Ellie Halbauer and Jill Jackson
When Ellie Halbauer and Jill Jackson started playing tournaments together in 2023, they could hardly have known what lay ahead. Halbauer was brand new to the tournament circuit and Jackson was only in her second season of competition. And yet, they were seeded 14th at the 2023 Nationals and nationally ranked 12th at season’s end.
How did this Cincinnati team become so successful so quickly? For one, both are highly skilled in tennis. Secondly, they have energy for days. Most interestingly, they find the entire sport of platform tennis, whether competing or playing socially, fun.
“I started playing tennis professionally when I was 15. I was ranked 260 in singles and doubles. I had committed to Pepperdine University but chose the Tour instead. When I was 20, I moved alone to Nuremberg, Germany. Two months later, I popped my wrist tendon. I was out for one year, then Covid hit, then I got to 300 after the Tour restarted. It was hard on my body, so I moved back to the U.S. and taught in Charleston. I realized I missed competing. I went back on the Tour for about six months and had some of my best results ever, even winning a tournament. I was happy but just couldn’t make enough money. It was time to start something new,” she explained.
Halbauer volunteer coaches for the University of Cincinnati women’s tennis team. She also got certified in paddle and took a teaching position at the Kenwood Country Club.
“I'm a nurse but right now I stay at home with my kids, ages 14, 10, 8, and 5. I played tennis at the University of Kentucky. I loved tennis but I was burned out after that experience. I didn’t really play sports after college because I hurt my back. Right before Covid hit, I picked up squash. Then I saw these little courts outside. In December 2020, I took a paddle lesson and thought, ‘I'm in!’ and joined the women’s league. I’m so happy to come back to this love of racquet sports. If I'm leaving my four kids at home, it has to be for a really good hobby,” Jackson explained.
Halbauer said, “I was playing pickleball at Glendale Lyceum and the pro Ann Turner said, ‘Who are you? You have good racquet skills. Have you ever played paddle? I’ll give you a free lesson right now.’ I was horrible on the screens. It was exciting because I was bad at it.” Turner registered Halbauer for a tournament and paired her with Luke White. They won.
Jackson laughed, “She played for one month! She was so good. I lost to her in that final. After that, we played together a bit before she went back to Germany.”
When Jackson heard that Halbauer was coming home for good, she talked her into playing The Midwesterns in 2023. Halbauer thought she was done with competition. Jackson convinced her that paddle tournaments had a different vibe. They made it to the finals.
Halbauer laughed, “I thought that it was the best thing ever. It’s not like tennis at all. The girls are so friendly and then there is a party. Ever since then, I've played every single day.” Jackson plays three or four times a week, at least twice with Halbauer.
The women made sure to acknowledge Cincinnati pro Tyler Fraser and a great group of men who have accelerated their improvement.
Trying to articulate her passion for the sport, Jackson said, “I think the people are so fun and it's very mentally stimulating. I have a busy brain but it almost feels like meditation to me. I can only think of one thing.”
Despite their age difference, Halbauer swears, “We are like the same person, so it’s just really nice on the court. We were both intense in tennis and took it too seriously.”
Jackson said, “Ellie always says, ‘Remember to make it fun.’ We both want to win but we know how to keep it in perspective.”
Playing together in three tournaments in 2023 cemented the commitment—plus they made it to the finals in all three events. Chelsea Mittal asked them to play on the Fulton Cup team at Nationals, allowing them to meet and play against many top-ranked women.
Halbauer talked about her first Nationals. “The Fulton Cup helped me get the nerves out. By Friday, I was okay. We won our first two matches and then ran into the top seeds Hanisch and Zubori. We played solid and didn’t do anything stupid. I was proud of us. We were up in the first set but lost in the tiebreaker—that is why they are the top seeds.”
Jackson agreed, “This is what I've learned playing the top players. It's those important points—they win them every time. We don't need to be hard on ourselves. We just need to recognize that they’ve changed something, so we need to change something. Plus, I need to feed Ellie more cookies—they are her fuel.”
Halbauer laughed and continued, “We made cool connections. I recognized Lynn Kiro from Juniors.”
Jackson added, “It has been really fun staying with hosts. In Hinsdale, we stayed with Laurie Condon. At Nationals, I stayed with Kathleen Klaeser. Meeting new people, now friends, that's been a real highlight.”
The first Nationals for Ellie Halbauer and Jill Jackson ended well. They brought home a back draw final in the Round of 16 Reprieve, winning in a three-set battle. They had serious fun.
Paddle has made such a difference in my winters in Cincinnati. Before it was just a gray day and now it’s a great day.—Jill Jackson