Matthew Perry Was An All-Star Athlete Before Friends

The late Matthew Perry was best known for his portrayal of the iconic Chandler Bing on "Friends," of course. His role on the NBC sitcom alongside Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer, and Lisa Kudrow, made him one of the most recognizable (and richest!) actors in the world, with his natural comedic talent and instinctual humor touching millions of people. The "Friends" cast reportedly raked in a whopping $1 million each per episode once the show reached its ninth season. And the money didn't stop there. USA Today claims each cast member also gets 2% of the rerun revenue Warner Bros. makes from the comedy, coming in at somewhere around $20 million every single year.

So with a salary like that and his obvious talent in front of the camera, it may surprise you to learn that Perry's original dream when he moved to Hollywood didn't actually have anything to do with acting. It's true. Instead, Perry actually thought he'd be the next big thing in sports after a promising start in Canada.

Matthew Perry had big dreams of becoming a professional tennis player

Before he found his love of acting, Matthew Perry harbored a serious passion for tennis. And he started young with plenty of ability. Perry was actually a talented young tennis player, and was even a nationally ranked junior player in Canada in the 1980s before acting was ever on his radar. While many people flock to Los Angeles every year to pursue their acting dreams, he actually moved there with hopes of becoming a professional tennis player. Perry initially lived with his mom in Canada, but made the move to the U.S. with his dad (an actor living in L.A.) as a teenager. 

However, those tennis dreams quickly came to a halt when he arrived in the golden state and saw his competition. "I was a very good tennis player in Ottawa, Canada — nationally ranked when I was, like, 13. Then I moved to Los Angeles when I was 15, and everyone in L.A. just killed me. I was pretty great in Canada. Not so much in Los Angeles," Perry explained to Men's Health in 2012, admitting his hand was somewhat forced when it came to his big career change. "It was insane. I realized I wouldn't be playing tennis for a living, so I went for acting."

Matthew Perry's first L.A. tennis match didn't go well, but he still played with pros

Matthew Perry told "Late Show with David Letterman" in 1995 he knew it was time to hang up his tennis shoes after his first big match in Los Angeles, which his family came out to watch. "I got killed. He kicked my butt, this guy," he said. "My whole family, they kind of put their head down and they were hoping I would have some kind of other career choice." Perry joked about the demise of his original dream with his signature humor and wit: "I quickly realized being a nationally ranked tennis player in Canada is like being a good hockey player in Burbank."

But just because Perry was unable to play tennis at a professional level, that didn't stop him from enjoying the sport as much as he could. In fact, the star got to live out his pro dreams. Sort of. In 2001, he played alongside Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi as part of the Night At The Net charity tennis match, ironically held in Los Angeles.

Perry's longstanding passion also seeped into his work. His tennis skills were clear in his short-lived ABC sitcom "Mr. Sunshine," as his character, Ben Donovan, played the sport — while handing out a few tips. His "Friends" character, Chandler Bing, could also be seen playing tennis alongside Courteney Cox's Monica Geller in the Season 5 episode, "The One with Chandler's Work Laugh."

Mathew Perry was a regular at tennis matches and developed a love of pickleball

Beyond playing the sport himself, Matthew Perry also continued to show his passion for tennis by attending games. The actor was frequently spotted at various tennis matches, including the U.S. Open, where he joked about the perks of going behind the scenes as a famous actor. "Mostly, I just sit around the players' lounge and pretend I'm a pro," he quipped to the New York Post in 2003. Perry even formed a close friendship with tennis star Jennifer Capriati and was spotted at a number of her matches. The actor also lived a dream come true in 2012 when he shared a photo on X, formerly known as Twitter, which showed him holding the U.S. Open trophy after being given permission to do so by tennis pro Andy Murray.

In the final years of his life, Perry developed a love of pickleball (a paddle game similar to tennis, but played on a smaller court). "I absolutely love the sport. But I wish it was called anything other than pickleball," he joked to InPickleball in 2022, sharing he had a court installed at his house that he played on as much as twice a day. And it seems Perry was able to enjoy his passion right until the end of his life. TMZ claimed Perry had played a two-hour game of pickleball on the morning of his tragic death.