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 Richard Livornese, Jr., a 21-year old from New Jersey who is already a mainstay on the APP Tour and member of the 2023 APP Next Gen National Team.
APP: When and how did you get into pickleball?
Livornese, Jr.: My transition to pickleball was pretty weird. I was playing college lacrosse at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, and we got sent home for COVID. They opened a club in my town, so I tried it out. Then, I met a bunch of guys my age and we started a pickleball academy together. We started teaching pickleball, playing pickleball together and I just kind of fell in love with it. I never went back to lacrosse.
APP: When did you know that you wanted to go professional in pickleball?
Livornese, Jr.: The first time I picked up a paddle, I was like, “I want to go professional.” I didn't even know that existed yet. The first time I went to an APP tournament was the APP New Jersey Open in 2022, and I was like, “Wow. This is so cool, there's, like, actual pros here.” I thought it’d be so cool to go pro one day, and that gave me a little bit more drive. My dream was always to play pro sports – in professional football I wasn't good enough, and in professional lacrosse I couldn't make any money. Professional pickleball is a third opportunity, and third time's the charm.
APP: You played college lacrosse and it takes a certain level of skill to get to that point. Now you’re making your way in professional pickleball. What has the transition to pickleball been like for you?
Livornese, Jr.: It’s bigger. I was playing mostly kids from the northeast in college, and they were all really good, and now I'm playing the best of the best everywhere. There's money involved now. People come from all over. As a competitor, I say the more the merrier. I hope everyone plays pro pickleball. We want to see who the best are and I hope one day that’ll be me. I'm betting on myself, but I want the competition, whoever from everywhere. I think that's what's great about professional sports there's no boundaries. It's no longer like you're the best here and he's the best there – you're going to play each other now. Who's the actual best? It’s like seeing LeBron James and Michael Jordan and their primes going at it.
APP: Do you have a career highlight to this point that you look back on and are proud of?
Livornese, Jr.: I have a couple that I'm pretty proud of. I don't know about a single crowning achievement moment yet – I think I'm still striving for that. I've made a quarterfinal in an APP tournament, which was pretty cool. Every tournament win has been a lot of fun and just stepping on the court is a highlight for me.
APP: What are your goals for this season?
Livornese, Jr.: I'd love to be a standard at all these tournaments – winning rounds consistently, making quarterfinals and more. My goal is to be playing on Sundays – I’m definitely trying my best to get there.
APP: There's more than 48 million people who have tried pickleball, and you're a great example of someone who picked it up. How far do you think this sport can go?
Livornese, Jr.: I've been around sports my whole life, and I think pickleball is special. I help run The Pickleball Clinic, an online platform on all things pickleball. We work with the APP, and I think the way pickleball brings people together and the way it brings people joy is something I've never been able to see in another sport. It really crosses generational boundaries. We did an interview with a 96-year-old man who's still playing, we’ve interviewed kids who were 3, 4, 5 years old and they can hit the ball. It’s really hard to find another sport like that. So, in terms of the number of players, I think it's only limited by how many people can hit a pickleball.
APP: There’s conversations about pickleball becoming an Olympic sport. What would it mean to you to see pickleball in the Olympics?
Livornese, Jr.: It’s more like a foregone conclusion to me. It's definitely going to be an Olympic sport. The last time I checked, there needed to be two more countries playing it for that requirement. I think we're going to see an pickleball be an exhibition sport, possibly in 2024, but definitely by 2028. It's the biggest stage in sports, right? Right now it's hard for other countries to compete with America, even though the APP is doing some tournaments overseas, but the Olympics could really be a stage to catapult the the international growth of the sport. I think it would really be a crowning achievement bring those 48.3 million players in America to maybe 400 million worldwide. It might be a reach, but I think it's possible.
APP: What would it mean to you to potentially represent the United States in pickleball?
Livornese, Jr.: It would be bigger than anything I ever thought I could do in my life. It’s what I'm working as hard as I ever worked on anything for. But at this point it's more about how good you can be. I'm just going to be the best I can and hopefully it's good enough. But if it's not, I'll be happy with being the best I can.
APP: When you think about your pickleball journey, who are some people that you don't think you could have gotten to this point about?
