The 16 Year Old Pickleball Phenomenon Who has Beaten The Men to Become Best Player in The World
It is the sport which is taking the country by storm, and it now has a bona fide star to go alongside its new popularity.
At just 16 years old, Anna Leigh Waters has cemented her place as the best pickleball player in the world, amassing an array of sponsorship deals and a six-figure salary in the process.
The formidable athlete is ranked number one in the world in singles, mixed doubles and women's doubles for the sport - which is a fast-paced combination of ping-pong, badminton and tennis.
Pickleball is played on a smaller court than tennis, with players serving and returning a ball with holes in, using slightly bigger and heavier bats than table tennis.
Waters turned professional at just 12 years old, becoming the youngest pro player in the sport. But her journey to sports stardom was far from typical - and despite her growing wealth she insists she is not spending her fortune yet.
Waters first picked up a pickleball paddle in 2017 when she was just 10 years old.
Waters and her mom Leigh were staying with her grandfather in Pennsylvania, after having to flee Florida ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma.
Her grandfather Neil Eichelberger was a huge fan of the game, and convinced his daughter and granddaughter to have a go. They were hooked - and have been playing together ever since.
Leigh was a college tennis player at the University of South Carolina, and the pair have won countless tournaments together, including taking gold in the National Championships in 2019.
They are the only mother-daughter team in the professional game, and have even pioneered their own signature style that relies on power and reflex volleys.
Not only does Leigh coach her daughter, but her mother Ann Eichelberger has homeschooled Waters since third grade.
The 16-year-old's sport superstardom was cemented in December 2022, when she was the number one pick for the 2023 Major League Pickleball draft - ahead of all the male players - joining the New Jersey 5's.
Zubin Mehta, co-owner of Mad Drops Pickleball Club and a board member of Major League Pickleball, told Fortune: 'Anna Leigh was unquestionably the number one pick.
'In the draft, people are picking men and women, and to have a number one pick that was a female player and to have more women's picks in the top 10 than men's, was really remarkable.'
Waters has landed sponsorship deals with paddle maker Paddletek and second-hand car company Carvana - who gifted the athlete a white range rover for her sweet sixteen.
The teenager also signed a contract with sportswear giant Fila in March 2022, and told Fortune that she is working on designing a shoe with the brand.
She has a reported net worth of $1.4 million - and the growing interest in the sport means it's likely this figure will only continue to soar in the coming years.
But despite her immense success, the athlete says she is not planning on splashing the cash just yet.
'Sometimes I see the checks that come in and I'm just like "save it, I'm saving it and putting it in the bank", she told Fortune. 'I try not to spend my money.'
Pickleball is soaring in popularity, and looks set to continue to gain fans across the country.
More than 36.5 million Americans picked up the sport in 2022, compared to just 5 million the year before.
According to CNBC, some 8.5 million people played the game eight times or more last year.
Pro athletes like LeBron James, Tom Brady, Kevin Durant, and Patrick Mahomes have brought greater attention to the sport by investing in professional teams.
The sport has also amassed a significant celebrity following, including reality royalty the Kardashians, Leonardo Dicaprio, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Gates - an early fan of the sport.
The sport was invented in 1965 by three dads on vacation on Bainbridge Island in Washington state who were attempting to entertain their children. Bill Gates, who has a mansion on Lake Washington in Medina heard about the sport in its early days.
The billionaire Microsoft founded posted to Instagram a video of himself explaining the rules captioned, 'fifty years ago, I started playing this little-known sport with a funny name. Now it's all the rage.'
For years the sport barely made a dent and was played largely in retirement communities and by the elderly. But that's all changed as investors shore up money for court development across the country.
In Florida, one set of developers has sunk $180million into a 15-court facility, which they expect to have 600 members at its outset.
Pickleball's increasing popularity has also attracted a large handful of prominent sponsors including Anheuser-Busch and Skechers.