In three years, Cherry Hill resident Ed Klarman has gone from pickleball newbie to national champion.
At one of the biggest pickleball tournaments in the country, the 2019 U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, Klarman brought home two medals. First, he and his partner, Florida resident Sher Collins, won a silver medal in the men’s doubles age 70-plus division on April 29. Then, on May 1, Klarman and Collins won gold in a men’s doubles tournament for ages 70 and up and skill levels 4.5 and up. According to the International Federation of Pickleball, a skill level of 4.5 is the second-highest rating a player can receive and is given to players who have mastered numerous skills.
Pickleball is a racquet sport played on a court smaller than the one used for tennis. Like tennis, players hit the ball back and forth over a net until the ball bounces twice on the ground or goes out of bounds. Unlike tennis, the sport uses a plastic ball with small holes around it and wooden paddles much larger than the ones used in table tennis.
The smaller court and fast pace of play means the best players are more reliant on hand-eye coordination and less on pure athletic ability. This is huge for Klarman, who had played numerous racquet sports prior to picking up pickleball in 2016, but admits he was never an athlete.
“The first day I played, I realized if there was ever a sport designed for my limited athletic skills, this was the sport,” Klarman said about pickleball. “I was always just extremely comfortable playing this.”
Klarman plays pickleball about twice a week, both locally in South Jersey as well as at the Green Valley Country Club in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. Klarman credits playing at Green Valley as being a key to lifting his game to a higher level.
This year was not the first time Klarman competed at the U.S. Open. He made his first trip there in 2018, where he won a silver medal and a bronze medal. This year, Klarman moved up to the age 70 and older division as he will turn 70 later this year. With the move, he played with a new doubles partner, Collins, whom he had met while playing in a mixed doubles tournament last year. Klarman felt he and Collins complemented each other well and believed last year’s U.S. Open experience would give him a leg up in 2019.
“I was completely familiar with the setting and I was completely familiar with what to do before each match,” Klarman said. “I knew how to stay hydrated and eat properly.”
Each of the tournaments Klarman and Collins were in was contested in one day. For the men’s doubles age 70-plus tournament, this meant needing to win five matches to win the gold. Each match is best two-out-of-three games, with the first team to score 11 points winning a game.
“You’re trying to keep ready,” Klarman said about the toughest part of the tournaments. “You don’t want to eat a big meal while you’re waiting. It’s managing your body and your water intake and your food intake.”
In the Men’s Doubles 70-plus tournament, Collins and Klarman cruised to the gold medal match, winning all four of their early round matches in two straight games. In the gold medal match, however, they came up short against the top-seeded team of Dan McLaughlin and Ted Meyer, falling 11-4, 11-6.
The men’s doubles 70-plus tournament for skill levels 4.5 and up featured a smaller bracket with six pairs competing. In the first round. Klarman and Collins were nearly eliminated as they lost their first game against Bill Gustine and Greg Young.
“We were down 9-5 in the second game,” Klarman said. “We won 12-10 and then we won the third game.”
Klarman and Collins wouldn’t lose again. They won easily in the semifinals and then took the gold medal match, 11-7 12-10, over Glenn Martin and Tom Quimby.
“I was elated,” Klarman said of winning his first U.S. Open gold medal. “I was not a big athlete in high school and college. I loved to play all sports all my life, but I was never a great athlete.
“It really is the most prestigious event in pickleball,” Klarman continued. “Even though it’s pickleball, I can say that I’m a national champion.”
Even as he enters his 70s, Klarman doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. He doesn’t believe he has reached his peak in pickleball yet and is hoping he will have more trips atop the U.S. Open podium in his future.
“I feel like if I take care of myself, I can play at a high level for five to 10 years,” Klarman said.