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The Paddle Times’ Questionnaire for Champions

Men’s & Women’s “A” Division

Cristina Kaiser and Fernando Wulff

It was an impressive win for Cristina Kaiser.

She is known as one of the top women playing the Open division but because there were so few playing this tournament, the tournament directors folded their division into the Men’s A. Her talent and precise passing shots were on display that weekend.

We will also meet her competitor, Fernando Wulff, whose perseverance brought him happiness and rage.


1. Cristina, please tell us who you are, where you are from, and how you found paddle tennis?

My name is Cristina Kaiser, I grew up in Philadelphia and I started playing tennis when I was about 5 years old and played my first tournament when I was 8. After that first tournament I knew I wanted to pursue tennis long term. I trained everyday at one of the best tennis academies in Philadelphia and had the best coaches to take me to the top. I played national tournaments all over and sectional tournaments almost every weekend. I became top 50 nationally and top 5 sectionally. Highlight of my junior tennis career was playing in the US Open in New York in mixed doubles with my partner Kamala Kannan (KK) and getting into the 4th round. Best experience all around. I then played college tennis for 2 years at Marshall University that was  a huge change -being on a team, having to wake up early for practices, workouts, training, and having to do school all at once. It was tough! Knowing that I didn’t want to stay at Marshall all four years I decided to go to Spain instead. So I took a flight and went to my friend’s tennis academy for almost 2 years and played, coached, and did some tournaments there. I never wanted to leave but I did miss home and my family. Once I was back home I stopped tennis for a while trying to figure out what I really wanted to do. I didn’t even touch a tennis racket for another 2 years. I do miss tennis and the competition but I think it’s healthy to explore many opportunities all around. That’s why I’m thrilled to have found paddle a little bit over a year ago walking passed the boardwalk while visiting for a few days before moving to CA full time. 

2. How did you prepare for this tournament?

I was honestly a little nervous to play against Fernando Wulff because during practice singles he would always kick my butt. So before playing him in the first finals I was super nervous so I had to tell myself to just stay relaxed and loose. He has great drop shots and lobs so I had to mentally prepare to stay on my toes and to get to every ball and also to stay positive and not get down at any moment. 

3. Do you have a ritual that you do before a match?

My ritual is usually getting away from the paddle courts and be by myself to get focused. It can get overwhelming when everyone is around in one space before going on the court to play a match. 

4. What do you do to “pump yourself up” before a match? For instance – do you listen to music?

To get pumped up for a match I listen to Reggaetón. Usually the same 2-3 songs I listen to before each match. Really gets me in a good mood and super happy. 

5. During a match – how would you describe your mindset?

My mindset during a match I would have to say is to go out and fun but at the same time be a fighter and be super focused and not distracted with things going on around you. After each point I like to look at my paddle and walk to the fence or the net to get re-focused for the next point. 

6. What is the best part of your game?

Oh boy, I don’t know if I should put out there the best part of the game lol! Hmmmm I think my slice forehand. Just kidding it’s definitely my backhand. Even though my forehand is really coming along and more consistent. 

7. What is a favorite point during the tournament?

I wouldn’t say I had just one favorite point. Each match I played there were always amazing points. But my passing shots were definitely spot-on that weekend. 

8. How do you get through tough moments in a match? For instance – what do you tell yourself?

To get through tough moments I tell myself there’s always a next point and it’s never over until it is. I usually say “come on Cristina,” “let’s go,” and I move my feet and jump side to side a little bit to re-set. 

9. How would you describe the Venice paddle community?

Describing the Venice community I would say overall it’s a great community. Obviously in each sport there are difficult moments but don’t forget to focus on yourself first. The community is getting stronger each and everyday and working towards bigger and better goals which is beyond amazing. I have a lot of love for this community since Day One.

10. Any special moments or details about the tournament that you want to share?

I love how everyone for the two days got together even if they were participating or not and watched and supported everyone. Those are real moments that really get my attention and put a smile on my face. 


