March 16, 2023
English Open Pickleball Tournament
By Karen Mitchell
Director, Pickleball England
The 2022 English Open had nearly 500 players from 24 countries and ran for more than five days. Everything went well from an organizational perspective, thanks to lots of planning and the flawless execution by our army of volunteers. Everyone had a great time but as a tournament director, I was constantly making notes about things that I would like to improve/do differently for the 2023 English Open. I thought I would give you an insight into some of the preparation work that goes into staging a tournament, things that players never get to see if we do our jobs well.
Working in parallel with the planning and execution of the 2022 English Nationals, we started looking at potential venues for summer 2023. Incredibly, it took us six months to lock down an appropriate venue. Why so long? First, we knew we needed to accommodate a larger number of players this year given the success of 2022, but it was difficult to estimate how many. We had 305 in 2019 and 490 in 2022, so we don’t think it is unrealistic to estimate 700-800 players in 2023.
Southampton could only accommodate us if we split the event over five days, which separated the 60+ from the younger players and wasn’t optimal. So, we wanted to ensure that we could find a venue where all age groups could play on the same days. There are not many venues with more than eight indoor tennis courts in the U.K. I found just six, including Bolton where we stage the English Nationals. After checking availability, this whittled it down to three in Nottingham, Essex and Exeter.
Since we had hosted the 2022 tournament in the South West, we decided to move to another region this year.
Essex has eight tennis courts and 12 badminton courts in two different parts of the venue. The fear there was that players would feel they were being separated because there are two different areas.
Nottingham has 11 indoor tennis courts and many more outdoor tennis courts, but we couldn’t hire all the indoor courts due to prior bookings. We were offered a total of 10 courts, four indoor, three outdoor and three more indoor. The courts were in a row, but there was no hospitality space. We looked at hiring a large marquee to resolve that issue and got quotes that made our eyes water, so that made the venue expensive and not ideal. Wi-Fi for livestreaming was also a concern.
Our board director, James Chaudry, who had played professional tennis at Telford, suggested we look at that as a possibility since it’s now a conference center. Telford is in Shropshire in the middle of England, so it is not too far for U.K. players. It’s easily accessible from London Heathrow or Birmingham and Manchester airports with good transport links. It also has seven hotels on campus or within walking distance; Southwater, a pedestrian square with restaurants, bars, bowling and a cinema; and Telford Shopping Centre with 160 shops not unlike Bolton, which players rave about.
Telford International Centre has three halls and many other spaces, giving us room to grow. An initial inquiry established an eye-watering cost. It seemed too huge to consider, but when the other venues were not perfect, the blank canvas—one space with all the nearby amenities—required taking another look. After gathering the details, the venue seemed perfect and the board agreed to Telford, subject to a ball bounce test and success with selling sponsorship to help fund the hire since we didn’t want to raise registration and event fees.
The ball bounce test found that the floors were a bit skiddy, not just with the Franklin indoor and outdoor ball but all balls. By this time, we had set our hearts on the Telford International Centre, knowing it would be a great venue for the tournament. So now we had to look at securing 40 rollout pickleball courts to ensure a perfect ball bounce for the Franklin X-40, the official ball of the English Open. Just imagine… perfect courts without additional lines for players and our livestream, and no need to ask volunteers to tape out courts! Once we have secured the courts, we then need to switch attention to logistics for laying them down at the venue.
So now we have dates, venue, accommodation, places to socialize and pickleball courts. What else do we have to organize? Livestreaming. This year we want to have two courts livestreamed, with sufficient raised seating for spectators. We want to improve the advertising solution by eliminating the Toblerone court dividers, which seemed to lose balls, and replacing them with steel arena dividers to ensure that the court surrounds are functional as well as providing a great advertising backdrop for our sponsors. We also want to integrate a line review system into our livestream (following a test that we did at last year’s Nationals).
With all these details, how are we going to attract players? We hope our efficient organization of past tournaments will encourage many to return and bring friends. We don’t follow the double-elimination format as we believe it’s the reason many tournaments play late into the evening. We have round-robins to seed the players and then move into single-elimination rounds. Players are guaranteed a minimum of four games per event, and they receive a personal schedule via email ahead of the tournament. We also have scrolling screens around the venue telling players who is currently playing on every court, who is next up and who is on court the game after. This helps everything run like clockwork, but it also helps players identify other players since they can check the board or their phone to see who is currently playing on a court.
We also plan to offer prize money by securing sponsors, which should attract players hoping to earn money playing pickleball at the highest level in Europe. We also hope it will attract pro players from the U.S. Having the likes of Michelle Esquivel, Rob Cassidy, Lee Whitwell, Irina Tereschenko, KaSandra Gehrke and Daniel Roditi at last year’s tournament really made the tournament, giving our players an opportunity to test their skills and learn from experienced professional players, and making the games exciting to watch. Plus, all our results are updated to DUPR and Pickleball Global.
The English Open has a reputation for being friendly—down to the players and volunteers, so we will be asking for volunteers again this year. We will also be looking to train volunteers as referees before the tournament so we can have referees for the knockout stages while also welcoming back Ron Ponder, Jeff van der Hulst and others.
We hope to welcome as many of you as possible to this year’s tournament. We will again display the flags of all the countries represented. Registration will open at the end of March and there will be a link from pickleballengland.org/2023-english-open.
European Team Event
Junior Event (Under 19)
Wheelchair Event (All Ages)
Singles, Gender Doubles, Mixed Doubles:
19+ OPEN, 4.0, 3.5, 3.0
35+ OPEN, 4.0, 3.5, 3.0
50+ OPEN, 4.0, 3.5, 3.0
60+ OPEN, 4.0, 3.5, 3.0
65+ OPEN, 4.0, 3.5, 3.0
70+ All Skills •