The APP Player Spotlight Series: Hunter Johnson
Get to know Hunter Johnson.
Get to know Hunter Johnson.
The APP is home to incredible pickleball players, of all ages and performance levels, who come with a rich range of stories that brought them to the sport we love. In our APP Player Spotlight series, we shine the light on the vast range of pickleball players and give them a platform to tell their own stories. Up next is Texas resident and 2023’s APP pro men’s medal leader, Hunter Johnson.
APP: When and how did you get into the world of pickleball?
Hunter Johnson: My brother Yates and I played Division I tennis in college, and started out playing professional tennis. We were going into our offseason as professional tennis players and we got an offer from a company to jump into pickleball and play professionally. We've never played before, so we just took a chance and dove in – we played some tournaments and really fell in love with it. Almost a year and a half later, we're still going and we love every second of it.
APP: What were those factors to determine that you really wanted to go into this sport that you had never played before?
Johnson: Originally coming into pickleball, we got that sponsorship offer and we took three weeks to think about it and weigh our options. Doubles tennis is really, really tough to make it big in – you have to be ranked top 30 in the world to make a great living. So we looked at pickleball, it was a new and upcoming sport and we saw it for what it was at the time – with the opportunity to get sponsors and prize money and all that. We just jumped in and I think we made the right choice.
APP: What's been your career highlight to this point?
Johnson: Winning my first gold medal in singles at a tournament. That was pretty special just because I had gotten so close before and made some finals, and had a lot of bronze medals, so that was definitely a big one. It was also amazing playing in Nationals at Indian Wells in Palm Springs. Yates and I grew up going there as ball boys at that tennis tournament, and being able to play pickleball there was kind of a full circle moment, and we really enjoyed it.
APP: What has it been like going through this pickleball journey with your twin brother?
Johnson: Playing tennis with my brother growing up we always had a built-in hitting partner. Now we have that in pickleball, and it’s been great. I'm supporting him all the way.
APP: What have your goals been for this year?
Johnson: I would love to win a triple crown. I'd like to do it multiple times – that would be amazing – but winning that first one would be amazing. I would definitely like to win gold medals in men’s doubles with Yates as well – we've been so close with that. Winning with him is always special. When we win in doubles, we both succeed together and, and we always appreciate it.
APP: More than 48 million Americans have played pickleball. How far do you think pickleball can go?
Johnson: We jumped into pickleball knowing a bunch of tennis players might come in after us and so that was a big reason why we jumped in, and now 48 million people are playing it and the sky's the limit with this sport. I think it can be in the Olympics.
APP: What would that mean to you to see pickleball in the Olympics?
Johnson: Man, to see pickleball in the Olympics would be one thing. It would be another to be able to actually be an Olympic athlete and play in the Olympics. That would be one of my brother and I's goals as well, but even just to see the sport in the Olympics would be amazing.
APP: Is there anyone along your pickleball journey that you could not have done it without?
Johnson: I definitely couldn't have done this journey without my brother. Definitely my parents as well, they’ve always supported us in tennis, and we wouldn't have even gotten close to being up at the top level of tennis that we were at without them. My grandparents of course, they’ve always supported us, but ultimately without Yates I don't think we would have made it because we’ve had so many practice sessions with each other and he's just a built-in friend and partner.
APP: How did you get involved with the APP?
Johnson: Yates and I got involved in the APP in our first year of playing, and ultimately we saw APP for what it was and its growth and exposure in the world of pickleball was ultimately the biggest factor for us. We looked at their three-to-five-year plan and we really liked what we saw. So, here we are.
APP: If you had to describe the APP in one word, what would it be?
Johnson: The one word that comes to mind would be community. Coming to these tournaments I always feel a warm sense of welcoming, and you can always find people on every corner supporting you, whether they've seen you before or if it's the first time they're seeing you. Even as players, we really like to support each other and see each other succeed with a little bit of competitive aspect in there. But ultimately, it's pickleball – it's fun, and I think we all just try to enjoy ourselves. The APP treats the players really well. We get nonstop great treatment in order for us to succeed and be able to last in these long days at tournaments.
APP: What does pickleball mean to you?
Johnson: Pickleball's definition to me has changed throughout the years. In the beginning, I didn't take it as seriously. It was more just for fun – this sport that you play with a plastic ball. But after more than a year of playing and really devoting myself to it, it's been a really fun transition coming from pro tennis. It's just a new challenge. The social aspect is amazing. I mean, the friends I've made already in a year, I can probably say a few of them will be in my wedding. That's an amazing thing.
APP: What’s been your biggest challenge along this journey?
Johnson: The biggest challenge on this journey of pickleball would probably be unlearning all of my skills and muscle memory from tennis and pushing that towards pickleball. It took my brother and I a good two months of getting punched in the face playing tournaments and losing a lot. But ultimately, we figured it out. We figured out the strategy, we used our training from tennis to get us there, and it's been a fun journey.
APP: What's some advice that you would give to a young athlete trying to become a professional in this sport?
Johnson: Some advice that I would give to a young aspiring pickleball professional would be that ultimately, you have to enjoy it. You have to enjoy what you do in order to do it well. Hours of training is what it takes to be at the top of any sport, even pickleball. It's like a chess match out there and you really have to focus and problem solve. To get there takes a lot of dedication no matter what you do and, but you ultimately have to have fun.
APP: Time for some rapid-fire questions. Outside of the world of pickleball, who is your dream pickleball partner?
Johnson: Michael Jordan.
APP: Favorite athlete?
Johnson: Roger Federer.
APP: What pre-match song or music gets you in the right mindset?
Johnson: Being from Texas, my favorite kind of music is definitely country music, so I think that always puts me in the best mood no matter what. Maybe some higher-tempo country music – that would be the key. Morgan Wallen’s always a go-to, maybe some Cody Johnson as well.
APP: Favorite pre-match snack?
Johnson: A banana, and breakfast would be oatmeal.
APP: Favorite post-match snack?
Johnson: A little bit of boba, and some pasta.
APP: Any hidden talents?
Johnson: I can juggle.
APP: Any guilty pleasures?
Johnson: Definitely a little bit of sugar, maybe some chocolate chip cookies or brownies.
APP: What motivates you?
Johnson: I would say, being relatively new to pickleball, just not being the best in the sport. I think ultimately everyone wants to be number one in a sport. As an athlete, your competitiveness is your biggest motivator. You're not a true athlete if you don't want to be the best. That's ultimately the biggest motivator.
Hunter Johnson and the rest of the APP pros return to action at the 2023 APP Sunmed St. Louis Open, August 9-13 at the Dwight Davis Tennis Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Stay tuned for the next installment of the Player Spotlight series featuring his twin, Yates Johnson.