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pickleball pros Agassi and Bahram in New York on pickleball courts

In August 2023, when Life Time at PENN 1 opened its doors, the anticipation for the reveal of the seven indoor pickleball courts set to follow was high. Nine months later, on May 4, 2024, those courts were publicly unveiled — with tennis legend Andre Agassi and top-rated pickleball pros Ben Johns, Collin Johns, Anna Bright, and Tyson McGuffin playing the first games with Life Time’s founder, CEO, and chairman Bahram Akradi.

Life Time at PENN 1 is located in the heart of the Big Apple, across the street from Penn Station and the iconic Madison Square Garden. The street-level pickleball courts are enclosed by floor-to-ceiling windows so players can see and feel the energy of the city throughout a game — and pedestrians can get a peek inside.

To kick off the May 4 event, Life Time hosted an exclusive Q&A with Agassi and Akradi. Long-time friends, the two also serve as the newly appointed cochairs of Life Time’s recently formed pickleball and tennis board. They were joined by the Johns brothers, as well as Bright and McGuffin, before they all took to the courts to display their athleticism and camaraderie in front of more than 300 guests.

andre Agassi and Bahram Akradi on the New York Q&A
Ben Johns and Bahram playing pickleball

“This easily goes down as one of the most exciting days for Life Time in New York City since our Life Time Sky opening in 2016,” says Akradi. “As an avid tennis and pickleball fan and player myself, seeing these world-class athletes all together, and creating a memorable experience for our members, was an incredible way to celebrate the opening of PENN 1 as the iconic pickleball destination in the city.”

Some of those members and guests got the chance to play pickleball with the pros in a round-robin style format. Each of the pros took to a court with three spectators and volleyed a few points. Participants could hop in line to go up against any of the pros — and many made their rounds to all four courts.

The addition of the pickleball courts at Life Time at PENN 1 brings the total number of courts Life Time operates in New York to nine in Manhattan and 21 in the greater New York City area. (Learn more: “The Big Pickle in the Big Apple: Life Time is Bringing More Indoor Pickleball to Manhattan”)

5 Questions With Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi and Collin Johns playing pickleball

Andre Agassi is an internationally renowned tennis icon, with eight Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal to his name. He’s recently developed a passion for pickleball and is now serving as a cochair of Life Time’s new pickleball and tennis board. We had the chance to connect with him about his love for pickleball and his partnership with Life Time.

Life Time | What do you love about pickleball?

Andre Agassi | I love that it’s a low entry sport for people — anybody can pick up a [paddle] and get better immediately. With tennis, you have to spend a year to a year-and-a-half committed before the game actually starts to open up to you.

I also love that it’s something I can do at this age and still improve in. It doesn’t require a lot of rotational aggression, which is something in tennis that comes with a cost for me at this stage in my life.

LT | How do you think tennis and pickleball compare to each other?

AA | They’re different. I don’t think they cannibalize [each other] at all. Pickleball is a participation game — you want to watch it, but then it excites you to go play. Tennis is a bit more of a spectator game; when you watch it, you sit there and stay involved in watching.

LT | What excites you about the partnership with Life Time?

AA | I’m excited to be a part of the largest supplier of pickleball facilities in the world. The idea of bringing [pickleball] to all these communities thrills me, as well as the idea of coming up with visions that only enhance the experience. And just being able to grow with Bahram, a long-time dear friend.

LT | After playing a game of tennis or pickleball, what do you do to relax and unwind?

AA | Immediately, if I play a great game of pickleball, I have one beer. Just one — promise. I actually did that when I played tennis too. I put my feet up and feel like I conquered so much.

LT | These days, what’s your favorite activity to do?

AA | My favorite things to do right now, period, are play pickleball and snowboard. You can’t do snowboarding everywhere [though], which is why I go to Life Time. I go in there, play a good game of pickle knowing I can also have a healthy meal afterward, and then I go home.

