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Anita Maldonado Paddleball Player Profile by Dave Siegel

The magnificent award-winning profile photo says it all. We see the acrobatic athletic ability, her skill, and most importantly, the never-give-up determination. And yes, Anita Maldonado made the shot! And it was a killer!

The 1980s was the golden age of paddleball, with an estimated 440,000 men, women and children of all ages playing this urban New York City game. There were many excellent players, but far and away, the most accomplished woman player was Anita Maldonado and she might very well go down in history as the best woman paddleball player ever. Anita won an incredible eight out of nine Budweiser women’s singles titles from 1981-89. In 1992 she played in her last singles tournament, again winning the Bud Classic and it was in the finals that Anita made the fantastic, historic, diving shot.

Like many paddleball players, Anita started out playing handball. For her it was at the local courts at 108th St. and Park Ave. in Spanish Harlem, where she grew up. She says that the instant she first picked up a paddle, she was attracted to the sport and soon was playing every day. Eventually Anita moved to Central Park, followed by the Yankee Stadium courts and finally she settled in at Carmine Street, where she played for many years as her home park.

Anita did not become great by just playing the game and having fun. She put in long hard hours practicing, training, and working on her endurance. With her intelligence and mental toughness, combined with hard work, she knew that she could rise to the top in paddleball, and indeed she did. One person who played a very significant role in Anita’s paddleball career was Aubrey Nelson. Aubrey, who Anita described as a “paddleball intellectual,” and “like a father to me,” was her coach and mentor throughout her tournament days. He imparted great wisdom and helped transform her into a complete player, featuring stamina, quickness and power. Another person who had a tremendous inspirational effect on her life was her late mother, who was her number one fan and attended all of her tournaments.

Anita’s game was highlighted by power, combined with smarts. She could spike it and could jam her opponent as very few women were capable of. Why did Anita gravitate to singles? She now says that striving to excel in singles truly drives a player to become dedicated to working out, staying in shape, learning the game and playing it correctly. Anita says this commitment made her feel grounded. She feels doubles is a much easier game, not requiring the same level of preparation or physical fitness. She would like to see the present paddleball revival movement add singles to the tournament schedule, and indeed, the PFA is on the mark by hosting a successful tournament last September and planning to do others in 2018.

With Anita, it was not all about her. As she became more accomplished, she gave back to paddleball, becoming an inspiration and mentor to many players. During her championship years, Anita and Mike Melendez teamed up with Budweiser and the NYC Parks Department, conducting numerous, very successful clinics across the tri-state area that helped get even more people involved in the flourishing game of paddleball.

In the late 80s Anita sought to conquer a new sport, taking up racquetball. But this extraordinary athlete did not just dabble in the sport. As with paddleball, she gave it her all, and rose to the highest echelon. Anita competed in the Pan American Games and won medals in the Central American Games, including the gold in 1998, for which she is honored in a museum in Puerto Rico. She became a racquetball professional and was ranked in the women’s division as high as the number four player in the world!

Presently, Anita plays (and excels in) racquetball in all its forms: four, three and one wall. In the past year she has resumed playing paddleball and returned to tournament competition. She plans to continue in 2018. She notes a big shift to the big ball game, especially over the past year or two. Her mindset now is that she sees all these racquet/paddle sports melding together, and she will train for, and compete in any of them.

When Anita is not playing sports, she loves to watch tennis and basketball. Nadal and LeBron are her favorite players. She also cooks a mean yuca and eggplant with cod fish!