Heidi Kleinrichert and Natasha Nuerge have played together as a double team for around two years. Their approach is simple:
“Maintaining the fun factor in this sport is crucial,” Kleinrichert, a Fort Wayne-based real estate agent, told Stephen Hunt of Red Line Editorial. “Having had our fair share of intense tennis matches, we made a pact to keep it light here.”
A Unique Journey
Competing as a doubles team at the 2023 Biofreeze USA Pickleball National Championships at Brookhaven Country Club in Farmers Branch, Texas, these two accomplished players, Kleinrichert and Nuerge, share a unique journey.
Their paths, like so many pickleball friends, first crossed on a tennis court. Funnily enough, this was after graduation from the University of Indiana, which they both attended without ever meeting. Since then, their pickleball partnership has seamlessly combined competition and fun in equal measure.
“Every time we’re on the court, we want to win,” said Nuerge, remarked Nuerge, a former standout in tennis at the All-Big Ten Conference for the Hoosiers in 1996. “We go with that intention, but if it doesn’t happen, maybe we’re mad for a couple of hours, and then we’re over it.”
Their camaraderie off-court is reflected in their harmonious on-court performances, whether during tournaments or their thrice-weekly pickleball sessions back in Indiana.
“Well, she’s a lefty, I’m a righty. So, it’s kind of nice that we complement each other on the court, so our forehands get to be in the middle,” says Kleinrichert. “We’re also very good friends. On the court, you have to be able to talk and communicate in a way where you don’t get mad at each other.
“Sometimes, if you play with a partner that’s too sensitive and you start passing strongly, they can get upset with you, and it can hurt a friendship.
We have a camaraderie. We walk off the court, and we’re friends. We never really get upset at one another. We get upset at ourselves, but we strategize well.”
A Delicate Balance
They maintain a delicate balance between competitive spirit and friendship but always ensure their synergy flourishes on the court. While Nuerge acknowledges her partner’s strategic prowess, Kleinrichert credits Nuerge for enhancing her skills in the game:
“She executes so well. She was a DI tennis player in college, so she’s a really good player. I enjoy her skill, and I learn a lot from her.”
Nuerge is well aware of how certain aspects of tennis have helped her transition to pickleball.
“First of all, eye-hand coordination, having quick hands, and just learning about the angles (all translate). In tennis, it’s all about geometry and the right angles,” she says. “Pickleball is no different. It’s a shorter court, so quick hands really help you. It’s an easy transition from tennis, for sure. You’re seeing a lot of pro tennis players make the transition into pickleball.”
The Friendly Side Of The Game
Nuerge also talks about how the friendly side of the game and its accessibility are so important:
“There is so much to love about this game. I think it’s very social. It’s very competitive. “It’s easy to learn, so you can quickly get decent. Then, after you reach 4.0, 4.5, then you plateau.
“I think a lot of people can get in and get decent pretty quick, and then you can compete. But the biggest thing about this game is everybody’s nice, and it’s social.”
A Vibrant Pickleball Community
Their involvement extends beyond the court, with both players being part of a vibrant pickleball community in Indiana, which traveled en masse to the Championship in Dallas.
“It is a really cool setup (here at nationals). I went to nationals a couple of years ago in California at Indian Wells,” says Kleinrichert. “They had a neat setup, and it’s a neat venue and obviously a great event. It’s amazing with all of these courts and all these people. And you have the bands, the stage, and all of the different vendors.”
The girls love to compete, that is clear, but they certainly don’t let that get in the way of a good time, as Nuerge is keen to point out:
“(We play in) maybe four or five tournaments a year. We usually try to make an event out of it, so we’ll go to Naples for a girls’ weekend, etc. It’s not all about pickleball. Pickleball is central, but there’s a lot of other things that we do.”
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