Angela Simon teaches a pickleball lesson at Hammond Park in Sandy Springs. (Photo by Isadora Pennington)

Angela Simon’s first encounter with pickleball in May 2020 came about through a bit of happenstance. Simon, the 1994 NCAA women’s singles champion who also won a team title that year at the University of Georgia, was looking for ways to kill time while waiting for her daughter’s softball practice to finish at Shaw Park in Marietta. 

“My oldest had a softball practice that was, like, four hours long, and we happened to be at Shaw Park,” Simon said. “I remember walking around with my youngest and saying to her, ‘Why are all these people out here and what are they doing?'”

So, Simon decided to walk over to the tennis courts, where a crowd of people was playing and practicing pickleball, the racket sport that exploded in popularity once the Covid-19 pandemic hit. She jumped in with a small practice group, who asked her if she had ever played before. She said no. But someone handed her a paddle to use for the day, and before she knew it, she was partnered up with one of the top male players at the park and started winning matches the same day she picked up the sport.  

“It’s the most fun I’ve had in so long,” said Simon, a Brookhaven resident whose home court is now Hammond Park. “People have been so nice, it’s been such a great change and I’ve met so many great people. I’ve started teaching it. It’s so refreshing because there are so many different levels.”

And Simon quickly leveled up. She started playing seriously, and then professionally. After turning 50 and becoming eligible for professional mixed doubles competition for the 2022 year, she began traveling outside of the state for the first time for tournaments while continuing to make a name for herself in the sport and winning tournaments along the way. 

“I didn’t start at the top and I’m still not at the top, but I go to Hammond and I mix with everyone and have fun,” she said. 

Simon, then Lettiere, led the Lady Bulldogs to the program’s first-ever women’s tennis title as a senior — on the team’s home court in Athens, as UGA was hosting the tournament for the first time. Simon played tennis for four years professionally after college, eventually competing in all four Grand Slam events and climbing to No. 25 in the world in doubles and inside the top 150 in singles. 

Those tennis credentials rank up there with just about anyone in professional pickleball circles. And while her lifetime of experience in tennis translates well to the pickleball game, the smaller court and differences in the racket and balls make for notable differences.

“I think the hardest part is that I never had very good touch in tennis, and pickle is all about touch,” Simon said. “There’s a power element, but to be better, you really do have to have touch. Sometimes it can be so fast, but sometimes you have to play really soft. 

“But I think the most fun is just to be able to hit people as hard as you can and you know you’re not going to hurt them,” Simon joked. “It’s a great frustration release.” 

Simon with doubles partner Dan Granot with their trophy from the Hilton Head Open.

Later in 2020, Simon connected with one of the top male tennis-turned-pickleball senior players in Atlanta, Dan Granot, who also played tennis at UGA and then the University of Arkansas in the 80s. Granot, now 57, recruited Simon to join him as his partner on the pro senior mixed doubles tour the moment she was eligible. 

“He invited me to play with a group one day and he said, ‘When you turn 50, you’re going to be my partner. Remember that. In a year and a half, you will be my partner playing with me.’” 

Granot, who lives in Buckhead and is owner of Joel and Granot Real Estate, held to his word. They started winning in the pro ranks in 2022, hoisting trophies at high-profile pickleball tourneys such as the South Carolina Open, the Hilton Head Open and the Boca Raton Masters, finishing no lower than fourth in any they entered. Simon has also won and placed highly in women’s doubles with other top senior players, including a win at South Carolina with top player Anna Shirley for a double gold at the event. 

“I have an 11-year-old and 16-year-old at home and most senior-level players are empty-nesters, but I compete when I can,” Simon said. 

She runs a tennis instruction company, Up4Tennis, but has started teaching pickleball and intends to continue in the sport for the long haul. 

“I would love to slowly transition from tennis to pickleball in some way in my next job,” Simon said. “Not necessarily just teaching, but just being a part of it, I’m not sure how. I just think it’s a really unique sport and it’s such a family sport. We can go out with our 11-year-old and still have fun, whereas with tennis we can’t really do that. The ball is different and the court is so large. But it’s such a family sport. 

“You can see 15-year-olds playing with 60-year-olds. Where else do you see that? I think it’s so unique.”

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Alex Ewalt

Alex Ewalt is a freelance writer in Atlanta.