An unlikely tabloid fixture has emerged this past year, with all the flair and panache of prime Andre Agassi: photos of Pete Wentz playing tennis. And boy, does he play tennis. He plays wearing Spirit of Halloween merch in the middle of December. He plays it with his buddy Gavin Rossdale (and Rossdale’s cheerful Pomeranian). He plays so much, in fact, that he says he’ll often spend up to six hours picking up games in the park, bouncing from some hitting with Zach Braff to a full match of doubles with the sixty-something guys hanging out.
The Fall Out Boy bassist, who’s hopped in and out of the public eye in the two decades since he founded the band, has evolved into that lovable type of low-key celebrity who just seems like he’d be a good hang. He pals around the courts, films TikToks with his kids, maintains a little vertical garden at his house, and generally does his own thing while continuing to put out music with one of the most enduring emo bands around. These days, he’s gearing up for a big tour with Green Day and Weezer and recording a weekly Apple Radio show, where he might defend Affleck’s Batman before he chases Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness.”
All of that, somehow, leaves plenty of time for tennis. Wentz talked to GQ about the drill that made him puke, the quality of Steve Carrell’s backhand, and why the sport is the great equalizer.
For Real-Life Diet, GQ talks to high-performing people about their diet, exercise routines, and pursuit of wellness. Keep in mind that what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.
GQ: What’s your tennis schedule these days?
Pete Wentz: It depends on the week. Some days I’m a complete park rat and I’ll play, like, six hours a day. I go through spurts. A couple of days a week I play at the park with old guys who do a lot of…unorthodox strokes [laughs]. Park tennis is completely different. You have people yelling at you and sirens and police helicopters. And I play at my coach’s house, where he has a little court, which has been really nice in quarantine.
Do you plan those six hour days or does it happen by accident?
It starts with me being, like, “I have a hard out at 11.” And then I’m, like, “Well…I guess we could play one more set.” And then the next person shows up and I’m, like, “I guess we could play…” and all of a sudden the day completely gets away from you.
If I don’t do any physical activity during the day, I’m not a great person. I’m snappy, I don’t feel good. When I play tennis, when it’s going well, that’s all I think about. I don’t think about anything else. That’s a nice feeling.
Totally. Which I also started in quarantine. I’m not as good at meditation as…I don’t do six hours a day, if you know what I mean. My friend Wes [Lang, former GQ watch columnist] put me on to these specific meditations on an app. I have a really active mind that won’t stop, so I use a mantra meditation. I do that once a day. I realize with all the tennis and the weightlifting, I should be doing more meditation and yoga. That’s what my grandma did every day and she lived forever. I’m missing flexibility and balance.
With tennis, do you typically rally or play full matches?
I ideally like to play singles. I’m trying to eat lots of pizza and singles is the only thing that will burn that for me. I don’t think I’m truly savvy enough for doubles, since it has a bit of a chess-like strategy. With singles I can just grind. I’m not the greatest player, but I’m easy to play with. If you don’t wanna run for a lot of balls, I’ll run to them for you, if you’re a better player than me I’ll be your wingman. But I’d rather play singles or just hit.
When did you start playing?
I grew up playing in the suburbs of Chicago. You know, where your parents drop you off at a local place and you’re doing frying pan volleys and the grips aren’t right.
When I was around 35, I started taking my oldest kid to tennis. I’d played with his coach before, but I’d never gotten serious. And I got way more into it. I was, like, “I need to jam it to 10,000 hours.” There was a lot of repetitive stuff, like drop volleys or footwork. My brother lived out here, so we would play together a lot. You gotta find your way in. I read Agassi’s book and then I was wearing vintage Agassi stuff. I had a whole summer where I got into continental grip, and I double faulted an entire summer. But now I’ve got it, and I feel great.
I’m not in movies, but I wanted to get to the level where, if I was in a movie and they were, like, “We need you to play tennis,” they wouldn’t have to get a body double.
How close do you think you are to that right now?
When I’m just rallying and hitting neutral balls out of a bucket, I feel super close to it. And then when I watch a video of myself playing, I feel astronomically far. But what I like about my level is now I know what I did wrong when I do it wrong.
What’s the L.A. tennis scene like?
Sometimes I’m playing and I’m, like, “Oh my god, Zach Braff and Donald Faison are playing doubles. I’m playing doubles against the Scrubs.” Especially during quarantine, there’s been a lot of people who have doubled down. I play next to Gavin Rossdale a lot, but we don’t really play together. Steve Carrell is a very good tennis player. He’s got a pretty wicked one-handed backhand. I play doubles with Jeff Probst all the time, and he’s very competitive. It’s good for me, ‘cause my coach is, like, “Dude, you gotta care.”
