Like many people, Simone Jardim was drawn to Southwest Florida for the weather. She was attending a tennis conference in Naples in December 2015, and it was snowing back at her Michigan home. “I remember sending a photo of the beach to my husband and asking why we lived in Michigan,” Jardim says.
When Jardim came back to Naples in April 2016 to play in the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, her husband joined her, and they scoured properties with a Realtor. They quit their jobs, sold their house, and moved their family to Naples a few months later without having anything else lined up. “It was a total gamble,” Jardim says. “I did not commit to anything coming here.”
The move paid off for her. Jardim—considered by many as pro pickleball’s greatest female player of all time—was now living in the hotbed of the sport. “Pickleball was not the main reason why we moved here,” Jardim says. “We looked at other places in Florida, but Naples is a beautiful city. We love living here. The kids have great schools. We’ve made so many friends.”
Though not the impetus for naming herself a Neapolitan, pickleball has become a big part of Jardim’s life, and not only for the social aspect of making friends in a new place. It turned into her next career.
Jardim grew up in Brazil five minutes from a tennis club. After school, she and her two older brothers would spend the afternoon on the courts. She played in her first national tournament at age 8, following her brothers into the tournament circuit. The siblings kept their passion for racket sports. Her brother Marcello is a professional padel player in Spain, while brother Rodrigo teaches tennis in Brazil.
As a teenager, Jardim considered becoming a professional tennis player. “I was obsessed with Steffi Graf,” Jardim says of the tennis champ and role model she has yet to meet. “I heard she and Agassi are getting into pickleball,” she adds with a smile.
Jardim disliked all the traveling tennis involved, so she ruled out going pro. She loved the sport she excelled in, though. She was recruited to play tennis for Auburn University in Alabama, staying for two years before transferring to California State University, Fresno (Fresno State), where she was a two-time All-American doubles player. In both 2001 and 2002, Jardim and her doubles partner competed in the NCAA Tournament, finishing both years ranked in the top 10 nationally.
After college, Jardim became a successful tennis coach, first as an assistant at Fresno State. Following a year as assistant coach at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, Jardim became women’s head tennis coach at Michigan State University (MSU) in 2009. Under her leadership, the team had two of its three most successful seasons, with records of 17-9 in 2014 and 16-9 in 2015.
But for Jardim, it wasn’t always about the records. “Being a coach, especially in college, is a huge responsibility because you’re not just coaching tennis, you’re developing young women,” Jardim says. “I always wanted to push the kids and make them better on the courts and off as well.”
Follow the Bouncing Ball
While Jardim’s focus was on tennis, a similar sport was taking root just outside the MSU courts.
She didn’t know anything about pickleball when a friend encouraged her to try it. “It was a great workout, and we had a ton of laughs,” Jardim recalls of her introduction to the sport.
From then on, she skipped lunch to play pickleball. She also joined a Wednesday night league, where she met Corrine Carr, who became her pickleball partner for many years. Jardim then entered a national pickleball tournament in Arizona, winning singles and mixed doubles and earning silver with Carr for women’s doubles. “I got a little money and said, ‘This is a great hobby. I’m getting paid to play,’” she recalls.
In addition to the athleticism of the sport, Jardim says she likes pickleball for the sense of community among players and even the chatter on the courts, which she explains swings counter to the silence of tennis. “In pickleball, someone is always talking after you play a point,” she says. In pickleball’s smaller court, playing partners and opponents are closer to each other, which encourages interaction. Jardim says pickleball is an easy game to learn and play, which means people of all ages meet on the courts.
She holds 36 Professional Pickleball Association titles, more than any other female player in the sport’s history, and was ranked the No. 1 female player in the world from 2016 to 2020. She is a six-time National Open champion, eight-time Tournament of Champions Open champion, and a seven-time U.S. Open champion, winning the U.S. Open Triple Crown twice.
Jardim attributes part of her pickleball success to being a “touch” tennis player. “I have good hands,” she says. “That’s where it helped.” She also says her years of coaching made her very analytical, so she has studied all the intricacies of the game. Jardim modestly adds that she encountered pickleball early, before other great tennis players discovered the game. “When I came to the sport, it was still primarily played by much older people. Nobody played with a two-handed backhand, and now most women do.”
She is admired by people in the game, including Ben Johns, Jardim’s frequent doubles partner who currently is the highest ranked men’s player in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. “She’s the ideal partner,” says Johns, who lived in Estero for a year. “She’s a mental warrior, and nobody’s more skilled than her. I admire her game in every way.”
Growing the Sport
Today Jardim is an International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association–certified instructor as well as co-director of Peak Performance Pickleball Academy. She also partners with Nike Sports Camps to run clinics nationwide.
“She’s very encouraging,” says Audrey Bamberger, a Naples resident who has taken weekly lessons with Jardim for four years. “She’s really taught me how to keep my head in the game, form points, and beat people you never thought you could beat. She is amazing at the strategy.” Bamberger assists with the Simone Jardim Foundation, which helps develop young athletes who show prowess with the sport. “Simone’s trying to build the sport from the bottom up,” Bamberger says. “Everybody she touches she leaves a really positive feeling. She’s such a good-hearted person.”
Jardim says she hopes pickleball grows more internationally, becomes an Olympic sport, and burgeons in a collegiate environment. “I think it will become a mainstream sport,” she asserts. Jardim encourages people to try the game: “It is easy to pick up, and you’ll have many laughs and many great memories.”
For Simone Jardim’s free tips, tricks, and pickleball strategies, visit her Facebook on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. to watch “Live with Simone.”
Simone on Simone
● She’s a homebody. “I like to travel and have fun, but I always like coming home.”
● She has a champion’s drive. “Winning is great, but losing hurts more. I try to avoid it as much as possible.”
● She is not good at all sports. “I’m terrible at golf. I’m sure I would be decent, but I would have to invest the time to be proficient.”
● She binges television. “I love watching Ozark and Billions.”
● She’s into intermittent fasting. “I try not to eat until the afternoon. I have a six- to seven- hour window.”
● She may not compete as much going forward. “My traveling career will be over after this year. My kids are coming to a crucial age; I feel it’s extremely important that I be close to home.”
Catch the Action
Naples will host the largest pickleball tournament in the world, with 60 courts of play, free admission ($5 to park), and food vendors at the Sixth Annual Minto U.S. Open Pickleball Championships. April 23-30, 2022. East Naples Community Park, 3500 Thomasson Dr., Naples