Life Changes: Ignatowich Reflects on Pickleball Journey

Life Changes: Ignatowich Reflects on Pickleball Journey

James Ignatowich began his pickleball journey as a singles specialist. Coming from a strong junior and collegiate tennis background, he already possessed the racket skills and footwork that helped him excel rather quickly shortly after taking up the sport.

It’s one of the reasons why his first PPA medal was a bronze in singles at the 2022 Atlanta Open.

At the same tournament, however, there was another match—one that Ignatowich himself didn’t even play in, that has proven to be just as important for his career trajectory: the men’s doubles final between the duo of Riley Newman and Matt Wright and brothers Ben and Collin Johns.

Newman and Wright emerged victorious in five games, and their aggressive style of play made quite an impression on Ignatowich, who was struggling to grasp men’s doubles at the time.

“I watched that match and I was like, ‘Dang, I want to play doubles like that,’” he said. “And that’s really what made me start to like doubles.”

A year and a half later, Ignatowich now plays that same brand of pickleball alongside Wright himself.

‘Big Papa Jimmy’ has also racked up 17 more PPA Tour medals and ranks inside the Top 10 in both men’s doubles and mixed doubles.

So much has changed for the former Vanderbilt Commodore since that memorable Championship Sunday in Georgia.

One of the most important changes he’s experienced, though, has been away from the court. Ignatowich admits that he wasn’t satisfied with his life when he started playing pickleball two years ago, but he soon found joy in the intricacies of the game.

“I was like, ‘Man, if I could do this for a living instead of having to do a 9-5, I would just be so happy,’” he said.

We all know how that’s turned out.

Even having found the life he was searching for in pickleball, the Delray Beach, FL resident now faces a new challenge: maintaining the inner drive that helped him become one of the sport’s biggest names.

“I’m at a point where I’m way more satisfied with my life, but I have to not be satisfied because I want to keep working hard, and I want to keep doing the right things,” he said. “It’s like, ‘How do I keep working even though I am pretty satisfied and generally happy with what I have?’”

One source of motivation for Ignatowich is the rise of newcomers like Hurricane Tyra Black and Christian Alshon, who also come from tennis backgrounds.

Ignatowich and on and off-court partner Anna Bright defeated the pair 11-5,11-4 in the mixed doubles semifinals of the Guaranteed Rate PPA Championships in Las Vegas.

He praised the duo’s performance and welcomes the challenge that the highly-skilled tandem presents: “I’m happy that [Christian and Tyra] are playing well because it motivates me too, because I was always that new person,” he said.

Even though so much has changed for the 23-year-old, Ignatowich still has the same love and gratitude towards the sport that continues to captivate millions around the country.

After suffering a grade 2 ankle sprain in the men’s doubles quarterfinals in Las Vegas that forced him to withdraw from that event, as well as the mixed doubles finals the next day,

Ignatowich is still just happy to be where he’s at.

“It was tough, but it’s hard to be really upset when I’m out there making money playing pickleball,” he concluded.