The great thing about a game like tennis is you leave your accolades at the door. It doesn’t matter how cool you are or how funny you are or how good of an actor you are. If you can’t hold your serve you can’t hold your serve. Nobody can do that for you. It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters what you can do for three sets or two sets and a tie break.
Do you ever feel a little territorial towards people who only just got into tennis during the pandemic?
Not at all. I play at the park, so I wait for a court just like everybody else. It’s been cool to see people who haven’t really talked to me before asking, like, “What racket should I get?” “I wanna try this out!” I think that’s great.
Do you exercise outside of tennis?
I try to lift. Around 2015 I hurt my back, and my trainer said if we lift weights we’ll get the blood flowing and it’ll help heal the other muscles. We did rehab and stuff too. I was, like, “I just wanna get as big as possible.” Me and our guitarist had gone to Florence and I was, like, “I wanna look like one of these fuckin’ statues.” Which is hilarious ‘cause I’m short and I don’t look like a statue. But I just wanted to eat a ton of protein and lift all the time.
Since then it’s gotten a little bit more normal, to where it’s a couple days a week. The cardio is good but if I don’t have a certain amount of muscle I’m not really burning fat. For my body type at least, and my age.
This can’t be the pull quote right here…but I’m a ball-driven person. If there’s not a competitive thing in it, it’s not interesting. I’ve tried running before, it just doesn’t work for me. I go on hikes with my kids, and a couple years ago me and my friends did a softball league. That’s what I really like about singles: You’re getting a fair bit of steps in. I’ll play with my coach and we do a drill where you’re in the service box and you can only hit in continental. He has made me barf from that game.
What are your eating habits?
When I was trying to get really big I was concerned with macros and how much protein and carbs I was eating, and it was not really a fulfilling life. I didn’t drink at all and I was completely driven by a goal. I don’t think I was the happiest.
Now, I don’t eat in the morning, and I usually will play some tennis or do something active before I eat. I drink black coffee. I usually eat some fruit around 1:00 or 2:00. I’ve tried as a dad not to become, like, the garbage can for my kids and just eat whatever’s leftover. I’d be eating chicken nuggets all the time. But for lunch, I’ll eat the leftover protein from whatever we had for dinner with rice. Dinner is where I eat more. And I drink, maybe, some red wine.
I try to just eat when I’m hungry, and I eat what I feel like eating. I let my body dictate that.
You were a vegetarian in the early Fall Out Boy days. Have you cut any foods out?
Just out of high school for ten years, I was vegan and then vegetarian. We were touring and you’d be at a Denny’s and people would be like, “What’s a vay-gen?” You’d eat, like, salad with olive oil on it. I’ve gotten psyched seeing people talk about more of a plant-based lifestyle because it leaves you room to, like, eat fish sometimes. A couple days a week I try to eat plant-based.
There are certain things I’ve realized don’t work for my body. Garlic is a little rough for me. My family loves Benihana, which is all garlic and butter. I cooked at Benihana one night, though. This is something anyone can do. They have a crash course to be a Benihana chef. You do it for four hours, and then you get to cook for your family. You do the volcano and all that.
Do you grow any of your own food?
I have a vertical hydroponic garden. It waters itself. We’ve grown jalapeños…most of them were not very hot. The strawberries have been a real miracle. They looked like they weren’t gonna work for months, and then all of a sudden you’ve got strawberries. I’m not “one of these people,” but I’m about to say a “one of these people” thing: when you have it grown in your backyard, you know exactly what goes into it. It’s actually farm to table.
How do your habits change when you’re on the road?
Touring is an odd thing. You see an airport and then a bus and then a backstage and it all looks very similar, so one of the ways to experience the city is to eat the food from the city. And one of the ways to feel comfort is to get a food that makes you feel less homesick.
Ahead of a tour, I’ll clean up my diet. The Rock says on Instagram, “The most important lift is the lift of the fork.” When I clean up my diet it puts me in this basic shape that I should be in. I’ve got a pretty active lifestyle already.
I clean it up by doing more lean protein, less sweets obviously, more greens. I do what probably every other person who doesn’t have much choice about where they’re going to eat does: I’ll make the healthiest version there. I’m on, like, the Jeremy Piven mercury poisoning diet with the sushi. So if we do sushi I’ll eat the fish and I won’t eat the soy sauce and I will limit how much I eat the rice.
Performing is physical, too, especially stadium shows where the stage is bigger—being onstage is kind of like singles tennis.