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    Pickleball Post 2024 02 15T152440.166

    Putting Down The Tennis Racket For A Pickleball Paddle

    An Interview With Sam Querrey

    Pickleball has witnessed some serious growth in popularity in the last couple of years. According to the 2023 Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA) Topline Participation Report, pickleball participation almost doubled in 2022, increasing 85.7% year-over-year.

    This surge represents a 158.6% growth over the past three years, solidifying pickleball’s status as America’s fastest-growing sport for the third consecutive year. 

    And the rapid expansion has brought pickleball’s total number of players in the United States to approximately 8.9 million, a significant increase from the 4.8 million reported in the 2022 SFIA Report.

    The sport’s increasing number of players and overall growth underscore why it draws the attention of athletes from other racket sports, including professional tennis players like Sam Querrey.

    leland orfield

    By Leland Orfield – 1/30/2024

    Querrey, known for his powerful serve and formidable forehand, notched multiple ATP titles and reached a career-high ranking of World No. 11 in men’s singles back in 2018. He was particularly successful in ATP tournaments, netting ten singles titles during his career. 

    After announcing his retirement from pro tennis in August 2022, Querrey quickly decided to venture into pro pickleball by playing on the PPA Tour. His transition to pro pickleball marks a significant moment for the sport, bridging the gap between traditional tennis prestige and the emerging allure of pickleball.

    We had the chance to meet with Sam and catch up with him about his first full year as a professional pickleball player. He talks about his background in tennis, what it was like transitioning to pickleball, and advice for tennis players and pickleball newbies trying to elevate their game!

    samquerreyandymurray copy
    Querrey at the 2017 Wimbledon Championships Semifinals. (Photo credit: Daniel Olivas, Washington Post)

    Q: Sam, having had a successful tennis career, what inspired you to transition to pickleball, and how has your tennis background influenced your approach and strategy in pickleball?

    Sam: You know, I kind of fell into it a little bit. I was playing pickleball casually with friends for about five years prior to me retiring from tennis, and casually means like, you know, when I was home every other month from a tennis tournament, we’d go play at our buddy’s house. We knew the rules and everything, but we didn’t know what stalking was or the nuances and things like that; we would just kind of casually play. So, I had a little bit of a background in it. 

    My last year on the tennis tour, a few months before the US Open, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after tennis. Then I went to watch one of the MLPs; this would have been 2022 in Newport Beach because Wes Burrows, who I play a lot of doubles with and is my best friend, was in it, and I drove down to watch him play. As I was watching, there were also a lot of tennis fans watching, and they kind of came up and asked me, “Are you going to play this? What are you going to do?” In my head, I was like, You know what? Yeah, I already have somewhat of a background in it. I liked pickleball a lot. 

    That’s kind of where this talk started; it would have been July or August 2022. Then, as I stopped playing tennis, I worked with my agent, John Tobias, and looked into the multiple leagues going on, the numerous paddle companies, and we just kind of navigated it for the next three months to get ready for the start of the 2023 season.

    Q: In what ways do you find your tennis skills directly beneficial in pickleball, and what new skills or adaptations did you have to develop specifically to excel in pickleball?

    Sam: Pretty much all tennis players, if you put any type of paddle in their hand, whether it’s racquetball, ping pong, pickleball, they’re going to be pretty skilled. Same with if you do that with a racquetball player – there’s just a lot of crossover. But I think singles is what I guess translated the easiest. I think if you watch a lot of people coming from high-level tennis, almost instantaneously, they can go to pickleball and be pretty good in singles. Doubles and mixed doubles are a different story. I feel like pickleball singles, doubles, and mixed doubles are like three different sports; they’re so different. 

    Naturally covering the court felt easy for me, singles felt easy for me, and just kind of my basic knowledge of angles and shots that a pickleball player would use around the court, similar to tennis – those are the things that I feel clicked really easily. The things that I’m still working on now are more so on the doubles and mixed doubles side, just the tiny nuances that pickleball people talk about in both those games. 

