Ex-junior Wimbledon star turned pickleball champion James Chaudry admitted he was relieved after bagging gold at the 2023 English Nationals in Bolton.

The Southampton-born 32-year-old was playing on the manicured lawns of SW19 against Milos Raonic as a youngster but turned his hand to pickleball two and a half years ago.

Injury troubles and surgeries crushed Chaudry’s dreams of turning professional after playing collegiate tennis for four years in the US, but he fell in love with pickleball after it changed his life.

“I feel relief,” he said. “From when I started two and a half years ago to now, I’ve loved every single second of it.

“I have a deep background in tennis, and I’ve won a couple of national championships.

“I took up pickleball a couple of years ago and tennis transitions quite nicely into pickleball, so this is really one I wanted to win and thankfully I got over the line against some really tough and tight opposition.

“Playing many of the junior grand slams sent me to college in the US for four years.

“Unfortunately, my body said no and I had a couple of surgeries, fast forward two years and not being able to play tennis full out anymore, I transitioned into pickleball.

“PickleballEngland approached me to help them with some of the business side of things due to my day job working for a global sports agency and I started playing and fell in love with it straight away.”

Over the past year, pickleball has seen a meteoric rise in the UK due to its inclusive and accessible nature, with an estimated 12,000 regular players and over 450 venues offering the sport across the country.

There are now 682 athletes attending the National Championships at the Bolton Arena, up from 430 at the 2022 event.

After claiming gold in the men’s open category, Chaudry insisted it is the pickleball community that kept him hooked.

“Pickleball changed my life,” he added. “I managed to find a brand new group of friends coming out of tennis and into a new racquet sport, people that I wouldn’t normally have met.

“It’s a great way to engage with social exercise, the nice thing about this is I can play across gender and generations, they don’t need to have a deep experience in one racquet sport or the other.

“I like the noise, a lot of people say it’s annoying but there’s something quite satisfying about hitting a plastic ball very soft or very hard.”

2023 English Nationals takes place at Bolton Arena from Thursday 26th October to Sunday 29th October. This year’s English Nationals is sponsored by Skechers, Franklin, Scan and UK Pickleball Shop, Play will commence from 9am each day. Head to https://www.pickleballengland.org/ to find out more or to find your nearest place to play.