Rick Witsken had a week to remember.
In a span of a week, Witsken played in two pickleball tournaments, watched his nephew play in the U.S. Open and played a pickleball match with former NFL great Drew Brees.
“Pickleball has become a huge part of my life,” the 51-year-old Zionsville resident said. “On the pro senior circuit, I am basically the top player now, so I have businesses who want to sponsor me.”
Stretch Zone is one of the possibilities. Brees, former Purdue University and New Orleans Saints star quarterback, is one of the Stretch Zone franchise owners along with two former Purdue teammates Ben Smith and Jason Loerzel.
“Drew loves pickleball and owns a major league pickleball team,” Witsken said. “Drew is a very good player. I hit my drives as far as could at him and he was getting them back. I told him, ‘avoiding those pass rushers really helped your reflexes.’
Two days earlier, Witsken had been at the U.S. Open in New York watching his nephew, Ben Shelton, lose in five sets to Nuno Borges in the first round. Shelton, a former University of Florida player who captured the singles title at the NCAA Division Tennis Championships in May, turned pro just before the U.S. Open.
Shelton is the son of former ATP Tour player Bryan Shelton and Witsken’s sister Lisa. The elder Shelton was a friend of Witsken’s brother Todd, a former ATP Tour pro and Zionsvile resident, who died at age 34 in 1998 of brain cancer.
“Ben is really entertaining and the crowd really likes to get behind him,” Witksen said. “To see your nephew playing in the limelight was really neat.”
It was Witsken’s first trip to the U.S. Open, where his brother Todd pulled his biggest win, upsetting Jimmy Connors in the third round in 1986.
Witsken had finished second men’s singles and won the men’s doubles in a pickleball tournament Aug 28 in Philadelphia.
Witsken won the men’s doubles with Dave Weinbach Sept. 2 and mixed doubles with former pro tennis player Beth Herr Bellamy Sept. 3 in Chicago.
Witsken, a Carmel High School graduate, was a two-time IHSAA state singles champion and played collegiately at the University of Alabama. He still coaches tennis and is the Zionsville Middle School boys and girls tennis coach. But pickleball has become a major part of his life. He has coached for 11 years and played professionally for eight years.
In 2022, he has captured 17 gold medals and 25 silver medals in pickleball tournaments in men’s singles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles. He also holds clinics in some of the cities where he plays the pro event. Witsken and his wife, Bridget, run a pro pickleball tournament in June in the Indianapolis area.
Witsken and his longtime teaching pro P.A. Nilhagen run Team Witsken Tennis and Pickleball
“I’d say my love for tennis and pickleball is the same, but the growth of pickleball has been unbelievable,” Witsken said.