2nd Place finalist, Fernando Wulff


1. Fernando, please tell us who are you, where are you from and how did you find Paddle?

My name is Fernando but everyone knows me as Wulff’s brother. And I found paddle tennis because of him. He came here to California like 4 years ago and he just keep calling me telling me I’ve got to come here and play paddle, “you’re going to love it,” he said and he was right. As soon as I came the first time I stayed 2 months and 5 months later I came back and decided to move here and it has already been 3 years since I started to play. 

2. How did you prepare for this tournament?

I consider myself a singles player.  I just play with the regular people I play with: Mike Payne, Adam Schoenfeld, Bruno… and just thinking about the strategy to win is: do not miss. I like to do winners but only if I’m at the net and in a position to do it. If not, I just try to put the ball in and try to make my opponent miss his shot because I believe that when you miss a shot the frustration takes over your game. For me this game is mental and if I make them miss, they lose their head.

3. Do you have a ritual?

The only part of my regular ritual when I play a serious match is that I have a little piece of dark pure chocolate to get the endorphins out and also I feel a bit relaxed. I also like to hit my legs with my paddle –  it wakes them up.

4. What do you do to “pump yourself up” before a match? For instance – do you listen to music?

I don’t listen to music but I start to play the mental games before we jump into the court and I go from there. That’s like my first point. I like to talk to my opponent. It’s harmless talk that makes my opponent feel confident. I’ll say “oh you’re going to beat me, you’re so good.” I give a lot of compliments and they relax. I try to pump up my opponent and show myself as weak that’s why I have extra weight on me so I look like I don’t move and then I come in like an underdog. I love that.

5. What is the best part of your game?

The people who I play with a lot would say it’s my drop shots and my lob. My best shot is to find what’s your weakest shot. I do have a good drop shot and a good lob but I use them to mix it up – it’s not that if I don’t use them I can’t win or compete, but the shot I enjoy the most to make is a one hand backhand lob, for sure.

6. During a match, what is your mindset?

During a match, it’s a war. Every time you change courts, it’s like a different war. It’s like different episodes and at the end anything can happen. But if you cannot harm your opponent because your game is not there you can do other things like take your time, you have to breathe, change your pace. I take every match as “I’m not losing, he has to beat me.”

7. Do you have a favorite point or moment during the tournament?

My highlight of the tournament – I had a match with someone who I think could’ve won the tournament, that is David Simms. I had 3 match points against him and I had had a crazy match before where I came back (to win) and at the end of the match I was so tired. I didn’t get too much sleep the night before because I have a night job until 3am and I thought I couldn’t win and when I did, I was so excited and overwhelmed with the satisfaction that I had this paddle in my bag that was a little bit broken and I just smashed it so hard against a pole on the court. I destroyed the paddle with more than forty hits and all my friends, including my brother, the tournament director, thought I lost. Regardless what happened I had these crazy emotions, I felt primeval, so euphoric, that it made me go bananas crazy and destroy this paddle but it was a celebration. I was so happy I had rage – That would be the moment of tournament for me. But I also enjoyed playing with everyone and even in the final when I lost to Cristina who I really like, her game is amazing. I enjoyed playing against her even though I lost in front of everyone, against a woman, and I lost twice! But she plays amazing and I felt so happy to be a part of the momentum that paddle tennis is having with all these people jumping into the sport and everyone supporting it. It was more than a point, it’s a full movie I had in my head.

8. How do you get through tough moments in a match? What do you tell yourself?

I try to think of my parents a lot like they how they supported me when I was a child in Venezuela and when I remember where I come from, all the battles I’ve had before. I just play thinking that I always can win even if I’m about to lose I still believe that I can make a crack,  an opening… Even without my game I have to find a way. I define myself on the court as an annoying warrior. 

9. How would you describe the Venice paddle community

If I were to put this community into one word, I would say, “high school.” A crazy high school in a not so safe environment but with great teachers like Richie, Hit with Marcus, Gino – all the guys who put in the hours here. I do believe we are like a great high school with people of  all ages, located in front of the ocean, who all play this racquet sport that anyone can pick up. I do love the fact that you can be 16 years old like Avatar or 80 like Larry Nagler and we all can compete. I love being a part of it and I love to bring people in because no matter where people come from  they end up learning, liking it, and that’s why the courts are so packed on the weekends. 


Photo collages by Leslie Martino