Golden Girl Jennifer Dawson – World Class Athlete, Professional Pickleball And Tennis Champion

As pickleball continues to grow and an increasing number of tennis players transition to the sport of pickleball, few have achieved the level of success in both pickleball and tennis as Jennifer Dawson. An amazing athlete with incredible power and grace on and off the courts, Jennifer continues to earn major titles in tennis and pickleball, now as a Senior Pro in both sports.

In 2017, Jennifer made pickleball history as the first ever Triple Crown winner at the Minto US OPEN Pickleball Championships, winning gold in Senior Pro Singles, Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles. At the 2018 Minto US OPEN, she won gold in Women’s Senior Pro Doubles.

Jennifer Dawson

Jennifer’s titles at the USAPA Nationals Championships are equally as impressive, starting in 2015 with silver in Women’s Doubles 19+, then in 2016 gold in Women’s Doubles 35+, followed by two silver medals in 2017 in Women’s Senior Open Doubles and Singles. At the most recent 2018 USAPA National Pickleball Championships, Jennifer again won silver in Women’s Senior Open Singles, and another gold in Women’s Senior Open Doubles. She has also won several gold medals at the Tournament of Champions in both Senior Pro Doubles and Singles.

Jennifer’s pickleball achievements alone are beyond impressive. What makes her accomplishments even more remarkable is that she achieves such success while also competing and winning at an elite level in tennis. Jennifer recently spoke with Pickleball Central founder Anna Copley about her pickleball career, tennis background and highlights, and why she favors ProKennex paddles. Watch the interview with Jennifer here.

Jennifer Dawson Video Interview

Jennifer started playing tennis at age seven, and went on to play Division I collegiate tennis at USD. Then Jennifer Larking, she claimed the #1 Singles rank at USD in 1986, 1987 and 1988. After college, Jennifer played on the pro tennis tour for several years, racking up an impressive record. After taking some time off to raise a family she later returned to national and international competitive tennis, earning the number one USTA ranking in women’s 35, 40 and 45 age groups.

Currently, Jennifer plays at the highest level on the USTA Senior International Tennis Team, competing in dozens of tennis tournaments annually. On May 18, 2019 at the USTA National Women’s Senior Hard Court Tennis Championships in La Jolla, where the best players across the country compete for the coveted USTA Gold Balls awarded to the top national champions, she won not just one but two gold balls. The only double gold winner of the week, Jennifer won gold in both Singles and Doubles 50+ division.

Jennifer Dawson USTA team.jpeg

Jennifer and her husband Steve Dawson own and operate the Bobby Riggs Racket & Paddle Center in Encinitas, CA, where they are both tennis and pickleball pros. The BOOST Pickleball Training Camps at Bobby Riggs Center provide pickleball players an opportunity to train with and learn from some of the finest players in the world – Steve, Jennifer, their son Callan (an accomplished 5.0 pickleball player) and several world class visiting guest pros such as Simone Jardim, Irina Tereschenko, Corrine Carr and Cammy MacGregor.

Athletes like the Dawsons are understandably particular about the equipment they use. Steve turned to ProKennex years ago when he was suffering from tennis elbow. So impressed with the ProKennex Kinetic Energy system for how well it improved his injury symptoms in tennis, Steve began working with ProKennex two years ago to develop pickleball paddles using the same technology.

The first ProKennex pickleball paddle, the Kinetic Pro Speed, was introduced at the 2018 US OPEN Pickleball Championships and immediately won a staggering collection of medals (with a little help from Steve and Jennifer). The newest ProKennex paddle, the Kinetic Ovation Speed, with an innovative oval shape and unparalleled sweet spot, was just introduced at the 2019 Minto US OPEN, winning more medals for both of the Dawsons.

Thanks to the ProKennex Kinetic Energy vibration dampening technology, thousands of pickleball players are benefiting from the reduction or elimination of previous elbow, arm and wrist pain. Learn more about ProKennex pickleball paddles and gear here.

Meet The Pros – Barry Waddell

Meet The Pros – Barry Waddell

Barry Waddel and Dave Weinbach

Dave Weinbach and Barry Waddell – Gold, 2019 US OPEN

From his first game in flip flops to gold in the US OPEN, Barry Waddell has shown us what a professional tennis turned pickleball star can do. I think we could all learn a lot from him, on and off the court. Enjoy!