5 Questions With the Pickleball Pros

pickleball pros Agassi and Bahram in New York on pickleball courts

Each of the pro pickleball players at the PENN 1 event is impressive in their own right. This is just a glimpse of their accomplishments:

Ben Johns is ranked No. 1 in the world for mixed doubles and No. 1 in the world for men’s doubles by the Pro Pickleball Association. He won back-to-back triple crown titles at the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships in 2021 and 2022, and has accumulated over 80 titles on the PPA Tour.

Collin Johns, Ben’s older brother, won consecutive U.S. Open crowns in 2021 and 2022, and the USA Pickleball National Championships in 2022.

Anna Bright made her pickleball pro debut in 2022, winning the Punta Gorda singles and doubles titles. She has since been drafted to Major League Pickleball.

Tyson McGuffin won the 2019 U.S. Open for singles and took home a TOC (Brigham City’s Tournament of Champions) triple crown in 2023.

All four athletes are sponsored by JOOLA.

Life Time | What do you love about pickleball?

Ben Johns | It’s very welcoming to outsiders, which I very much appreciate. I think that’s a good attitude to have in anything. And I feel like it’s very supportive — there’s really no community or event that is quite the same.

Anna Bright | Obviously, there’s the community aspect everybody talks about. You can meet so many people [who] are so kind.

But I think one reason I love it, and why so many people are loving it, that isn’t talked about as much is the avenue for competition. [I’m a former college athlete], and I feel like once you’re past college, you still have that itch to compete. Pickleball is unique in that you can just go, meet new people, and compete. It’s easy to play in tournaments, easy to play in leagues — it’s just a really great game for the masses.

LT | What are you working on to improve your pickleball game right now?

Tyson McGuffin | I’ve lost some tough matches this year. So, raising the level mentally and just being a little tougher in those moments [are the big focuses for me]. When the going gets tougher — like when your back is against the wall — it comes down to who can mentally figure things out or just kind of lock in and dial in.

LT | What’s one thing that was integral in your path to becoming a pro?

Collin Johns | Being Ben’s brother is a start [laughs] — that was pretty helpful for me personally. But definitely my tennis journey. I did that for many years and . . . just an openness to realizing you’re playing a different sport and there are certain things that are going to help you from your tennis background significantly, but there are other things that you have to learn and have to change.

If you look at the players who have had the most success, especially relatively rapidly, they’re very open to learning the game and adapting. I think that was really big for me and certainly a big credit to the guy on my left [Ben] for helping me along the way.

LT | How do you get pumped up before a game?

BJ | I don’t really get pumped up, honestly. I don’t really listen to music; I don’t get in any mindset. The state I’m in naturally is approximately the state I play in.

AB | Getting ready to play in a match is not too difficult for me. I love competing, and I’ve done it for most of my life. Just put on some good music and get out there, ready to rock-and-roll.

LT | How do you relax and recover?

BJ | The most important thing for me is stretching. I stretch every day as much as I can to feel loose — that comes before anything else. To unwind after that . . . I have some good food — making sure it’s the appropriate food — and then I either read, listen to an audio book, or play video games.

AB | My favorite way to unwind is [probably] to do a little bit of recovery and get something good to eat. I’m a bit “Yelp-er” wherever we are, because tournaments are all over the country. I find something yummy. And I’d say foam roll and stretch.

Learn more about pickleball at Life Time at PENN 1 and the relationship with Agassi:

NYC indoor pickleball

The Big Pickle in the Big Apple: Life Time is Bringing More Indoor Pickleball to Manhattan

The ever-growing sport of pickleball is taking hold in the city that never sleeps.
Read More
The lower bodies of two individuals playing pickleball on a court.

In the News: Tennis Legend Andre Agassi Joins Life Time’s Pickleball and Tennis Board as the Inaugural Chair

The multi-Grand Slam winner and Olympian is committed to the mission of elevating Life Time’s racquet sport programming and community across the country.
Read More
Life Time Penn 1

Step Inside: Life Time at PENN 1

Life Time continues its expansion in New York City with an athletic and social destination in the heart of the city.
Read More
Photos by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for Finn Partners
Callie Chase
Callie Fredrickson

Callie Fredrickson is a content editor at Life Time.

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