Livornese, Jr.: There’s way too many to name all of them, but one that stands out was a lady named Cindy in New Jersey who saw me playing. She said, “I think you could be good. You should come to our private game”, and that was the first time I had ever played with anyone above a 3.0 level. I got my butt kicked by some very nice 45-50 year-old ladies. That was kind of the first time I realized there was more to the sport than just my local club.
The next big step for me was probably playing in APP Next Gen. Ken and the whole crew were really amazing. That showed me that maybe I can be good enough. There's dozens and dozens of people I couldn’t do this without – my parents, my family, and all my supporters.
APP: How did you get involved with the APP?
Livornese, Jr.: I started in APP Next Gen about a year ago. That was the first place where a lot of these younger players stuck with the APP. I didn't think in the very beginning there would be amateur tournaments everywhere, and we didn't really know the differences. But now as somebody who's moving up, I think the APP and Next Gen has given us opportunities that we didn't have elsewhere. There's really been good people and it was the right timing for me personally.
APP: If you could describe the APP in one word, what would it be?
Livornese, Jr.: Fun. It's pickleball! Fun. Fun, fun.
APP: What's been your biggest challenge of being a professional so far?
Livornese, Jr.: Not having a tennis background. There's a lot of good things from that, but a lot of these players have beautiful strokes, they've hit millions of forehands and backhands, and I think I’m playing catch up. I'm constantly out there just working, hitting balls over and over and over again, and I'm going to continue to, but I'm still in the process of just getting enough reps.
APP: For young people like yourself who are trying to make it as professional athletes, what advice do you have for them?
Livornese, Jr.: Be humble and surround yourself with good people, because you're not going to make it if you alienate people. A lot of people have helped me and I think that's because they enjoy the person I am. What would your grandma think of you? That's my motto. So, if you're humble and you surround yourself with people and they enjoy being around you, then when there's trouble or they could go a different way, they give you the benefit of the doubt – and you're going to need that if you want to make it in a pro sport like this.
APP: Switching gears to some rapid-fire questions. Outside of the world of pickleball, who is your dream pickleball partner?
Livornese, Jr.: Eli Manning. Love that guy.
APP: Who's your favorite athlete?
Livornese, Jr.: I really like Muhammad Ali. He just had an approach that it was more than a sport, and I think that's why he was so good. Not just the athletic aspects.
APP: Any pre-match music or a song to get you in the right mindset?
Livornese, Jr.: I like alternative rock, like 2000’s grunge-type of stuff. All Time Low. That kind of stuff.
APP: What’s your pre-match snack?
Livornese, Jr.: I'm a foodie, so something bad for you for sure – but that's post-match, actually. Pre-match, just a granola bar, something boring.
Livornese, Jr.: When we were in Daytona for the APP Daytona Beach Open in February, there was this diner that had this dessert, it was three scoops of ice cream, this massive brownie, whipped cream and hot fudge. It was just awesome. I love that. That gets you ready for the next day too.
APP: Any hidden talents?
Livornese, Jr.: I can juggle, and I could do a handstand at one point.
APP: Any guilty pleasures?
Livornese, Jr.: I’m a foodie, but I'm not guilty about it though. I get a little lazy sometimes like everyone else – sitting around, watching TV.
APP: Any particular TV shows that you like right now?
Livornese, Jr.: I just finished a show called The Wheel of Time on Amazon, and now I'm reading all the books. It's a 15-book series, so it's been taking up my time for months, which is nice.
APP: What motivates you?
Livornese, Jr.: I'm just competitive. I always have been. I'm like the guy that no one liked in elementary school gym class, who was going way too hard. I like the thrill of competition. I felt for a long time it was all about winning, but I've learned since then, playing a professional sport you don't win nearly as much as you do at the lower levels – and it's just as fun. Competition brings the best out in everyone. The levels go up, the heart’s racing, people are watching, screaming – I'm screaming – somebody's yelling. Everything's just better in those moments.
APP: What's your energy like on the court?
Livornese, Jr.: I am just electric. Always just energy, energy, energy. That's how it's got to be. It's pickleball, baby. Have fun!
Livornese, Jr. 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.