Learn about the phenom who’s already a pro pickleball veteran and six-time US Open gold medalist selection at the age of 15 — and the best is yet to come.
Do you remember what your biggest accomplishment was at 15 years old? Because professional pickleball phenom Anna Leigh Waters can probably tell you hers.
The teen pickleballer was selected to Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2022 after raking in four PPA Triple Crowns, six US Open gold medals, and six USAPA Nationals Gold Medals to date. She became the youngest-ever professional pickleball player at just 12 years old, but her journey into the game started far earlier.
In fact, it was a family affair — one in which they took a negative situation and turned it into a blessing.
Waters was born and raised in Delray Beach, Florida. When Hurricane Irma hit in 2017 when she was 10 years old, her family evacuated their home and stayed with her grandparents in Pennsylvania. Roughing through the storm, her grandfather helped pass the time by teaching her the sport. As we love to document at Boardroom, pickleball is a sport that welcomes people of all ages. The court is smaller and it’s a fun recreational game, particularly for older folks who might not be able to get up and go quite like they used to.
This was the beginning of her journey. When she returned to Florida, her mother Leigh Waters, became her coach. It only took two years for Anna to take off — she and Leigh stunned the world and defeated US Open Triple Crown winner Simone Jardim and Carrine Carr to win doubles gold at the 2019 Florida Grand Slam.
It’s truly an incredible story. Though Anna has won tournaments in singles, her doubles partner is still her mom, who happens to be a former NCAA Division I tennis player at the University of South Carolina. In doing so, Anna was not only able to become the youngest pro pickleball player on the circuit, but she and Leigh additionally became the first and only mother-daughter team in the sport.
But they’ve also played against each other, too. Leigh quit her job as an attorney to play pickleball more with her daughter, and given the rules, there would eventually come a day when the two played as opponents.
It did, and the daughter won.
“I wasn’t happy or anything, because I was just like, ‘Oh, I beat my mom. This is not good.’ I feel like the whole match was just, like, weird,” said the younger Waters, who split a $10,000 prize thanks to the win.
“I want her to beat me,” Leigh said. “I want her to be better than me. I want her to get the sponsorships. I want her to win the tournaments.”
- Won gold in singles at the Newport Beach Showcase in 2021
- Won gold in singles at the Orlando Cup in 2021
- Won gold in singles at the Texans Open in 2021.
- Won bronze in singles at the 2021 US Open.
- Won silver in doubles and bronze in mixed doubles at the Acrytech Atlanta Open.
The mother-daughter combo went on to play in the first nationally televised pickleball match in history on CBS earlier this year; naturally, they won. As Anna’s renown in the sport grew, she’s played games with celebrities and fellow athletes alike, from Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Phelps, and Jamie Foxx to Sugar Ray Leonard, Scottie Scheffler, and Jordan Spieth.
So, how does she deal with her fame at such a young age?
“You get that feeling of being a celebrity because you have people coming up crying, telling you how much you’ve influenced their lives and everything, and it’s really cool,” said Anna.
She’s currently homeschooled by her grandmother, while her mom is on record saying that Anna will delay college to further her career in pro prickleball. For good measure, she already has a sportswear endorsement deal with FILA, and her list of sponsors should only grow right along with Anna herself — and the sport of pickleball as a whole.
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