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September 7, 2023

‘Hurricane’ Tyra Black Takes Pickleball by Storm

Fierce and fearless newcomer Tyra Black is the player to watch.

by Julie Talerico

Tyra Black’s recent win over No. 1 player Anna Leigh Waters sent shock waves through the pickleball world. She won in three riveting games of 11-8, 2-11, and 11-3. Despite the extraordinary win, Black was nervous. “I played Anna Leigh early on, so I still had two matches to go, but I definitely felt a sense of relief to get that win,” she says.


In the semifinal match, she went on to defeat Lauren Stratman, and then, in the finals, Black outlasted Yana Newell to claim the gold as her first-ever PPA medal at the Takeya Showcase in Fountain Valley, California. “After I lost the first game to Yana, I started to doubt myself a bit,” says Black. “And then I realized I needed to have fun and fight as hard as I can, and that’s how I came out on top. When I finished, I was completely ecstatic!”


In July, Black, 22, was chosen to be part of the Miami Pickleball Club, a Premier Level Major League Pickleball (MLP) team, owned by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tennis great Naomi Osaka and others. The 2023 roster also includes Federico Staksrud, Tyson McGuffin, and Mary Brascia. “I’m super-excited to be part of the team,” says Black.


Also enthusiastic is Jamie Duguid, general manager of the Miami Pickleball Club. “Tyra is a player with an enormous amount of talent but also one who works harder on her game than anyone in pickleball at the moment,” he says. “She has all the attributes to be successful across all formats (mixed, women’s and singles) and will make a significant contribution to the club in the upcoming season.”


Like many pickleball pros, Black, who lives in Delray Beach, Florida, began her career in tennis. She started playing at age 3 and eventually became a pro player, winning singles and doubles tournaments on the ITF tour. In anticipation of Tyra’s potential future success in tennis, her parents, Sylvester Black, who played for the Jamaican Davis Cup, and mother, Gayal, legally named her Tyra Hurricane Black. Tyra’s older sister, Alicia, who is also a tennis pro, is known as Tornado.


But despite Tyra Black’s success, she wasn’t happy in the sport. “For me, tennis was not a fun atmosphere—no one wants you to succeed—so I was depressed a lot, especially when I was young. Tennis is a lonely sport—I traveled alone all over the world and was on the court by myself. I didn’t have strong support, so that made it especially hard.”


Then, in February, Black’s life took a major turn at a pro tennis tournament in Turkey. During the event, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit, crippling the nation and killing 22,000 people. “It was the most awful experience,” she says. “There was so much devastation around me. That’s when I realized that life is short, and you have to do what you love—and for me, it was pickleball.”


A childhood friend, James Ignatowich—who happens to be the fifth-best male pickleball player in the world—introduced her to the sport. “James and I trained together in tennis. He taught me everything I know about pickleball and helped me so much when I got started.”


Black says she immediately felt a sense of community with pickleball. “Everyone was so nice and welcoming—and wanted to help me. I am a happier person playing pickleball because being on the court raises my mood. I just want to be out there all day and play.


“I love the social aspect and the team atmosphere,” she adds. “That’s why MLP is my favorite event. I love having a partner by my side. Doubles is so much fun because you have someone with you and can pump each other up on the court and give each other advice.”


Her ideal doubles partner, she says, is Lea Jansen. “Lea is a vet in the sport; she knows a lot of strategy, which is very important for me at the beginning of my career. She’s super-funny and lighthearted on the court, which I absolutely love.”


On the court, Black says her strong suit is her hand speed, and her favorite shot is a backhand flick: “It’s a fun shot that not many players have, especially women, so most players aren’t expecting it.” Another winning strategy she brings to her game is the element of surprise. “Every tournament, I try to bring out some new shots, which surprises people because my game keeps changing.”


As one of the first black women in the world to reach the top 10 in pickleball, Black hopes to bring more diversity to the sport. “I think pickleball will become more diverse as time goes on because it’s super-welcoming. When I see young kids playing or parents saying I inspired their kids to want to play, that means a lot to me.”


So, what does the young star enjoy doing when she’s not playing pickleball? She plays pickleball! “My favorite thing to do at the end of the day is play rec with other people at a local park. I train during the day and then drill a bit, and then I love to go to local parks and play with different players just for fun. I also love anything in nature—I like hiking and nature walks.”


As she quickly advances and her visibility increases, sponsors are beginning to take note. “I’ve received a lot of good offers, and I’m so thrilled,” Black says. Currently, she has a short-term sponsorship with Stack Athletics.


As for her tournament schedule, Black says she will be playing every MLP and PPA event. “I might even throw some APPs in there,” she adds.


“I’ve been playing for a short time, and have put an insane amount of hours in. I just absolutely love this sport more than anything! My goal in life is to be happy, and I’ve been so happy the past few months, and that’s been amazing.”  •


Julie Talerico is editorial director at Pickleball Magazine.


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