Eight-year-old Lily Fudge is youngest player ever to win APP gold
DALLAS, TX - Eight-year-old Lily Fudge made history a few days ago in Illinois.
The daughter of pickleball pro Megan Fudge, Lily became the youngest gold medalist in APP history with her victory at the 2023 APP U.S. Indoor Championships.
After clinching the title, Lily ran straight into her mom’s arms to celebrate the accomplishment.
Admittedly, Megan was a bit anxious watching Lily compete.
“It was absolutely nerve-wracking. I was trying to be calm on the outside so that she wouldn’t notice that my husband and I were super nervous for her,” revealed Megan. “But, I felt like she was in control of the match, even though it was super close.”
The final score was 10-12, 12-10, and 11-6.
“It’s worse watching than playing. I would rather play matches than watch her play, but it was awesome and I was super proud of her,” said Megan.
The funny thing is, Lily was envisioning a golden performance.
The youngster had apparently told her mom that she was hungry to finish atop the podium.
An experienced pro, Megan wanted to manage Lily’s expectations.
“I told her, ‘It doesn’t work like that. You have to put in a lot of work. It doesn’t always add up like that just because you want something. That’s just life,’” shared Megan.
Lily reportedly responded: “I know, but I think I can do it.”
And she did.
As expected, the entire Fudge family was delighted with the result.
“We were kind of speechless. We had nothing planned. We just told her to play hard, and when she came off the court, she was just so excited. She couldn’t believe it herself,” mentioned Megan.
What really made Megan proud, though, was seeing her son, JR, be so supportive of his sister.
“He was so happy for her, too, which I loved seeing. That made me even more proud. He was so excited for her because he was competing that day, too, and they kind of compete a little bit with each other on medal counts. He couldn’t stop congratulating her and cheering her on,” said Megan.
And how did they celebrate this big win?
“The kids really wanted a Happy Meal,” said Megan with a laugh.
Lily and JR have only been training seriously for about a year.
Their interest in taking up the sport grew from watching their parents play at tournaments around the country. Megan’s husband, Ryler, is a fellow APP pro.
“My husband has been taking the lead on taking them through some drills and actual practices,” explained Megan. “When he and I are practicing, they’re practicing.”
The Fudge children competed for the first time at the English Open earlier this year, and Lily won the junior event.
“When we came back to the U.S. and played some tournaments, she always had to play the adult divisions, which was fine with her because she’s just happy to play,” remarked Megan. “She doesn’t care who’s on the other side. She just wants the opponent.”
Both Lily and JR quickly developed their respective skills.
She was instantly a fan of one of the sport’s top stars.
“She likes watching Anna Leigh Waters and how aggressive she is and her backhand. Lily’s been working a lot on her backhand, too, and working on powerful shots like Anna Leigh’s gameplay,” said Megan. “Lily is fascinated by what Anna Leigh has achieved at such a young age. She’s just a phenomenal role model, someone for kids to look up to and see what can be achieved by hard work and determination.”
The learning process continues for Lilly and JR, of course.
Megan is eager to see their pickleball acumen reach new heights.
“My kids are constantly evolving, and evolving new styles and new shots. At some point, they’re going to be teaching me shots that I don’t know about. That’s what I’m waiting for,” said Megan.
The Fudges aren’t putting any pressure on either of their children to be the next Waters or Ben Johns.
“If that’s what Lily sets her mind to do, we’ll be happy to support her. She doesn’t have to become a professional in the sport if that’s not what she wants to do, but she’s definitely eager and motivated,” mentioned Megan. “Lily’s very feisty and very competitive, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she does choose to go that route. We’re just trying to keep her humble, keep her hungry, and just working on progress.”
Commentators and spectators who’ve watched Lily play notice a strong resemblance to Megan.
Lily has the same “C’mon!” that her mom is known for.
“The first time I heard the similarity was this weekend actually. It’s just in our DNA, I can’t help it either. It’s what she sees on the court,” noted Megan. “She doesn’t have to be like me. She can be like many different players or be the accumulation of many different pro players that she likes to emulate. I’m curious to see who she becomes as a player and who she becomes as a competitor.”
Megan and Ryler joined America’s fastest-growing sport from tennis, but their children are growing up as pickleball players.
That could be an advantage on the court.
“They see the game differently. We see it as a small tennis court because we’re still so molded by tennis, but they look at the court differently than we do. I think they see it like a pickleball purist. They see angles and the court differently,” said Megan. “They’re also a lot more playful than us as tennis players. With us, we’re more straightforward, but they’re a lot more creative than we are.”
Lily is clearly gearing up to become a serious contender in the pickleball world.
Will she join forces with her mom in doubles down the road? Only time will tell.
“The thought of playing doubles with her, whether it's spilt age or in the pro section, that would be a dream come true. I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on her to feel like she has to race ahead or miss opportunities of playing with friends right now. It’s so good for her to be playing in the junior division and helping her make friends,” shared Megan. “When that day comes and I get to play with her, I would be ecstatic.”
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