OWENSBORO, Ky. — Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, and Altaf Merchant is quickly rising up the ranks after starting just four years ago.

What You Need To Know

  • Altaf Merchant is currently a top ten player in the world for men's doubles in pickleball

  • He has multiple top-five finishes

  • He was a former tennis player in college

  • He said that his first-ever tournament occurred in 2018

Merchant started out playing for fun, but quickly became enamored with the sport and wanted to take it to a higher level. 

He said that his first-ever tournament occurred in 2018. 

“There was a guy who was coming from Evansville who worked here in town and he saw us playing for fun," said Merchant. "He said there were tournaments in Evansville, so I went, met a lot of good players and then my first U.S. open was in 2018."

Merchant has since reached top 10 status in men's doubles, according to the Association of Pickleball Professionals. The former tennis player said the game came easier to him thanks to playing tennis in college. 

Altaf Merchant and partner Zane Navratil playing doubles. (Altaf Merchant)

“I played tennis. I was a pro tennis player and played in college and I was one of the top juniors in India," said Merchant. "So playing that, I had the swings and the paddle skills and the feel of the ball and understood things like grip pressure.” 

Merchant said that pickleball is growing rapidly thanks to the flow and nature of the game. Merchant, who is 47, is one of the older professional pickleball players on tour. 

He calls Owensboro his home and is excited to lead the next group of players. He said pickleball is picking up in other parts of the state as well, such as Louisville and Lexington. 

“When I first left India, I came to Owensboro and they adopted me," said Merchant. "This is home. I love Owensboro. We got a lot of exciting things that are happening here in 2023. We are working with the city to build a 16-court pickleball facility." 

Merchant tries to play at least three times a week to stay sharp. Although his ranking is pretty high, his biggest accomplishment is just playing with other top players. 

“When I get a text message from a Matt Wright, who is No. 2 in the world, saying, 'Hey, we are playing at nationals,'" said Merchant, "That's the best ranking I can get when a top player says, 'Altaf, please come play with us.'"

Merchant is gearing up for nationals which will occur later this year.