Jessie Irvine is an incredible player who overcame adversity to excel at a game she loves. Having spent much of her early life focusing on tennis, when Jessie was on the verge of going pro she encountered a setback: Serving overhand caused intense pain due to missing cartilage in her joints. While this resulted in a change of focus, tennis' loss has become pickleball's gain as she's soared through the ranks. Jessie is currently a top 5 player in all three divisions of women’s pro pickleball and kindly took the time to discuss more about her plans, practice routines and strategies. Read on to find out more.
What is your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?
My pickleball story started at the end of 2018/beginning of 2019 and at the time I was teaching tennis mainly to kids and also playing POP Tennis. Around that time two separate people I knew, one from tennis and one from POP Tennis, told me I should try out pickleball. They said the sport was starting to become more professional with tournaments, money and players getting involved. The major aspect was that there were no overhanded serves, which is what cut my dream of playing professional tennis short. So I gave pickleball a shot and instantly fell in love with it. I was interested in competing at a high level and began playing seriously at the beginning of 2019. The rest is still being written!
What paddle do you use and why?
Right now I use the Engage Pickleball Pursuit MX. It is the grittier spin-off of the original Maverick which is what I first started using after only a couple months of playing pickleball. For me at the time the appeal was that it was one of the only few paddles on the market that had an extended grip handle. I felt that was an important feature to take advantage of my long arms and two-handed backhand, which is my favorite shot.
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We love your style and signature space buns! Is this part of your pre-match routine?
Haha, I wouldn’t say my style and space buns are part of my pre-match routine. But I will say that I do like to have fun with my looks, and I enjoy being colorful and creative. My pre-match routine consists of getting up super early on match day (I’m a slow mover) so that I can stretch, get organized, have a little breakfast and get to the courts so I have at least 45 minutes to an hour to warm up before my match. I am definitely one of those players that likes putting in the reps and hitting a lot before my match.
Where do you see this sport in 5 years? Any short-term and long-term goals?
I hope that in 5 years pickleball is in the Olympics. Realistically it may take longer than that, but it would be amazing if that were to happen sooner than later, because one of my goals would be to play pickleball in the Olympics. That would be a major dream come true. As for other goals, I just want to play the best I can for as long as I can. I want to have fun and enjoy it. I’m grateful to have been given a second chance to be competitive again, and as seriously as I am taking this opportunity, at the same time I don’t want to forget to have fun and enjoy the journey.
What is your most memorable moment so far in pickleball?
I think my most memorable pickleball moment so far is winning pro doubles gold (gold in women’s doubles and mixed doubles) at the 2021 PPA Vegas Championships. It’s one of the biggest tournaments of the year and being able to compete on Championship Sunday then win gold in both events was a huge moment for me and one of my favorite pickleball memories.
What can you tell us about playing mixed doubles and strategy? Hand signals? Stacking?
I love pickleball strategy as a whole. I think it's my favorite part of the game and I always compare high-level pickleball to chess. The best part of pickleball is that the game/strategy is always changing and evolving, which keeps it exciting. I think the strategy does change between gender doubles and mixed doubles. In my opinion, I find the mixed doubles strategy to be a little more simplified in the sense that I feel like my job is to keep the ball away from the other guy since he is also looking to be aggressive; and then find the best way to utilize and set up my male partner so that he can use his strengths to take advantage of the points. Essentially, I try to hit unattackable shots until my male partner can attack. In gender doubles, the game plan isn’t always clear cut so the strategies can be more complex and change from one team to the next. I enjoy the strategies both kinds of doubles provide.
What are you doing when you’re not playing pickleball?
When I’m not playing pickleball… I’m playing pickleball! I really do love and enjoy it. When I'm hanging out with friends we end up playing pickleball for a few hours, eat and hang out, then play for a couple more hours. When I’m not traveling for tournaments I'll do that twice a week. On the other days, I’m either working, doing off-court training which includes recovery work as well. At the end of all of that, if I have any time or energy left, then I will relax and catch up on some Netflix shows.
Watch her Bag Check
Be sure to check out the Engage Pickleball Pursuit MX if you feel like you could benefit from a stronger two-handed backhand, and keep a watch out Jessie's impressive talent in future tournaments!