Professional Pickleball Man Of The Hour

It’s not often that a qualifier makes it to the final stages of a professional tournament, whether it’s Pickleball, Tennis or another professional racquet sport. It’s even rarer that a double-digit seed even makes it to a medal round in Pickleball specifically. the highest-seeded player to reach a Men’s Pro Singles final so far in 2023 on the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) tour was 8th-seeded JW Johnson in Minneapolis, and the highest-seeded player to win a PPA event is believed to be 12th Federico Staxrud in May 2022.

So to say that a qualifier has reached the final of the pro singles is very special. To then notice that said qualifier came into the tournament with an astonishing 55th place is even more astonishing. That’s the feat North Carolina-based Collin Shick, Selkirk’s sponsor, just accomplished at PPA’s Red Clay Hot Sauce Florida Open last weekend in Daytona, and it’s worth taking a deep dive into Shick’s history to try. to answer a question on the minds of fans and fellow players alike: is Shick a flash in the pan story or is this the introduction of another contender for the sport’s top echelons? Forbes caught up with Shick this week in the wake of his finals to tell his story.

Shick is a 23-year-old medical student at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, fresh off a collegiate career at North Carolina State. He finished his career at NC State as a doubles specialist, playing more than 30 matches in his 5th year for the top-25 team. He was introduced to pickleball by his brother Braden (who also happened to be his doubles partner at NC State) in mid-2021, but rarely played as he completed an award-winning academic undergraduate career.

Shick briefly considered a professional tennis career, but noted, “for me, a professional career would mean professional doubles, and it’s pretty brutal. It’s a lot of traveling and you really have to go to a lot of tournaments to start doing it. And medical school was always my goal, so that’s where I was going.”

Once he finished college and ended his tennis career, he started playing more pickleball. After a summer of perfecting his game, he began participating in tournaments. He won a sweepstakes in his hometown of Chapel Hill in October 2022, and played in a few doubles the rest of the year, but didn’t give professional pickleball a shot until early 2023.

Shick traveled to Boca Raton to play in January’s Boca Masters, an unaffiliated professional event that brought together a number of top pros. Ranked 40th, he outlasted three top seeded players to advance to the semifinals, where he lost to No. 1 and top APP pro Hunter Johnson. He returned to Florida a few weeks later to compete in the APP Daytona Beach Open and entered the pro draw. He lost early, running into a fellow named Max Manthou. the same Max Manthou who ran the Daytona APP draw to claim a bronze medal in a similar “unknown to the podium” story. Shick’s confidence was growing, so he planned his next trip around his medical school curriculum. a return to Daytona a month later for the PPA Florida Open.

Shick entered his first PPA tournament with modest expectations, saying “I was really looking to get into the main draw and start working on getting some points so that I don’t have to qualify eventually. And then I kept winning, and everything after that was kind of a bonus.” Shick was 31st in the qualifying draw (and thus 54th overall), Shick edged out Jeff Hirsch in two quick races, then managed to beat Richard Livornese, then moved into the main draw by crushing Alex Heiden by 2.0. His original goal had been achieved.

Three games into Thursday’s busy morning, Shick entered the main draw as the No. 30 seed, facing No. 3 Tyson McGuffin. McGuffin is a beast in the singles, with three singles titles in 2022 and a career winning streak against the sport’s number one player. However, McGuffin had been dealing with a foot problem all spring and withdrew at the last minute from the singles competition. In his place was top “lucky loser” qualifier Wyatt Stone, technically the 25th seed in the draw and certainly no early challenger. Shick made quick work of the young Stone, beating him by 3.2 and then getting past #19 Jason Garriotte by a comfortable 6.2 to find his way into the quarterfinals.

In the quarters, he faced #6 Julian Arnold, singles bronze medalist earlier this year in Scottsdale, multiple APP gold medalist in 2022, and a formidable competitor. Chic’s observation and game plan? “Arnold is known as a grinder and a craftsman. He feels very dangerous on the court when you play him, with his forehand and how much it drops. He feels like he can pull the trigger and hit one of you at any moment. So I was really trying to take it away and get as many balls as I could and just try to spread the points and make him a little bit uncomfortable and put a little bit of pressure on him.” After losing the first game 11-4 and having neutrals think his streak was over, Shick turned the tables and dominated the rest of the way, winning the second game 11-3 and then nearly obliterating the top pro 11-1 in the third game.