    I feel like in pickleball, it’s easy to get good, but it’s hard to get great. Coming from tennis, I can get to the 90th percentile in six months, but getting to that last 10% with these top pros is what takes forever. That’s what takes Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours: pickleball is just like anything in life. These top-level pickleball players are practicing all day, every day, and they’re going to play 25 to 30 tournaments a year. I feel like if you don’t do that, then you’re not going to be able to compete at the highest level.

    "It’s nice leaving tennis and trying something else, learning a new skill, and meeting new people, and having the whole community be pretty fun, open, and cool to hang around with."
    Pickleball Post 2024 02 15T153318.374
    Sam Querrey
    Pro Pickleball Player

    Q: In your transition to pickleball from tennis, what have been the shots you spend the most time training, and how does that compare to when you’d train for tennis?

    Sam: For me, it’s my backhand volley or backhand shot out of the air and being able to do multiple things with it. In tennis, you just kind of carve under it. In pickleball, you have to change your grip a lot of times, and you need to be able to kind of push through it. 

    If a ball is low, you need to be able to spin it; you need to be deceptive with your hand when taking a ball cross-court or down the line. I feel like one of my weaknesses in tennis was my backhand volley. And in pickleball, you need to have a really good backhand; that’s a huge part of the game. 

    In mixed doubles, you cover a lot of court, and you need to be able to play both the forehand and the backhand. So, I would say the number one thing I’m working on is creating offense and plays using my backhand volley.

    Q: I noticed you recently did a 72-hour-long fast to kick off the new year. How did that go, why did you choose to do it, and what daily wellness techniques do you use that help you stay healthy for pickleball?

    Sam: I’m a pretty big fan of Dana White, and I saw that he did it recently. So, I mainly wanted to do it just to see if I had the discipline to do it; I wanted to see if I could mentally do a 72-hour water fast, which I did. The first day is tough, the second day is really hard, but the third day isn’t that bad. I feel like I could have actually not had dinner on the third day. I honestly don’t know how long I could have kept going, but definitely until breakfast the next morning. It’s kind of corny, but I was really proud of myself that I was able to mentally go the 72 hours and do it. It was kind of just that feeling of accomplishing something. 

    I don’t have a daily routine that I do, but I practice pickleball during the week and am probably at the gym three days a week. I’m not so much doing things like when I was playing tennis, but more maintenance-type things like keeping sure my body and hips are loose and kind of just my general wellness. 

    I feel like I do more stuff now where I’ll get on the elliptical for 25 minutes and get a sweat. I’ll work with light weights to make sure my shoulders and my back are feeling strong. I’ll do exercises without weights, like core instability and things like that. 

    And I just try to eat decently during during the day. I know what foods are good and what are bad, like most people, and I just kind of try to do a solid job of that during the week.

    Q: You’ve had a ton of incredible memories from your long tennis career, but what have been a few of your favorite pro pickleball moments so far in the MLP and PPA?

    Sam: The first year in pickleball has been such a wild ride, from every aspect of it. Being part of the DC pickleball team the first half of the year, learning a lot playing with Stefan Auvergne, and playing mixed doubles with a handful of different people was so much fun.

    Especially playing with Stefan. I feel like he was a great teacher for me. You know, getting to play with someone who’s got a good background, I feel like I learned a lot and got a lot better. I’m not just saying this because I was on the DC team, but they were the benchmark for teams in pickleball. What they did and how they handled that you felt like you feel like you were the Dallas Cowboys a little bit. That’s how they treated you, which was amazing. 

    I had a few good wins in doubles over players like Christian Alshon, Connor Garnett, Ryler DeHeart, and Pablo Tellez. So, those wins in doubles stand out a little bit. But my best memory is honestly just the pickleball community. Most of the pros were very inviting.

    I’ve only been in it for about a year, and I know basically every guy and every female in the top 50, and they’re all nice; they’re all cool. I feel like we communicate a lot and practice a lot. It’s a really great group of people that I’ve kind of come into, and it’s nice leaving tennis and trying something else, learning a new skill, and meeting new people, and having the whole community be pretty fun, open, and cool to hang around with.

    Q: Given the importance of equipment in pickleball, could you share how your partnership with Franklin has impacted your performance on the pickleball court?

