Mari Humberg competing in Major League Pickleball.
Mari Humberg competing in Major League Pickleball. MLP

Twenty minutes with Mari Humberg

At the recent Selkirk Red Rock Open, I had an opportunity to sit down with rising star Mari Humberg, and talk about her recent successes on the PPA Tour, her being drafted Premier in MLP for the first time, and her life as a pro pickleball player.

Here’s what she had to say.
Me: You were drafted Premier in MLP for the first time. Not only that, it’s with Anna Leigh Waters’ team and I understand she asked for you to be picked. Nervous?
Mari: I don’t usually get nervous. Playing pickleball is a privilege; playing with ALW is cool. I’m looking forward to playing with her, and the learning experience of playing with the best. I had hoped to be drafted Premier, I had been putting in the work. It was still unexpected.
Me: Were you watching the draft when you were picked?
Mari: Yes, I was trying to follow it on my computer. Zane Navratil texted me and said they were picking me. I tried to reach him right away but couldn’t get him. Then I saw my name on the screen and it was a thrill, especially as I was with my mom and got to experience it with her.
Me: You have a little bit of an unusual style, you hit a lot of heavy cut shots, in a time when topspin is king. What’s up with your style of play?
Mari: I used to slice a lot when I played tennis. It just stuck with me. I got good at it and as it is more productive than people think, I have stuck with it.
Me: I know Travis Rettenmeier kidded you about the cut shots on his podcast (laughing).
Mari: (laughing too) Travis is wrong! But I do know how to hit topspin when the time is right.
Me: Your signature shot is the backhand flick. We see it a lot in men’s doubles — JW, AJ Koller, Daescu, others, but not as much in women’s doubles. Where did that shot come from?
Mari: I don’t know! I suppose I did a lot of reaching in when I started at pickleball and one thing lead to another.
Me: How about a twoey? The twoey is becoming big in pro pickleball.
Mari: I’m working on it. I do use a longer handled ProXR paddle when I play singles and use the twoey more in singles. But it won’t replace the flick; my flick is here to stay.
Me: You’ve had recent success playing with Jorja Johnson, including a bronze medal at Mesa. How’s that going?
Mari: I have a lot of fun playing with Jorja. She’s got great talent, tons of potential, and we have a lot of fun playing together. Jorja is great! We will be playing a number of events together and I’m really looking forward to it.
Me: You were born in Brazil and are the best current player from that country. What’s the status of pickleball in Brazil?
Mari: It’s started to grow. I recently did some pickleball videos in Portuguese; I’d love to make pickleball huge in Brazil.
Mari Humberg at work.
Mari Humberg at work. MLP
Me: What do you miss about Brazil?
Mari: I go back frequently, as my family is there. But when I’m in the US, I miss the food there and my family’s dogs; we are big Schnauzer people! We have a 4th Schnauzer arriving soon.
Me: Want to play for Brazil in the Olympics?
Mari: That would be the coolest thing ever, I hope it happens. It would be a childhood dream come true to play in the Olympics.
Me: Are there youth programs for pickleball in Brazil?
Mari: Working on it. I do clinics there when I’m home. I’m also starting to teach coaches how to teach pickleball, so we can grow the sport.
Me: What do you think of the fact you can make a living from playing pickleball?
Mari: That is the dream come true. I would like to see the money become a little more consistent, spread out among all the players a little better.
Me: Last one from me, I’m always interested in how pros respond to this question: would you rather play with Ben Johns, or beat Ben Johns?
Mari: That’s a good one! (Laughing). I’d have to say beat Ben Johns. That would be an accomplishment to remember.
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