Pickleball pro Helle Sparre is in Detroit Lakes to offer lessons on fast-growing sport
“I’m really excited to have a person of her quality here with us,” says Jerry Enget, the president of the Detroit Lakes Area Pickleball Association.
He describes Helle Sparre as a rare talent: “She’s not only a great player, but also a great teacher — and not everybody can do both.”
Helle Sparre was just a teenager when she started rising through the ranks of professional tennis. The Denmark native began hitting the courts at age 6, and by the time she was 19, she was the No. 1 player in her home country.
It was an exciting time to be a part of the game, she says.
It was the 1970s, the early years of the Open Era of tennis — an era brought on by a game-changing decision to allow pro players and amateurs to compete against each other. For the first time, all tournaments were accessible to all players. Top players were able to make a living from the sport, and an international professional tennis circuit was established. There was money to be made all-around, propelled in part by TV exposure, and the popularity of tennis spread worldwide.
Sparre played on the pro circuit through the 1970s, competing in all four major grand slams — the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She was once ranked as high as 49th in the world on the professional women’s tour. In 1978, she and her doubles partner, Helena Anliot, won the U.S. Clay Court Women’s Doubles Championship.
She remembers well the energy and enthusiasm that pulsed through tennis at the time, saying, “It was awesome to be part of that.”
Today, she says, there’s a similar upward movement in the sports world — and again, she’s right in the thick of it. This time, it’s not tennis, but pickleball that’s capturing international attention.
Sparre is now a professional pickleball player, and one of the very best. She was a gold medalist at the 2019 U.S. Open Pickleball Championships and the 2018 USA Pickleball Nationals, and also took home silver and bronze awards from national competitions in 2017 and 2016. She’s one of a growing number of former tennis stars who have successfully converted to pickleball.
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