At 19, Ben Johns is already leaving his mark on the world. In both his athletic and academic lives, Johns is on the offensive, but in the world of pickleball, he’s absolutely on fire—ascending to one of the top two singles players in the world.
Johns picked up his first tennis racket at age 8. Since then, he’s played nearly every racquet sport, contributing to his offensive style of play. But when he discovered pickleball, everything changed.
“I struggled with it at first,” he said. “There’s a lot of patience involved in how you play the game. I’ve always been aggressive in my tennis game, but you can’t do that in pickleball. Getting the hang of that is the biggest challenge.”
But once he got the hang of it, Johns took off. He medaled in every tournament he played in 2017.
An endorsed player for Engage, he still uses the Elite Pro racquet in all his matches and has no intention of changing — “It fits my game style.”
With Nationals behind him, Johns’ attention off the court is on academics. He’s a freshman at the University of Maryland, majoring in operations management. He also has political aspirations and wants to get involved in local government. “I’d like to get into politics at some point. I have my mind set on it. My friends have a half-running joke that I aspire to be President one day,” he said. “Maryland is close to D.C., and it’s a good area if you want to get into politics.”
While Johns teaches pickleball on and off, setting up pickleball nets on local tennis courts, he doesn’t get the chance to play much in Maryland. “The Northeast is ‘slim pickins’ for pickleball,” he said.
Despite the lack of local public courts, Johns focuses on his game and says pickleball has changed how he thinks about playing other strategic games, including chess and tennis. His brother, a professional tennis player, has taken notice. “He knew I hadn’t been playing much tennis, but when I came back home and we played, he said I was so much better. That’s because of pickleball,” Johns said. “My focus wasn’t there [in my tennis game]. I wouldn’t concentrate enough. Pickleball has helped me find that zone—not just for tennis, but in a lot of other things.”