The talented Spaniard claimed the bronze medal in women’s pro singles.
By Stephen Hunt -Red Line Editorial
FARMERS BRANCH, Texas -- Judit Castillo couldn’t stop smiling on the medal stand Sunday, and for good reason.
That’s because Castillo, who didn’t pick up her first pickleball paddle until October 2022, brought home a bronze medal in the women’s pro singles draw at the 2023 Biofreeze USA Pickleball National Championships powered by Invited and the PPA Tour.
“It does mean a lot because this is my first Nationals ever, my first year of playing pickleball. Played against amazing competition and had to fight all the way through,” Castillo said after the competition at Brookhaven Country Club in Farmers Branch, Texas, a northern Dallas suburb. “I came into the tournament having doubts with my game, worked on it and was really happy with the way I performed.”
Castillo, the No. 5 seed in women’s pro singles, got her feet wet at Nationals by defeating Lacy Schneemann 11-5, 11-6 in the round of 16. In the quarterfinals, she drew fourth seed Salome Devidze and advanced with an 11-3, 11-1 victory against the seasoned pro.
In the semifinals on Sunday afternoon, she squared off against top seed Anna Leigh Waters, who went on to capture the title in women’s pro singles, and was defeated 11-0, 11-1.
However, Castillo couldn’t complain about finishing her first Nationals with a medal around her neck.
“Well, I would lie if I said I had expectations (coming into my first Nationals). To be honest, I wanted to get through the first match and then after that one, I had Salome,” Castillo said. “We go back and forth, she’s an amazing competitor as well. Beating her in that match means a lot. I had Lacy in the first match. She’s super athletic. I knew that every match was going to be a battle, so super happy with being able to go all the way through.”
A former collegiate tennis standout at Northwestern State in Louisiana, Castillo credits the “amazing” community of Natchitoches, where Northwestern is located, for making her college experience as fun as it could be.
Prior to taking up pickleball, Castillo had been working as the director of fitness and racquet sports at East Ridge Country Club in Shreveport, Louisiana, before deciding to focus on playing pickleball full-time as a professional in Major League Pickleball.
Looking back, Castillo couldn’t recall how many tournaments she’s played in this season, only that it’s been “a lot,” she said.
“This first year has been a lot,” she said. “I quit my job just to play pickleball, and pickleball also gave me the chance to stay in the country through the P-1 visa. I had to play a lot. I enjoyed every one of the tournaments.”
A native of Spain who previously ran track and played soccer, Castillo posed on the medal stand not only with a huge smile but also holding the flags of Spain and Louisiana, happy to simultaneously represent both her home country and adopted home state.
“For the last couple months, we’ve connected a lot with Spain. We’re trying to make the sport bigger over there, trying to help as much as we can by giving clinics, doing interviews, just trying to give our perspective of what we have here and what we can do over there,” she said. “I love representing Spain. It’s my country. I love it, the culture and everything. It’s very awesome being able to represent the colors of my country.”
And even though she’s only been playing pickleball for just over a year, Castillo noted there are certain aspects of her new chosen sport that she especially enjoys.
“I love the fact that I have fun when I play. I love the atmosphere like right here (at the medal stand), you have the band playing,” Castillo said. “We have people walking around and people cheering you on that you meet outside of the court.
“People are like, ‘Hey, I watched you play.’ Something that really amazes me right now is the amount of kids playing. More and more younger people are playing the sport. It actually makes me think I’m playing for myself, but I’m also setting an example for the younger generation. I think that’s one of the things that I love most about the sport.”
Castillo is quick to credit her success at her first Nationals to the strong show of support she received from her passionate cheering section which made the drive to Texas for Nationals from Louisiana.
“Well, I have friends who are like family to me right now, a lot of people from Shreveport. Some are playing in the tournament, some came just to watch,” she said. “They have meant the world to me for the last couple years, and having them here means the world.”
Stephen Hunt is an accomplished freelance writer and sports statistician who has been blessed to cover a multitude of subjects and sports in his time. He is a freelance contributor to USA Pickleball on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.