By: Laura Shaver Photos by: Rachel Benavides
When she was four years old, Hilary Hilton Marold’s mother placed a little paddle and a tennis ball in her hands and took her to a beach club in their hometown of Santa Monica, California. Right away, onlookers noticed her impeccable eye-hand coordination. Hilary returned to those courts every weekend with her father. By age 9, she was playing competitive paddle tennis, and was beating the adults by age 12.
The success found in her youth only grew with time, and Marold, now 68, is the only athlete (female and male) to hold a record number of national titles in four racquet sports: tennis, platform tennis, paddle tennis/pop tennis, and pickleball. She has been called the “Queen of the Racquets,” and just last year, the Corpus Christi Country Club opened its first pickleball court, dedicated to her.
Pickleball – which Marold says is “so fun to play” – is quickly growing in popularity in Corpus Christi. She loves to stop by the court at the country club to visit with players and give free tips. She still plays competitively, too, having won national singles titles in her age group eight times since 2009, and she travels the world with her sponsor, Paddletek, to teach others the sport.
“When I was young, people used to think you couldn’t play more than one racquet sport because each would take away focus and skills from the others,” says Marold. “But I know they all help each other.” During her childhood, Marold would play competitive tennis and get back to the beach to play paddle tennis in the same day. “I had a lot of very good coaching and excellent lessons, paired with a God-given talent.”
In 1973, with her nationally recognized name, she beat former United States National and Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs in a singles paddle tennis match – before he famously played Billie Jean King in a “Battle of the Sexes” match and lost. In 1976, Billie Jean King placed Marold on the cover of her foundation’s magazine, womenSports, with the tagline, “The other woman in Bobby Riggs’ life.”
Throughout her athletic career, Marold has been featured in Sports Illustrated, People, Us, Sky, Racquet, womenSports, and PaddleWorld magazines, and she has done sports broadcasting for ABC, CBS, and NBC. In 1977, she was the only female athlete invited by CBS to compete against five world-class male racquet athletes in the World Racquets Championships, and the following year, she assisted Bud Collins and John Newcombe for NBC’s coverage of Wimbledon.
Marold’s career has taken her many places and has placed her among many esteemed athletes. In 2014, she received the “Spirit of Texas” award from the United States Tennis Association-Texas for sportsmanship and high level of excellence. She has been inducted into three Halls of Fame: the Platform Tennis Hall of Fame, the USA Paddle Tennis Hall of Fame, and at Marlborough School in Los Angeles, CA.
This March, Hilary and her husband, Charlie, will compete in the USTA National Husband Wife Grass Tennis Championships, which they have won a few times over the years. In April, they will celebrate 40 years of marriage. When he is on the court at the Corpus Christi Athletic Club, she is on a treadmill or walking the grounds. “I love to compete, it’s so much fun, but I also love to just stay active.”
Next on Marold’s agenda is the US Open Pickleball Championships in April in Naples, Florida. In 2018, she won the Open women’s 65 singles and women’s 65 doubles titles.
“I’ve been lucky,” says Marold of her health, athletic career, and opportunities, “and I have really enjoyed it.”
United States Tennis Association (USTA)
18 national balls, 7 gold balls (1980s), and Nationals 1989 Buick Mixed Doubles Tennis Championship
American Platform Tennis Association (APTA)
11 national championships (1975-1982, Hall of Fame, 1998)
United States Paddle Tennis Association (USPTA)
17 national championships (1967-1974, Hall of Fame, 2012)
USA Pickleball Association (USAPA)
20 national gold championships (2009-present)