climate closer to her native Brazil, and making a living with her husband, Chad Edwards, teaching at the U.S. Open Pickleball Academy.

Now she looks forward to pickleball taking a logical step, to extended national television coverage, possibly via ESPN2, reaching a younger constituency and raising prize money. She is less optimistic about another move that would raise pickleball’s profile—becoming an Olympic sport—at least during her career. It is simply not as popular worldwide as it is in the U.S., or even Brazil, she says, where tennis rules racket sports, as it did for her and her two brothers.

As for competition with a more local touch, Jardim—pronounced Jar-zhing—was keeping her fingers crossed that the U.S. Open in April would overcome the coronavirus that canceled it in 2020. Understandable, because she is its perennial singles and doubles champ. Pickleball was a saving grace for players to get outside and exercise during the pandemic: “It saved a lot of people from depression.”

In an interview, Jardim, who juggles her involvement in the sport with raising her daughter, Alexas, 11, and son, Landon, 7, speaks about what makes pickleball so addictive and how to avoid injury. She credits the appeal to the ease of learning the basics and the lack of age and gender barriers. Plus, courts are compact and conversation among players comes naturally. “It’s a different vibe than most country club sports,” Jardim explains. Still, it can be played ferociously.

On safety, she stresses the basics—no backpedaling (too easy to trip) and wearing the correct shoes, known as court shoes, whose soles are smooth and resist grabbing the court. As for how hard to run and reach for the ball, Jardim is not a subscriber to the “two steps or let it go” school. She advocates each player’s knowing his or her own limits. “Know your body,” she instructs. “Some people can bounce off a fence; some can’t.” 

Jeff Lytle is the retired editorial page editor and TV host from the Naples Daily News. He now lives in Bonita Springs.