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?

2019 US Open, Men’s Senior Pro Doubles with Dave Weinbach – Gold
2018 Texas Open, Senior Men’s Open Doubles with Steve Kennedy – Gold

2018 Atlanta Open, Men’s Senior Doubles Open Pro with Scott Moore – Gold

What paddle do you play with and why?

The Paddletek Tempest (Original). I love the soft touch and I can generate my own power. I use a bit lighter paddle (7.8 oz) and find it very maneuverable when getting into fights at the net. LOL.

What is your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

I grew up in Miami, Florida playing football and baseball in the youth programs until the age of 13, when I discovered my true love of tennis. Within two years I was ranked in the top 5 in the state of Florida and top 50 in the nation. At 18, I won the Florida State High School Championships at the number one singles position earning many college scholarships. Attending the University of Illinois, I was ranked number one as a freshman and reached the finals of the Big Ten Championships. I then played professionally on the satellite tour in Europe and the United States.

After a brief professional tennis career, I returned to Florida to become the Director of Tennis at Casa Ybel on Sanibel Island. Continuing to play tennis tournaments, I was ranked number one in Florida in the Men’s 25 and Men’s 30 division and number two in the men’s open division. At the age of 47 and after many years away from playing competitive tennis, I found my new love of pickleball by chance one day when I was working out at the local recreation center.

I heard some noise coming from the indoor basketball courts and went inside. I saw people playing this strange game with a neon green ball (Jugs) and small paddle. Sitting on the bleachers, someone asked me if I wanted to play, but I was in flip flops and didn’t have a paddle. “No problem,” he said, “Here’s a paddle and flip flops will work fine.” From that moment on I was hooked. I started recreational play indoors for the first 8 years and then began outdoor tournament play in 2017.

What is your preference – playing indoors or outdoors?

I hesitated going outdoors for many years partly because my knees were bothering me and also because I didn’t think the game was going to grow into the sport that it has become. Boy am I glad that I got that wrong! The first year of playing outdoors, I was literally pulling my hair out because the game was so different from indoors, playing on wood floors with the soft Jugs ball. It was almost like two different games, but I stuck with it. Now after 2 1/2 years, I enjoy playing outdoors very much because of the unique challenges associated with outdoor play. Most tournaments are outdoors, but occasionally, because of weather, they move inside where I am VERY comfortable. ; )

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I like singles and doubles but have decided because I don’t have too much time to practice it doesn’t make sense for me to compete. Singles is great for getting in shape and “skinny singles” is also great for doubles training!

Team Paddletek buddies, Barry Waddel and Stephanie Shouse Lane

Team Paddletek buddies, Barry Waddell and Stephanie Shouse Lane

What is your favorite place to play? Why?

The US OPEN is my favorite venue because of the open air venue and the ability to watch all the matches in close proximity. The Championship Court is also an incredible experience with an intimate and electrifying atmosphere.

What is your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

I personally don’t believe that there is a secret sauce, although there is no substitute for good technique. Tennis players have an advantage in this category because of the many similarities to pickleball, but that doesn’t mean that other sports don’t contribute. Ping pong, racquetball, squash, platform tennis and badminton are all sports that have similar benefits to pickleball. My advice or tip would be to take lessons from a tennis turned pickleball player or pickleball players that have learned good technique and can clearly articulate those instructions. There is also no substitute for hard work and many hours of practice.

What is your day job?

Full time realtor with John R Wood in Lee County, Florida.

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

I try to play at least 3 or 4 times a week.

Do you have any pickleball goals you would like to share?

I am an IPTPA Certified Teaching Professional and have been teaching pickleball and tennis for over 40 years. I would like to share my experience with others and introduce as many people as possible to the incredible sport of pickleball.

Anything else you would like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?

Pickleball is a very unique sport which connects many different demographics and cultures. The younger players are starting to enter the game, which should only increase the exposure and bring the game to the next level. You can literally learn to play pickleball in a couple of months compared to tennis which takes a couple of years to achieve a similar status. Also you do not need to be Roger Federer to play the sport, as many different shapes and sizes compete well in this arena. I have a disability with my neck being organically fused, but I do not let it stop me from going out and playing the greatest game on earth!