Shick was now guaranteed at least one game around the medal by virtue of being in the semifinals, but fell short. He was about to face #7 Dylan Fraser, the bronze medalist in the first PPA event of 2023 and just as tough as Arnold on the floor. Thanks to video archives of PPA matches online, Shick was able to do some quick scouting for his opponent in the semifinals: “Once I started playing Julian and Dylan, there are a lot more videos of these guys on YouTube. So I watched it a little bit and just tried to get an idea of ​​what they like to do, what their strengths are and tried to take that away early and just get into the race.” Shick executed this strategy against Frazier, earning a three-game 8,(7),6 victory to enter the gold medal match.

By this point, it was late Thursday afternoon and Schick had been on the courts for nearly twelve hours. He had played seven full matches alone and was exhausted. So what did he do next? Most professionals would go back to their hotel rooms, maybe go to the hammam and relax. Colin? He got on a plane and came home! “Yeah, actually, I had to fly to Atlanta to play in a college pickleball tournament, and I had to pull out of it, so I ended up coming home Thursday night with the guy I was traveling with. with and then fly again on Saturday morning.’

Fast forward to Sunday’s gold medal match. Shick had plenty of time to watch game tape on Johns (and vice versa), and it was clear from a game of cat and mouse that the “book” for Shick in terms of strategy was to avoid the backhand. “Yeah, I think if you play me, you’ll figure it out very quickly because I’m very comfortable there on the backhand side. That was my strength in tennis as well. So this stroke feels pretty good. I know Ben knew because I didn’t hit a single backhand the whole match.”

Despite making Johns work away from his forehand, Shick tried to stay on points in the first game, surprising Johns with some stunning drop shots both on rallies and off his serve, then making a run to take the first game 11-6. Unfortunately for Shick, Johns made some in-game adjustments like a seasoned pro generally does and began to dominate. “I probably shocked him a little bit in the first game, and hit a few lines, and then he figured me out a little bit, made some adjustments, started predicting where I was going to go more. And I think that probably made me overplay a little bit, because once I got to the third game, I saw that I made about 15 errors on my serve. Basically two inches wide, and then netting all over. I think that was just the kind of extra pressure he put on me because he knew where I was going at that moment.”

Jones took games two and three 11-3, 11-0 to claim the Daytona gold medal. However, the finals run gives Shick enough PPA points to avoid the qualifying rounds for now, which was one of his longer-term goals for the season. Coming off of Daytona Beach, he now sits right at the top of the qualifying cut-off line, ranked #24 on the PPA Men’s Singles Tour.

Shick fans won’t have to wait long to see him again. has arranged to play next weekend’s PPA event in Texas, the 2023 PPA Onyx Austin Showdown. He wasn’t originally going to go to Austin because qualifying is Wednesday for that event and his rigorous academic schedule wouldn’t allow for such a trip. But with his points taking him straight into the main draw, he will fly down to compete from Thursday morning in the singles main draw. In addition, he has picked up a doubles partner and will compete in his first doubles draw with Alex Neumann. They will take the 17th spot with a first race against seasoned pros Rafa Hewett and Christian Alston, with the winner facing none other than his Daytona final rival Ben Jones.

How about long term plans? Could Shick commit to more professional events? That remains to be seen. “I’ll be doing research and orthopedic surgery projects over the summer, so I’m not entirely sure what my schedule is yet, but I’m definitely going to keep playing as much as I can.”

One final nugget for Major League Pickleball (MLP) team owners: when it was pointed out that there aren’t too many medal-winning pro players who aren’t talked about on MLP teams, Shick was excited about the possibility of being selected for a team. “If I could play any event, MLP would be the one I’d most like to play. I love team events and playing in the highest energy environments. MLP really reminds me of big college tennis matches.”

Maybe we’ll see more of Shick, both on tour and in MLP in the future. In the meantime, tune in this coming weekend to see if Shick can follow up his performance and really get the pickleball world talking.

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