    Sam: When I first kind of thought about pickleball, I was meeting with my agent and really didn’t know much about paddles. When I was playing casually, I was just playing with whatever paddle whoever had at the house. And so my agent and I kind of sat down and I was like, “I know I haven’t played in a tournament yet, but I think I can get a paddle endorsement. I know there are brands out there.”

    My agent works with Kerri Walsh, the volleyball player who has been a Franklin athlete forever. So he had a relationship with Franklin, and Franklin was in the pickleball space. So, my agent started working with Adam Franklin, and then a deal came about. I was pumped because, coming from tennis, you were dealing with companies like Adidas, Nike, Fila, Wilson, and Head – big global brand companies. 

    Unlike other pickleball companies at the time, with Franklin, you didn’t have to be in pickleball to know the brand. They’re really able to get their brand out there and be beneficial to their athletes to help them grow their brand, too. 

    As far as the paddle goes, when I first started playing, I didn’t know much about paddles. So, at the time I was playing with the Franklin Carbon STK, and I liked it. But moving forward to the Franklin FS Tour Series now, it’s unbelievable. I feel like they did an incredible job with elevating their paddle to the next level. 

    I feel like it’s really up there with all these top paddle brands; anyone could put the Tour in their hands and feel good about it. I like the color schemes. I like the pink, the turquoise, and the silver. The paddle just feels like it’s strong. I’ve been using one in practice for months now. 

    I feel like with the old Carbon STK, you couldn’t do that; it would have a lifespan that was a little shorter. Shout out to Franklin for stepping up their game; they’ve got a great panel now. I’m sure Franklin will continue to innovate and make upgrades on the FS Tour paddle and other paddles moving forward.

    The team at Franklin is my favorite part of everything. If you’re at an event, going to a photo shoot, or doing whatever it is with them, they’ve got a group of about ten people on the pickleball side of things that are engaged and fun to work with. It’s been a really fun partnership for the first year.

    Q: As a professional player coming from a strong tennis background, what is your perspective on the future of pickleball, both as a sport and in its potential to attract more professional athletes from other racket sports?

    Sam: I hope that it can keep growing here. I don’t think anyone in the top 100 in tennis, if they’re 25 years old, is going to leave their careers to come play pickleball. But, there is a line there if you rank 200 in tennis, where it’s like, “Okay, maybe I can come over to pickleball and, and be in the top 15, be ranked higher, and make more money and get more endorsements.” So, I hope pickleball keeps growing; I think it can. 

    I am also worried that you see these tours trying to merge right now, but they’re also not really merging. And, you know, whatever the number was last year, 35 million people played pickleball, but generally speaking, only 5,000 of them will stream a pro event. So, I think there’s a lot of work to do. 

    I’m an optimistic person. I do think that the people who run the tours, and now with Pickleball TV and Amazon, are going to figure it out. But, there’s work to be done to draw in more viewership and figure out how to get one or two tours on the right path to moving forward so it can continue this momentum that it has and continues to be big. 

    Q: What advice do you have for amateur pickleball players who hope to break into the pro scene and for tennis players like yourself who are transitioning to pickleball?

    Sam: I would say the advice is kind of the same for both sides. I probably made the mistake of coming in with a tennis background, thinking that I would come in and be vying for tournament titles right away. Because of the growth of the sport and how many people are playing it now, and the upside with prize money and sponsorships, there are so many good people in pickleball that if you don’t treat it as a full-time job, then you’re not going to be one of the top players. It is really hard – these players are so good. 

    I feel like one year ago, there would be about 20 guys in the singles draw at a PPA event. Well, now there’s like 64 of them with qualifying, and they’re all really good. People are just playing so much; they’re getting creative with their shots, they’re innovating how they play, and if you don’t put hours and hours and hours in on the court, don’t expect to be one of the top players. 

    Three years ago, everyone had their job, and they would be top 10 in the world. You cannot do that anymore. They’re continuing to get better and better, the paddles are getting better and better, and the balls are getting faster. So you have got to just keep up with the pace of the top people. You have to be all in if you want to be at the top of this game.