After years on the tennis court, alumnus Alex Neumann (‘16) joined the professional pickleball world. Neumann was a successful tennis star at Menlo before playing for Northwestern’s practice squad in college.
While at Menlo, Neumann and the boys tennis team won the Central Coast Section three out of four years and won the Northern California Championships twice. Even more than the athletic accomplishments, however, Neumann values how the seven other Menlo tennis players in his grade have all stayed friends since graduating six years ago.
After his Menlo tennis career, Neumann walked onto Northwestern’s tennis team and earned a spot on the practice squad. According to Neumann, he felt prepared to tackle the intense Northwestern practice regimen because playing for the Menlo boys tennis head coach, Bill Shine, already felt as intense as a college team.
Neumann graduated from Northwestern in 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and pursued a career in the tech industry. With working his remote job and living in New York City, Neumann searched for a hobby and found inspiration in his old Senior Project from Menlo: pickleball.
“In 2020, during COVID, I was looking for something to do that was athletic to replace tennis because it was hard to find a lot of tennis players in the cities I moved to,” Neumann said. “And I found pickleball.”
Neumann has since turned his pandemic hobby into a money-making venture. “I play all the time now,” Neumann said. “There’s one main professional tour now for pickleball. It’s called the PPA, the Pro Pickleball Association. They have tournaments across the country, prize money and sports, TV and all that stuff.”
Neumann currently plays in around 20 tournaments for the PPA each year. In the future, Neumann also hopes to join Major League Pickleball on top of his PPA commitments. “Similar to other [professional leagues] like the NBA, Major League Pickleball has ownership groups who’ve drafted teams, and they play like 60 events throughout the year.”
Since pickleball is a rapidly growing sport, all of these league developments are fairly new, according to Neumann. “The last four or five years, pickleball obviously wasn’t really a full-time hobby for anyone. It’s only really become a pro sport that’s fairly legitimate in the last year or two,” he said. “This year is the first year that almost everyone I know who’s on the tour is playing full-time and making a good amount of money.”
Right now, Neumann is one of approximately 30 players who have signed contracts with the PPA to play full-time and get paid to play.
Neumann is one of the only players on their tour to work a job completely separate from pickleball. “I’m one of like four or five guys that has a full-time job outside of pickleball.”
Neumann also believes that Menlo laid the foundation for why he still holds an office job. “I had always wanted to go into politics after college, so my first job out of college was working on Mayor Pete’s campaign, and I loved that,” Neumann said. “I think Menlo teaches you that you need to have a fancy job, and so I always knew I would get some sort of normal job on LinkedIn,” Neumann said.
After the campaign, Neumann transitioned to working in tech at a company called Via. Although Neumann loves working in tech, he has a harder time keeping up with his full-time pickleball competitors since they have much more time to commit to the sport. Neumann’s experience on Pete Buttigieg’s campaign also helped prepare him for the constant moving around.
Neumann ultimately appreciates the balance he finds between both his jobs. “I really appreciate my job. I want to find stability and I don’t need to go to the office all the time, and I’m able to work remotely which is a big help,” Neumann said. “I don’t really have time for anything else these days except for pickleball [and my full-time job],” Neumann said.
According to Neumann, more former professional tennis players are seeping into the pickleball world as the sport grows in popularity. With these additions came talk that the original pro pickleball players, like Neumann, won’t be able to keep up with their skill. “This guy who’s a really famous tennis player, named Sam Querrey, just announced last year that he was going to transition from tennis to pickleball, and he was like number 11 in the world,” Neumann said. “At his first tournament that he signed up for [in January], he drew me in the first round, and the last time that I [had seen] him I asked for his autograph when I was in college.”
According to Neumann, his idol quickly turned into his competitor. Consequently, Neumann wanted to prove to the entire pickleball world that the original professionals could still hang with the tennis stars. “I played him on center court, and there was this storyline of, ‘Can a tennis pro beat a pickleball pro?’ and I was sort of the barometer for how good pickleball players are,” Neumann said. Despite the pressure, Neumann won the match, defeating both Querrey and the rumors that pickleball pros couldn’t hang with the tennis stars.
To all the aspiring pickleball pros, Neumann advises that, although you might feel out of place with the older crowds on the courts or less “cool” than the tennis players, “there’s a lot of room, I think, in the next few years for the people who started playing pickleball first as its own things and to have really fined games as a result of that.”
Writer’s Note: If you are looking for an alumni mentor, search through Menlo Connect, a networking site exclusively targeted towards the Menlo community.