Exclusive: Pickleball player Jocelyn Devilliers reflects on journey from tennis trials to pickleball triumphs

Wichita, Kansas - From overcoming a career-ending injury to becoming one of the top athletes in the world of pickleball, the fastest growing sport in America, Jocelyn "Jay D" Devilliers sat down with TAG24 to talk about his journey to the pickleball court!

Before becoming one of pickleball's greatest, Jocelyn "Jay D" Devilliers trained as a professional tennis player in France.
Before becoming one of pickleball's greatest, Jocelyn "Jay D" Devilliers trained as a professional tennis player in France.  © Collage: Screenshot / Instagram / jaydevillierspickleball

The 28-year-old athlete was the youngest of six children. As the son of a professional team handball player, participating in sports was a must in the Devilliers family.

Throughout his upbringing in France, the young and energetic Jocelyn, known as Jay D, explored various sports starting at the age of 4, trying his hand at soccer, tennis, swimming, and rugby.

Jay D excelled at many sports, but was a naturally gifted tennis player, and his parents saw professional potential for their son.

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"At the age of 14, this is where I had a big decision to make whether I was gonna try to pursue a career in soccer or tennis," Jay D told TAG24. "My parents pushed hard for tennis just for the fact that it's an individual sport and they felt it was gonna bring the best out of me."

Ultimately, that is just what tennis did for the youngster, who trained his way to the pro ranks by the age of 14.

While playing internationally with the French Federation, Jay sustained a shoulder injury that kept him off the French team. Still determined to become a professional tennis player, Jay D took a leap of faith and uprooted his life to Spain, where he continued to train in hopes of making his pro tennis dreams a reality.

Devilliers' injury-plagued tennis career leads to collegiate opportunity

Jocelyn Devilliers (c) pictured with tennis grand slam champions Aryna Sabalenka (l) and Iga Swiatek (r) at the 2022 WTA Finals.
Jocelyn Devilliers (c) pictured with tennis grand slam champions Aryna Sabalenka (l) and Iga Swiatek (r) at the 2022 WTA Finals.  © Screenshot / Instagram / jaydevillierspickleball

Jay D left his family in France behind and moved to Barcelona in 2009, where he trained intensively at Spain's top-rated Bruguera Tennis Academy until he graduated from high school.

Submerged into a new European culture, the young tennis pro soon became fluent in Spanish and aces! Under the guidance of two-time Grand Slam champion and Olympic silver medalist Sergi Bruguera and his father Luis Bruguera, Jay began to build a name for himself on the tennis court in professional tournaments.

While preparing to debut on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour, Devilliers' dream to become a tennis great was suddenly redirected by a severe injury.

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"I had a weird pain in my back which was very sudden to the point I couldn't even play," Jay revealed. "I hit a backhand, and I couldn't move."

A stress fracture on two vertebrates forced Jay to become sidelined for several months, leaving him to question his future in the sport.

With the same faith in his heart that he had when he left France for Spain, Jay D remained positive during an injury-plagued season in his life, and was still certain that the best had yet to come.

"I truly believe that in life you gotta always try and to find the positive," Jay D said. "It's very easy to be negative, but it's also very easy to be positive."

With Jay D's sudden injury came an unexpected career turn for the better. After visiting his then-girlfriend and now-wife Aleksandra Sabalenka, an athlete who formerly played tennis at Florida International University-Miami, Jay became inspired by the world of college athletics that didn't exist in France or Spain.

With his sights set on playing college tennis, Jay accepted a scholarship offer in 2013 to join the men’s tennis team at Wichita State University in Kansas.

"When things don't go south, you gotta find a way and always try to stand up," Jay D reflectively stated. "I feel blessed in general because all the people surrounding me have that mindset and it helps me to stay in that mindset."

From Wichita State tennis standout to pickleball pro

Following his 17-year-long tennis career, Jocelyn Devilliers began playing pickleball after working as a director for the company Chicken N Pickle, which required him to learn more about the sport.
Following his 17-year-long tennis career, Jocelyn Devilliers began playing pickleball after working as a director for the company Chicken N Pickle, which required him to learn more about the sport.  © Screenshot / Instagram / jaydevillierspickleball

Turning the page on the past, Jay D became a standout tennis player at Wichita State and was acing things on the academic side, too.

"It was super fun. You are always with seven or eight players on the road... Traveling to several different states and you can do school as well."

Jay D was a three-time Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Scholar-Athlete and MVC Elite 18 Award recipient who was honored as the student-athlete with the highest academic GPA. The athlete capped off his 17-year tennis career with an MVC Conference championship team title in 2016, and All-MVC honors in 2017.

Jay initially retired his tennis racquet for good and graduated from Wichita State with a degree in international business. He soon began working as the director of a company called Chicken N Pickle which consists of an indoor-outdoor entertainment complex that includes a restaurant, a bar, and of course – pickleball courts!

There, he was introduced to pickleball and was required to learn more about the game as the company's director.

"One thing led to another. I started playing [and] fell in love with the sport," Jay D said about his first swats on the pickleball court.

In 2019, Jay further ventured into the competitive side of the sport, playing in various tournaments when pickleball was still in its early professional stages.

Interested in becoming a pickleball pro, one time during a match against the world's former No. 1 player, Jay D got the chance to gain personal insight on the life and earnings of a professional pickleball athlete.

With the same faith and hope he held in his heart throughout his tennis career, Jay believed that he, too, could become a world-renowned pickleball player.

Jocelyn Devilliers' becomes one of the pickleball players in the world

Reaching his seventh PPA tour final in 2021, Jocelyn Devilliers (r) took home his first PPA title alongside mixed-doubles partner Jessie Irvine.
Reaching his seventh PPA tour final in 2021, Jocelyn Devilliers (r) took home his first PPA title alongside mixed-doubles partner Jessie Irvine.  © Screenshot / Instagram / jaydevillierspickleball

Devilliers became a professional pickleball player in 2020, and made his debut on the Jay made his debut on the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) tour that same year when he earned defining wins and played in statement matches.

As a player in all three divisions – singles, doubles, and mixed doubles – Jay D crafted a record on the pickleball court that has propelled him into a spot as one of the top five players in the world.

The Flying Frenchman climbed to the No. 2 ranking in singles and No. 3 in mixed doubles.

"My biggest goal is to be the best player I can be," Jay expressed. "I'm putting in as much work as possible to become the best player in the world."

He added that he aspires "to be No. 1 in doubles, No. 1 in mixed, No. 1 in singles. My goal is always to just keep pushing and being at the top of the game."

Using his platform as an elite pickleball athlete on a global level, Jay D travels year-round to educate and teach pickleball to help grow the sport internationally – specifically in Europe.

"I'm really intrigued to bring people to Europe to see that we are starting to have pickleball," Jay told TAG24. He also plans to expand pickleball in his home country of France within the next two years!

"I know how quickly it has evolved here [in America], I think the same path can happen in Europe as well, it's just a matter of time. Who knows how big the sport is gonna be in one to two years from now," Devilliers said.

Cover photo: Collage: Screenshot / Instagram / jaydevillierspickleball

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