Meet The Pros - Mario Najera
Mario Najera is one humble pickleball competitor, and he also likes to gives back in a big way. Kudos to Mario and Geri Grodzinsky for running the Nevada Senior Games Pickleball Tournament in October this year. Enjoy!
Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?
2017 Grand Canyon Mixed Doubles (MDBL) with Roxanne Pierce 60+ - Gold
2016 USAPA Nationals – MDBL 60+ with Cookie Drake – Silver
2016 Sin City Showdown, Las Vegas, MDBL 60+ with Cooke Drake – Silver
2016 Duel in the Desert Men DBL with Scott Moore - Gold
2013 MDBL with wife Geri - Silver. This was my favorite win and my first 4.5 tournament!
What paddle do you play with and why?
I play with the Selkirk S1G Polymer Graphite paddle. I’m a touch player, coming from racquetball. I prefer the soft, touch game to the power game. This paddle is the best I’ve found for touch. I can really feel the ball with this paddle.
What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?
I started playing in August 2011. I’m a racquetball addict. My wife invited me to come play at an indoor place. I learned to play with a wood paddle. It was fun. I was impressed by how friendly everyone was – quite different from racquetball fanatics. A couple of months later, I was invited to compete at the Huntsman Senior Games. That was a rude awakening. I was beaten badly. I stayed to watch some of the top players, like Jim Hackenberg and Mark Friedenberg. Got hooked and didn’t look back.
What’s your preference – playing indoors or outdoors?
I first learned playing the game indoors, but I love the outdoor game better. I was raised in San Diego. I’m a So Cal boy. The outdoor game is definitely a faster game.
Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?
I like doubles. I wouldn't say it was a nice transfer from racquetball. The mechanics and strokes are very different. But I like the cat and mouse of the pickleball doubles game. I enjoy strategizing with my teammate. I do love watching singles though.
What’s your favorite place to play? Why?
My favorite place to play is St. George, Utah. It is the first town where I fell in love with pickleball. It’s 2 hours away from where I live. I love the Little Valley courts where 24 courts are available. And I love Bend, Oregon and Apex too! They have beautiful courts.
What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?
My secret sauce is my lob! I watched Enrique Ruiz to learn the most effective lob. To get better, I suggest finding someone to drill with. It’s very important to practice through drills. Also, try to play with a stronger player. It helps you deal with the pressure of competing in a tournament setting.
What’s your day job?
I’ve been retired for five years from a 35 year career in banking.
How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?
Most players in Vegas still work, so my time on the court is restricted by their work schedule. I play 3-4 days a week, about 8 hours. I have a buddy, Pete, who likes to drill with me.
Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?
Not really. I try to keep everything in perspective. I stay pretty calm. I feel lucky to be out there playing, and win or lose, I’m still loving the game. It keeps me healthy.
Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?
Never say no. My wife, Geri Grodzinsky, is a USAPA Ambassador in Las Vegas. She has been instrumental in growing pickleball here. Geri is a person who gets things done and she gets people like me involved. She holds clinics and shares the sport. I want to continue teaching and helping to grow pickleball here as well. I want to keep healthy too. I want to make more time to play pickleball with my wife, who is as hooked on the game as I am.
Anything else you’d like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?
My wife and I became RV’ers, so we are gone 3 months out of the year. I do clinics and personal lessons in various states. I’m glad to give back and help others in the pickleball community. That doesn’t happen in racquetball. You can’t just show up for racquetball, you have to find someone ahead of time to play the game. In pickleball, everywhere you go, you just show up, and people are ready to play pickleball.