Julian Arnold has quickly become a fan favorite in Major League Pickleball (MLP) for his big personality and the passion he has for the sport. He was instrumental in the Los Angeles Mad Drops’ success in Season One, helping lead his team to the championship Super Finals match, where they swept the Seattle Pioneers to become MLP Premier Level Champions.
The excitement surrounding MLP has propelled the world of pro pickleball forward like nothing else this year, and Arnold has been right at the forefront of the MLP during its meteoric rise. We had a chance to sit down with Arnold to ask him about his experiences with the MLP’s inaugural season using the new format, what it was like to play in the biggest pro pickleball match of the year, and also about his paddle company, Volair.
Before we get into the details of your big Super Finals win with the Mad Drops, what are some of your big-picture takeaways from MLP Season One?
Julian Arnold (JA): It was a blast. It was great being a part of the Mad Drops; it’s going to be sad to be on a different team, I’ve never been on a different team, so that’ll be tough.
But I think the events are great. The atmosphere is just electric, it’s awesome having that team setting and having more of a structure to the schedule, which I think is great for fans. Knowing what court, when, and who your team is playing against really makes it spectator friendly.
I think MLP did a great job with the format and how things were run. I guess my only suggestion I guess would maybe be to try to clarify what a Super Final is. It seems like a lot of people that maybe weren’t paying close attention didn’t really understand what that event was, but that’s an easy fix.
Other than that, everything ran pretty smoothly. I think they do a really good job of listening to our suggestions. For instance, we were warming up a couple of days before the event started, and we noticed that all of the chairs were white around the grandstand court, so the background was difficult to see.
I told them that they should cover them or change them out, and they got them all switched to black chairs. That was an amazing thing for them to do for us because we want to be able to deliver the best pickleball possible. I’m sure they’ll continue to improve and continue to make this as good as possible for us players and for the spectators.
What were some of the standout moments of the regular season event of MLP San Clemente before you guys got ready for the Super Finals?
JA: I think we competed well as a team, we were in a very tough, top-heavy group, but really anything could happen. Just because the Pandas had the worst record in the league, it doesn’t mean you just go out there and automatically beat them. It is pickleball and they have four great players on their team.
We got things off with a win against them which was good, and we rode that momentum. We had a tough one against Seattle, though personally, I really enjoyed that match as I enjoy playing the tough competition. So, even though we lost, that was a good test for us I think.
We had a good match against Dekel’s team, the Night Owls, that was a good one just for us to get into the quarter-finals. Overall, it was a very exciting and stressful weekend; barely getting far enough ourselves and having the 5’s fall just short since we only got in there by one point. There were a couple of other scenarios that could’ve happened that would’ve ruined our Super Finals chances too.
So yeah, everything kind of fell into place for us, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity just to even be there on Monday and play for that Super Final, and I think we took advantage of that opportunity.
After finishing your run in San Clemente, you guys had a one-day break on Sunday before the Super Finals. How did you guys recuperate and prepare for the finals with that day off and on the day of the championship match?
JA: The day between, I think everyone except for Catherine [Parenteau] spent it on-site just watching. So, there wasn’t really any strategy, we were just trying to take it all in and see if we were even going to be playing on Monday.
Honestly, I found that way more stressful than playing myself, so I wouldn’t say that it was mentally a rest day. I was worried the whole time, and it really did come down as close as possible. The 5’s were knocking on the door, they were right there to win the whole thing.
The next day, we didn’t have to play until 6, so both teams had a lot of time to strategize and prepare for the event. We got there plenty early and sat down as a team and discussed different strategies, matchups, and pretty much every scenario possible for about an hour.
Eventually, we came up with a strategy that we felt like was going to work, and we didn’t even really have to implement it because we were pretty much in the scenario which was least likely to happen, which was going up 2-0. Our big thing to avoid was basically going down 2-0, which we had done the previous two times playing them.
We had not only gone down 2-0, but we had lost the coin toss, and Ben [Johns] elected to react to mixed both times. So going down 2-0 and having them react to mixed was kind of a death sentence because Ben’s smart, and he ends up playing himself against the number two team to secure that third victory.
Avoiding that was big because we lost the coin toss again. We had a good strategy on our part and came together and played amazingly.
How did the Mad Drops build team chemistry throughout the course of Season One? How do you guys come together on and off the court for these events?
JA: That’s a tough one. It’s not like any other season-long sport like basketball, where you’re traveling, practicing, and spending a lot of time together. We obviously all see each other on an almost weekly basis at tournaments.
I think ultimately, when teams pick their players, chemistry comes down to the individuals. You’re not going to have a drastic change in personality just because we’re playing a few team events. Everyone’s still going to be operating the way they do.
I think the players that we drafted are all team players. Thomas [Wilson] and I already have a pretty good relationship outside of MLP. He’s pretty close to me in the Austin area, we practice a lot together, we play outside of MLP, so that was an easy one.
Catherine was one of the first pro players I ever actually got to meet. Her and Athena [Trouillot] are very positive, good energy kind of players. Same with Irina [Tereschenko], just another positive team player.
I think it was really easy to build that chemistry and have all three of those players feed off of the energy that I bring to the table. I think that was a good part of why we were successful as a team.
