5 Big Questions Heading into the 2022 Pickleball Season
Before we get into the subject of this article, we wanted to further clear up some confusion. In case you listened to Tyson McGuffin’s most recent podcast and missed our clarification, we want to make it clear that we did not say in our recent Irina retirement post that we would never listen to the Freestyle Boys podcast again. Tyson also responded on social medial to clairfy his interpretation that we would not listen to them again was a simple misunderstanding and we get how that could have happened with how our post was written. We will continue to listen to both the Freestyle Boys and McGuffin’s podcast going forward! No worries at all and we really appreciate Tyson being so quick to clear that up when he didn’t need to.
Without further ado, we’re ending 2021 with 5 big questions heading into the new season. Hope you enjoy!
Will tournaments become stale?
Slim: Almost undoubtedly. With 50 plus pro tournaments this year we are going to reach a saturation with pro pickleball tournaments, I think. The PPA events run the risk of becoming boring with many of the tournaments featuring the same partnerships over and over. This could become less of a problem, if some of these match ups become real back and forth rivalries, something we have not seen a lot of in pro pickleball. For example, if Matt Wright and Riley versus the Johns Brothers becomes a real battle for supremacy in the men’s game it would make tuning into each tournament a lot more interesting. With the APP events, I think they will certainly provide some interesting match ups, for pickleball fanatics like ourselves, but I do wonder if their events will regularly have enough star power for the casual viewer.
Gritty: Probably. We have used this space to talk about our concerns with the number of tournaments in 2022, and we are far from the only ones discussing this. On the whole, the fact of 50 plus tournaments is likely going to be too much to swallow and keep up with. No major sport in North America goes without some kind of off-season. People need a break.
Beyond the number of tournaments, there’s also potential problems from what’s becoming an even bigger gap between the two pro tours. Come hell or high water, the PPA is intent on becoming the only tour in town by cornering the market pro players. Bigger picture aside, the problem this poses is that having a lot of the same players and partnerships could mean there is less likelihood of getting a variety of partnerships, draws and results. The same format, the same players and possibly the same results week in and week out could be a long grind for an entire season for even the keenest pickleball fan.
On the other hand, the APP has about 10 more tournaments on deck than the PPA and there is going to be a dearth of top end talent. The men’s side won’t suffer quite as much. However, with the recent announcement of Lauren Stratman’s signing with the PPA, that means Anna Leigh Waters (and presumably Leigh), Jessie Irvine, Catherine Parenteau, Callie Smith, Lea Jansen, Lucy Kovalova, Simone Jardim and Irina Tereschenko can only play a limited number of APP events. These women’s draws are going to be even shallower than we thought a couple of months ago. That’s probably not good for business.
TLDR: I’m concerned about pickleball tournaments in 2022 becoming boring.
Will the Morgan Evans serve have any impact on pro pickleball?
Slim: It will certainly have some impact, but it will be interesting to see how great the impact is, and for how long. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for players to figure out the one-handed spin serve, and how many can develop truly effective versions of it. We saw this year that, most players didn’t really seem to become comfortable with any version of the chainsaw until later in the year and only a few players had truly deadly versions of it. If it becomes effective, it will also be interesting to see if the PPA pivots and bans the spin serve at their pro events, similar to how they banned the initial paddle chainsaw serve last year.
I tend to think that this will be the last year we see any sort of spin serves allowed, but if the rules committee does not move to outright ban the spin serve, then we are only at the tip of the iceberg of where these serves might go.
Gritty: Without a doubt. The chainsaw didn’t get revealed until the beginning of 2021, which meant players hadn’t figured out how to do it until part way through the calendar year. The anticipated removal of the chainsaw has given plenty of time for people to learn the Morgan Evans, one-hand, version of the spin serve. Porter Barr already has a wicked version, and it is pretty much a given some pros will be able to find some semblance of tournament usable serve. It’s true impact will likely be seen in mixed and singles. Either way, I expect we should still see some serves dancing in 2022.
