An Olympic gold medalist who was once ranked No. 8 in the world in singles and No. 2 in doubles, American tennis star Jack Sock collected another medal for his trophy case earlier this month at the Professional Pickleball Association‘s North Carolina Open by winning the mixed doubles title with top-ranked partner Anna Leigh Waters. Sock, 30, and Waters, 16, lost the opening game of the championship match against Riley Newman and Allyce Jones, but were able to rally for a 3-11, 11-2, 11-3 victory.
Despite Sock’s background and all the success he’s had on the court throughout his tennis career, it was still somewhat of a surprise he was able to walk away with a medal considering the PPA North Carolina Open was the first event in his professional pickleball career. But given Sock’s success with Waters, it clearly won’t be his last.
Now ranked in the ATP Top 200 in tennis at No. 175 in singles and No. 91 in doubles, Sock also is not going to abandon his first sport and plans to play in the French Open in Paris later this month as well as head to England for Wimbledon in July.
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“Tennis is still the goal. I definitely have some time to spend there and still want to accomplish some things, but I’ll dabble in some pickleball as well,” Sock tells InsideHook. “I just think it’s a blast. It’s a lot less stressful than tennis and there’s a lot less impact on your body. I don’t mind not beating up my body at times and tennis has been a love of mine for my entire life and blessed me in so many ways, but I’m not going to be able to do it forever. Pickleball is an exciting way for me to be able to keep competing.”
As he preps for his new life as a two-sport athlete, we caught up with Sock to pick his brain about all things pickleball and find out how his career as a pro tennis player has set him up for success in America’s hottest sport.
InsideHook: How much will your experience playing tennis at an elite level help with pickleball?
Jack Sock: Obviously the eye-hand coordination from so many years playing tennis can only help. I guess the experience of playing in front of people in pressure situations should too. Personally, a huge draw to pickle for me was that the sport kind of revolves around what I feel comfortable doing on the tennis court, especially while playing doubles. Using your hands, using angles, getting into some cat and mouse stuff, all that type of stuff. The things I’m very confident in on the tennis court were kind of made into a sport with pickleball. I think the athleticism and explosiveness I have from tennis should help me and hopefully be a strength. Being on a court with people watching should also help.
How long have you been playing?
The first time I ever held a paddle and played was with some guys I golfed with back when I was living in Kansas City. It was probably about five years ago. I probably played once or twice and then didn’t play for a couple of years. I started playing a bunch more last year when I got to Charlotte and really started enjoying it and felt like I got better. Then I played at an event in Vegas in December, which was a big hook for me. I decided I really wanted to keep playing and actually try to get better to test my skills against the pros.
What made you like pickleball right off the paddle, er, bat?
It’s just such a user-friendly sport to pick up and try. You can get people of all ages and levels of athleticism out on a pickle court. There’s the competitive side of it with tournaments and the players are unreal, but there’s also the user-friendly social side of it. As long as you can just make contact with a paddle to any degree, you can have a blast. It can be very social and it’s not that physically demanding so you can have some food and some drinks and have a good time with some music playing. You don’t have to put years and years of work into mastering it to feel good enough to go out and play.
Do you have a goal for your pickleball career?
I definitely want to try to do the best I can. I thoroughly enjoy playing and want to get as good as I can to try to make a splash in the sport. I also want to be a little bit of a bridge between the tennis and pickle worlds. There are definitely people on both sides who feel negatively towards the other for whatever reason at times. Obviously, pickleball is blowing up all over the country and tennis courts are being turned into pickle courts in a lot of places. I’m hoping to be the dual-sport guy for a while and play both to show people you can enjoy both. They’re both phenomenal sports.
Why do you want to help bring tennis and pickleball together?
I have a passion for both. Tennis has been my career forever and I’ve been playing since I was a kid. Now I found another sport I thoroughly enjoy and think I can be good at. I want to be the dual-sport player who shows people you can have fun on different courts and grow the community. They’re similar enough that if pickleball is growing, then tennis is growing. They can grow together and get some fans of both. That can only be positive.