If you had to change one thing about the MLP’s current format, what would that be?
JA: You know, I used to say rally scoring, but the more we play with rally scoring I don’t mind it as much. I think there is a little bit of a flaw with how one player only serves to one side of the court, if you’re playing the left, then you’re serving to the ad side the entire match. On the other side of that, you’re also returning from the same position the entire match.
So, there’s no stacking, unstacking, or unwinding, which I do feel is a part of pickleball. Some players will shy away from unwinding a stack if they aren’t the fastest player, which I think is an advantage that I can pretty much always unstack because I feel comfortable switching on the return. But, it’s a minor detail. I’m not sure how they would fix that and if it would be worth it.
I would also change the challenge system. Right now, the system only allows you to challenge an out call. I wish they would allow it; since we have three now, I would like to challenge my own in call.
Ultimately, we’re just trying to get the call right, and I’d feel way more comfortable calling balls that I’m not 100% sure on ‘in’ like we would in a normal tournament. In this tournament, because I know my opponents have three challenges, I’m more inclined to call one I think might have been out, out.
Like I said, I’d rather call it in and challenge it myself and not have them use one of their challenges, and I don’t see why that would be a problem. The challenge system is there to get it right, and if I call it in, then at least if it’s close, then we’re going with more of the ‘too close to call’ mentality versus, ‘I called one that’s 50/50 and we’re not really sure.”
Earning a 3-0 sweep in the championship match is a major achievement. Was there a moment during the Super Finals where you felt like everything “clicked” and fell into place for the Mad Drops?
JA: The girls going out there and setting the tone was huge. At the same time, I knew that Thomas and I had to go play Ben and Tyler [Loong], who hadn’t lost all tournament. We had them pretty close when we played them in group, but that’s a tough team.
We were down pretty much the entire match, and I think I remember it was probably 14-10, something like that, I hit a risky speed-up through the middle with my forehand and Ben was on it, but he missed the counter into the net. I was like, maybe that’s the start of some momentum and I told Thomas, “Let’s just take some chances here; let’s just go for it.”
The very next point, I hit a third shot drop from pretty much off the screen, you can’t even see me, and then I came flying in full speed into the kitchen. Ben left one, I wouldn’t say very high, but it was something I could volley, and I just kind of full-speed, running, backhand flick across the court just past his left shoulder, and it ended up dropping probably five or six inches in.
That was probably a pretty big momentum shift, and I’d say probably the shot of the tournament for me. That shot’s not easy to do, let alone doing it while running full speed; so right there, I felt like maybe we had a chance.
Then we just kind of kept hanging around and played a couple of clutch points when we were down 17-19 and kind of just pulled the rug from underneath their feet. At that moment, when we were up 2-0, I knew it wasn’t a guarantee, but I was feeling pretty confident that Catherine and I could go out there and beat Ben and Etta [Wright]; and if we didn’t, then Thomas and Irina were playing great and had a good chance to close it out against Meghan [Dizon] and Tyler.
We recently put out a review for your Volair Mach 1 paddle. Tell us a little bit about how you got into the paddle-making game and what went into producing the Mach 1.
JA: Ryan [Cohen] and I kind of just decided to jump into the paddle game. We probably could’ve just gone with joining Joola and taking an offer from them, but we decided we wanted to bet on ourselves and maybe start something a little bigger.
The process started probably a little over a year ago with just getting a lot of samples, trying different materials and core sizes, and kind of Frankenstein-ing things that I liked about paddles I had played with in the past. I tested probably something close to sixty different samples over the course of about eight months, and then we were finally happy with what we have now, which is the Mach 1.
It’s been great; I really love that paddle. It’s got a good balance of all the things that I really like, and I think it’s been well-received by the pickleball world.
I’m also excited to see how our new Forza Power Series paddle does. It’s going to be launching on July 11th, so keep an eye out for that one. It’ll be our thermoform paddle – plenty of grip with just a little bit more pop. It seems like that’s what is super popular in pickleball right now.
But yeah, it’s been a good run. It’s been really fun starting a business with my buddy and watching it grow. I’m very happy with the direction we’ve been moving as a company, and I think that the image that we’re building is good for pickleball.
What are your closing thoughts on your experiences playing pro pickleball and, more specifically, about MLP Season One?
JA: It’s a dream to be able to play a sport for a living, that was always my dream growing up with tennis, and honestly, I couldn’t be happier doing it with pickleball.
It’s so much fun, I enjoy traveling to different areas of the country, and all the while getting to do it with my girlfriend Lauren Stratman, who’s also a professional player. That just makes it five times as enjoyable to have my best friend out there with me every day. Whether it’s just being able to train, playing on the court together, or just having her around to just enjoy life while we’re also playing pickleball is amazing.
MLP has been an amazing experience and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of MLP. I thank everyone who’s involved in making those events happen, they’re not easy. They’re really taking care of us.
Steve, thanks for creating the whole thing. Brooks, thanks for managing all of us, trying to keep everyone on point and managing the whole thing. Thanks Danny, who takes care of us all, keeps us informed, keeps us well-fed, and waits in a unicorn costume for Lauren’s birthday.
Thanks a million to all those guys and gals that make it all possible, and I can’t wait for the next season. Go Mad Drops.
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