Which player(s) will breakthrough in 2022?
Slim: Austin Gridley. Last year Austin caught a lot of people by surprise pulling off a number of upsets with Shellton Jean-Baptiste and Mario Barrientos, including an upset of the Johns brothers with Mario. This year he is taking a step up in partnerships, with Rob Cassidy, JW Johnson and Kyle Yates among them. I think that Austin is ready for the challenge that these new partnerships provide, and that he is going to emerge as a second-tier pro. His reach and unorthodox style, will make teams uncomfortable. He and Rob Cassidy should provide for a fairly wild and entertaining watch when they partner as well.
Gritty: Vivienne David. Should this answer be allowed for a player who went undefeated at MLP in 14 matches and ended the year off with a number of quality results? Possibly not. But, it’s our blog so I can answer it however I want to.
For the purposes of this question, the word “breakthrough” is being used to describe a player who has the potential to break into the elitist of ranks. There’s a couple of other females that could fit into this category, including Lea Jansen and Lauren Stratman. However, as one of the few non-contracted PPA players, I’m wondering if that could be a benefit to Vivienne. She’s going to get a lot of tourney reps as the big fish in the small pond for APP events and she’s also going to get a ton of top end play in the new pickleball hot bed of Austin, Texas. She has the ability to become the best right sided female player out there. The biggest thing that might hold her back is a lack of truly elite partners.
Who will take a step back in 2022?
Slim: Patrick Smith. This is largely a result of a drop in partners. He and Jay Devilliers have parted ways, and last year he also had a lot of Lauren Stratman partnerships in mixed. It does not look like he’ll be getting that level of partnerships in 2022. He does have some interesting men’s partners lined up and could surprise us a couple of times, but we didn’t see him on many podiums in the second half of 2021. I would expect that trend to continue in 2022. I have also not seen a lot of progression in Pat’s game, which is not surprising given that he has a full-time career outside of pickleball, but given the number of players pursuing it full time now, that also puts him at a disadvantage.
Gritty: Tyler Loong. I don’t love my answer to this question as I’m not sure his results in 2022 will qualify as a step back. Loong had a better than expected year with Spencer Smith as his regular partner and he’ll have better partners that make him a bigger podium threat for 2022. I just haven’t seen enough improvement in Loong’s game that gives me confidence the better partners will make him a real threat. The weapons are the same, but his fast hands and steadiness keep him competitive. With the way pickleball is evolving, I don’t see this as enough and I’m looking at Tyler as a guy who’s going to have some trouble in those harsh PPA fields.
What is one storyline everyone is overlooking going into 2022?
Slim: Are there enough women? With 50 plus pro tournaments, I think this is a legitimate concern. We have talked previously about small women’s draws particularly in women’s singles, but with the large jump in tournaments this year, I think it’s a real question of whether enough there are enough women’s pro players to field competitive draws in all of the tournaments, and what happens if there isn’t? One would hope that a number of relatively soft looking women’s fields might encourage some talented players to join the pro ranks or increase their commitment to the game, leading to a talent influx. This would certainly be the best-case scenario, but to date there are no signs that this is actually going to happen. The women’s game seems to be begging for some women with high level tennis backgrounds to come along and try and make a go of it at the professional level, but if that doesn’t happen soon, I have some real concerns.
Gritty: Partnership Breakups. When we talk about new relationships, it’s unavoidable that some are going to end in heartbreak. While heartbreak may not be the right term to describe a partnership split in pickleball, one storyline that isn’t getting discussed is the inevitable souring of certain partnerships. Everyone is very excited about new partnerships and the improvement upon old ones. The catch 22 of being pickleball monogamous are the consequences when it doesn’t work. Players putting all or most of their eggs in a single basket could lead to some fascinating drama come the middle to latter stages of the year. It seems more like when, not if, we get more Jessie Irvine/Jeff Warnick type mid-season splits.
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