APP: So let’s dive right in. Why don’t you start by telling me your name and what you do for a living?
Andrei Daescu: My name is Andrei Daescu. I’m a professional pickleball player, and Head Touring Pro for Racquet Sports at BallenIsles Country Club where, for about seven years now, I’ve been head pro. Over the last year I switched to the head touring pro at BallenIsles so I can travel and play full-time pickleball.
APP: You grew up in Romania. What was that like? Did you play any sports growing up?
Andrei Daescu: I was born and grew up in Bucharest, Romania, and spent the first 12 years of my life over there. Growing up, I played lots of soccer, tennis, and Padel. I enjoyed tennis a little bit more than soccer, so I got pretty serious with tennis when I was about 10 years old. And then, by the time I was 12, I started traveling around Europe and spent most of my summers in Germany and in Western Europe, training, being able to play tournaments and be around really good players.
APP: How old were you when you moved to America?
Andrei Daescu: I was 18 when I moved here. I was offered a tennis scholarship at the University of Oklahoma. I played four years there and graduated with a degree in human resource management. After that I pursued a professional tennis career for about five years before I had shoulder surgery, and I had to stop pro tennis. When I was playing tennis, I was actually based back in Europe again, between Romania and Germany. That was between 2011 and 2014, and then in 2015, I moved to Florida.
APP: Let’s talk about pickleball. How long have you been playing pickleball?
Andrei Daescu: I’ve been playing pickleball since 2017. The club I was at had a few members that played pickleball, so they were putting some tapes on the tennis hard court, and we bought a few temporary nets for them. Then they asked us to bring in some pros for an exhibition and clinic, to try to promote the game and make our members aware of it. Actually, funnily enough, the guy they brought in was [APP pro] Kyle Yates, he’s a Florida guy as well. I got to hit a little bit with him during the exhibition, some more afterwards, and I thought pickleball was a lot of fun. It was a very interesting game. About two weeks after that I played in my first tournament in Riverbend, Florida, about two hours away from where I live. I really enjoyed that I was getting to compete again, and really enjoyed the game of pickleball in general, all the tactical aspects behind it, the mental part of the game. The rest of it snowballed from there. The rest of it is history! I started playing more and more tournaments, and last year , I started playing full-time.
APP: How did you first get involved with APP?
Andrei Daescu: The way I got involved with the APP and with Ken Hermann was in 2019 in Punta Gorda. I played that event with Tyson McGuffin, and that was one of the very first tournaments and very few tournaments at that time that I’d been to that had a professional vibe to it. We had a scoreboard, we had the referees, and some of the matches were livestreamed. Again, it really felt like you were at a professional event. It wasn’t one of those tournaments that I used to play in the park. We started at 8:00 AM. We made a good run, Tyson and I, we lost the finals of the main brackets but came back and won the back draw. Then by the time we got to the finals, about 6:30 PM, I think it was 35 degrees, and I was freezing in between matches. Ken Herrmann gave me his winter jacket, and I was able to get a little bit warm for about fifteen minutes. I had a cup of hot tea, wore Ken’s jacket, and stayed warm – the whole relationship developed from there.
APP: Awesome. That’s a great story with Ken.
Andrei Daescu: It is a fantastic story. I didn’t even know Ken that well at that time. He’s just that kind of guy. I told him, I was telling people, “Look, I live in Florida, I never expect these kinds of temperatures. And I sure never checked the forecast.” Ken was so kind, he’s just like, “You know what? I’m from Chicago. I brought this with me. Why don’t you put it on for 15, 20 minutes between matches and keep yourself nice and warm?” So that’s what we did.
APP: Switching gears a little bit. What does pickleball mean to you?
Andrei Daescu: Pickleball gave me a lot of purpose, again. It gave me a second life, in a way. It allowed me to compete again. It allowed me to train, to go through the emotions of competing, to go through that mindset of being an athlete, to prepare as an athlete. It brought a lot of discipline back in my life. It just brought a ton of positives in my life. Pickleball means a lot. Pickleball is definitely a purpose to me, and I’m really enjoying my time playing.
APP: Describe the APP in one word.
Andrei Daescu: It’s very hard to do it in one word. I thought about the word with pickleball, but I think that’s a little too generic, too short or too straight up. I think family is a word I would use as well. I think the APP does give you that family feeling, that it always looks after the pickleball community, always cares about the pickleball players, so it’s kind of hard to really put a word to that. But, I would say community, if I had to describe it in one word. It’s a very tight-knit community. The APP helps the pickleball community in general, and they help promote the game of pickleball. It’s a close call between community and pickleball, as a one-word description.
APP: Community and also family, that you talked about. They’re both really good.
Andrei Daescu: Exactly. Again, I think APP brings the pickleball community together. I think APP promotes the game of pickleball to different communities, and it gives you that feeling that it is a family. With Ken [Herrmann] being the person that he is and the rest of the staff as well. Yes, it’s a business, but unlike some of the other businesses in pickleball, it doesn’t have that vibe to it. It has more of a personal vibe to it.
APP: Do you have a favorite memory of being on the APP tour?
Andrei Daescu: Definitely. There’s a lot of really good memories I have. Last year I had a pretty successful year, winning four gold medals in men’s doubles. But I think my favorite memory is definitely my very first memory, winning the APP event in Punta Gorda with Tyson [McGuffin]. Just considering the circumstances, the long day, the big draw that we had, the cold temperatures at the end, my body being extremely tired, not really being in the midst of playing professional pickleball like I am right now, where I can take a day of pickleball pretty easily. It was very physical, it was very mental. It was really cold at the end. I felt like people cared about it. And at the end of the day, I honestly hoped that we came out with a W as well. So I think that’s, by far, my favorite pickleball memory, for sure.
APP: One more question for you. As a professional athlete, what advice would you have for the younger athletes that are working to become a professional like yourself?
Andrei Daescu: My best advice is, it is critical to put the reps in, to give yourself the time to keep playing. Pickleball, like every other sport, is not an exact science, so I think you’ll have times when you’re getting really, really good at a really fast rate. Then you have times when you feel like you’re training really hard and you’re getting worse. That’s the story for all of us. You just have to hang in there, be consistent with your effort, be resilient. Like I said, putting in lots of reps. Definitely lots of competition. Expose yourself to tournaments. I think the APP offers a great opportunity with the Next Gen Series, so definitely be jumping all over that opportunity. Then once in a while, every few weeks or so, try to get in touch with one of the top pros, practice, hit a few balls with them, get to pick their mind a little bit about the game and get to hit a few balls with them so you can see the speed and the shot selection and everything that’s going on around the game. I think that that’s my advice to a younger person. It definitely takes time, and it won’t happen overnight. It takes time, determination, effort, and it takes being around the right people for sure.
Andrei Daescu is a pickleball professional and Head Touring Pro for Racquet Sports at BallenIsles Country Club in West Palm Beach, Florida. You can catch Andrei, and the rest of the APP pros, in action at the 2023 APP Daytona Beach Open, Feb. 8-12 at Pictona at Holly Hill in Florida. Tune in to the livestream on ESPN+ on Saturday, Feb. 11 and Sunday, Feb. 12, and don’t miss the action on ESPN2 from 8pm ET on Sunday when we wrap up Championship Sunday.