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.