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The Journey to Pro Officially Begins – Part 1

Entry of January 1-15, 2020

Now that we have the first post out of the way, I want to bring some structure to my semi-monthly updates.

For starters, these posts will drop on the 1st and 15th of every month until December 2020. 

The posts won’t be quite as long as the first one and each will give an update about my prior two weeks of training or tournament play.

The goal of these posts can be pure entertainment, education or a mixture of both.

Maybe you find what I’m trying to achieve interesting and you want to see how it plays out.

More importantly, I’d love for these posts to help you gain insight into your own games with ways to improve.

At the end of each post, I’ll let you know what my focus area will be in the upcoming two weeks along with drills that I’m doing within that focus area.

At times, I may also bring in some guest commentary so that you get perspective from those that I play and train with.

As I start playing more tournaments the blog will get more interesting because results speak louder than words. And once I start playing in tournaments I’ll have a true benchmark of where I’m at and what needs to be worked on to keep developing.

I’m not looking to make it deep into tournaments at the beginning of the year. If I get some wins under my belt, great, but right now I’m focusing more on the process of improving.

I’m looking to get my legs under me and to get fit enough to be able to maintain a high level throughout a tournament.

I fully expect to get exploited and exposed at these initial tournaments. 

This is a good thing though.

It’ll show me exactly what my weaknesses are and what I need to work on.

I’m almost positive that some habits I’ve developed in local rec play will get me into trouble at the pro level. 

This is part of the process. 

Each level that I reach, I’ll have to adapt the way I play and also develop new shots and strategies.

It’s actually constantly happening for anyone looking to get better. If I’m getting beat up on, it forces me to adjust and try new strategies or develop stronger shots.

As much as getting beat up on sucks, it’s the absolute fastest way to improve in pickleball. 

Be grateful the next time you take an L.

I’m sure I’ll be taking my fair share heading into my tournament schedule.

Mesa PPA and Upcoming Tournaments

I was initially registered for the Oklahoma State Games starting January 23rd, but because of a work conflict, I’ll be traveling to a business conference that weekend instead.

Since I’ll be missing the Oklahoma tournament, my first tournament is now the PPA event in Mesa, AZ.

I’m playing pro singles, pro men’s doubles and pro mixed. 

Yes, I’m jumping right into the fire.

In doubles, I’m playing with a guy named AJ Koller out of Las Vegas. We’ve never actually played together (or met!), so hopefully we can get some games and reps in before the tournament weekend.

I’m playing mixed with Darija Klaic, a local friend in Austin. Darija is also a D1 tennis convert and super talented. Since she’s local we’ll be able to get some reps in together before the tournament.

Finding Partners as an Unknown

Lining up partners for upcoming tournaments without having results for people to reference has been tricky. 

Luckily, my friend Christina Dorman is well connected with other players and is vouching for me.

What’s interesting is that I haven’t gotten to play many games with partners of the same ability. Typically, we setup our games so that the strongest players get to play against each other to keep the games more equitable. 

I’m really looking forward to playing games with partners of similar abilities. 

Sometimes in rec play if I’m losing a game, I’ll naturally start overplaying and trying to manufacture shots that aren’t there to try and save my partner. 

If I have a partner that is fully in control and playing solid, I can relax and focus on taking care of my side of the court.

Going into tournament play I feel like this will be a bit of a learning curve to be on a court where everyone is at the 5.5+ pro level. 

It’ll be a lot of fun and I’m pumped to experience it.

What I’m Currently Working On


This is the phrase that I tell myself more than any other in a typical pickleball session. 

Playing hard and fast works against lower-level competition, but it gets me into big trouble when I play the big boys with fast hands.

A couple of drive winners here and there is actually the worst thing that can happen for me in a game. It keeps me hanging onto the belief that maybe just maybe I can play like that all the time.


I can’t. It doesn’t work. It gets me out of position.

I can’t. It doesn’t work. It gets me out of position.

I can’t. It doesn’t work. It gets me out of position.


Maybe I need to write it a thousand times on a chalkboard before I’m allowed to play again.

I play my best when I’m hitting third shot drops, keeping the ball low and unattackable and waiting for a clear ball to attack.

I’m now trying to only hit third shot drives when it’s a weak and high return. 

Other than that I stay soft, but I’m considering even hitting drops on weak returns. 

The main point of a third shot drive, in my opinion, is to set up an easier 5th shot drop. If I have an easy third shot drop, why not just take the easy drop when it’s given to me?

With the exception being that ripping some drives on occasion is good to keep the opponents honest, so they aren’t getting in too much of a rhythm.

I have to keep remembering that my level of play and decision making has to map to playing the pros, even if I’m not playing them in that moment.

A good piece of advice that Adam Stone gave me when he was in town playing with us is that no matter who I’m playing, I should play and make decisions like I’m playing against him, or other pros at his level.

Embrace ‘Reset Rob’

A shot that I’m working on is a solid reset shot. I often get into hand battles and try to stay hard and fast even if I’m out of position. 

I need to be able to reset it and slow it down if I’m out of position, so that I’m able to get back into position.

I’ve got fast hands, but when I’m playing the top guys everyone will have fast hands. It’s along the same lines as playing fast (drive) versus soft (drop). I can get away with not hitting resets at lower levels, but won’t be able to at the pro level. 

My soft game is turning a corner. I feel in control in dink rallies now when I used to feel really uncomfortable. 

I’m going to work on digging balls out over the next couple of weeks and resetting them. I’ll be able to switch gears from offense to defense and from defense to offense rather than being one dimensional.

I feel like this is one of the key shots that I need to focus on heading into tournament play.

Singles and Fitness



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Traveling to tournaments, I want to be able to maximize the events I play in, so it makes the travel and time commitment worth it.

Coming from a tennis background, playing singles in pickleball seemed attractive. 

Until I actually played singles. 

I mean, WTF.

It’s way more intense than tennis singles. It’s fun, but damn, it’s intense.

And I need to get in way better shape to be able to last in a tournament playing 20-year-old machines.

I feel like singles is going to be a battle. I’ve only played a handful of times, but when I do play it’s with a local guy, Thomas Wilson, that’s crazy talented.

If he actually played tournaments and played more than a few times a month, he’d be a top 10 singles guy no problem.

We have good battles though. Last time we played best of 5 games and split 2-2 before he beat me 11-9 in the rubber. 

The concern however, is if I’m that exhausted after playing five games, how am I possibly going to last through a tournament. We’ll see. 

I’m doing lots of stairs this month up until Mesa. I’m going to be hitting the stationary bike and lifting some weights as well. 

Legs are going to be everything for singles and will also be super beneficial for doubles. 

I didn’t feel like I got too winded playing singles, the legs just got heavy. And I was a couple steps too slow.

Everyday is leg day from now on!

Wrap Up

Next time I post I’ll be just two weeks out from my first tournament. These next two weeks are the time to really go hard on fitness, practicing singles and working on my reset game in doubles. 

Feel free to comment below with any additional suggestions on topics that you’d like me to cover in future posts. 

Thanks for reading and supporting the journey. 

See you on the courts!


Rob Nunnery

Partner at GrowPickleball

To follow along on a daily basis, follow @pickleballrob on Instagram

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