Anna Leigh Waters’ Reaction To Loss Highlights Pressure Filled Reality

📸 @a.l.waters_a1

Authored by Gritty

What a day of singles. The two giants of the sport lost. Tyson McGuffin got into it after the match with Christian Alshon. Gabe Joseph is playing for a gold medal like it’s 2020. There have been fake news, but maybe not so fake news, rumors floating around about Zane’s ProXR paddle. Ben Johns unsuccessfully challenged Yates Johnson’s paddle. But the biggest story has to be Anna Leigh Waters losing to Hurricane Tyra Black in the quarter-finals. It wasn’t the loss itself, though. It was the reaction following the loss from the young phenom.

Anna Leigh hit a ball well out on match point, threw her hands up in the air as one would when celebrating and apparently was saying thank you to Tyra for beating her. She tapped paddles with Black, tossed her paddle to Mama Waters and ran off the court with her hands once again up in the air in a celebratory fashion. It was one of the oddest displays you will ever see from a person who just lost a match.  

It is always a balance for me in my view of ALW. She has been in this bubble pickleball world spotlight for a few years now. She is a sensation in a booming sport where she is earning 7 figures. She is a legitimate professional athlete earning more money than most people could ever dream of.  

On the other hand, she is a 16-year-old teenager. She spends a lot of time with her parents and doesn’t have anything that resembles a normal childhood. Her life consists of being on the road for more than half the year with a bunch of adults playing a niche professional sport. She is a child superstar, albeit without the full-on Justin Bieber public lifestyle that comes with it. It is a weird life to say the least. 

Oh, did I forget to mention that she pretty much never loses? 

Anna Leigh was vying for her 7th straight triple crown this weekend at a time in the sport where most of the pickleball world is rooting against her. Not only does Anna Leigh not have to deal with losing, but she has to deal with so many people wanting her to lose.

There were a lot of sportsmanship comments after Anna Leigh lost, but I didn’t see this as some kind of sportsmanship issue. Even if Anna Leigh has come across as spoiled and bratty in the past and has not displayed the most grace in her rare losses, this loss to Black felt different to me. It was as if there was a program malfunction in her hardware. It wasn’t normal. 

I am typically of the mindset that if you want to play a professional sport as a teenager, you better be ready to be treated as a professional athlete. This includes the publicity, accolades and criticism that come with being a pro athlete. There is no doubt that Anna Leigh has often received a pass for some of her behavior because of her age. Actions get chalked up to her youth. Although age is unquestionably a factor, it cannot be a forever excuse. 

At the same time, what I saw on Thursday made me feel sympathy for her. This was the reaction of someone who feels the weight of the world on her shoulders despite the fact that no one in the world really cares whether she completes a record-breaking triple crown. It was some mix of anger, upset, relief, exhaustion and everything in between.

How else can you explain a reaction like the one Anna Leigh had on center court?

Regardless of the reasons behind the reaction, the reaction in itself was beyond strange. On the other side of the court, there may not be anyone else in pro pickleball to better understand what baby Waters is going through than Hurricane Tyra Black. Black’s parents changed her name at a young age to make her more marketable as a tennis player. Black has been travelling since she was 13-years-old for tennis and was gracious in her post-match interview about the reaction from ALW.

I also can see the irony in me feeling sympathy for the pressures Anna Leigh faces while also writing about those struggles and shining a brighter spotlight on the situation. I recognize that many people will disagree with how I am making sense of the situation. In my eyes, the reaction of ALW was a human reminder that you don’t know what’s happening behind closed doors and you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s head.

I have no doubt Anna Leigh will be back. She’s probably going to win two gold medals this weekend and everything will be fine. Hopefully her support system can show her that her worth isn’t defined by wins and losses because there will be more losses to come in the future. It is an inevitability of competition and sport. We have had questions in the past about how Anna Leigh would handle the losses that have to come her way and, unfortunately, this was not a good start. However, maybe this will be a lesson for her in better being able to handle the losses that come her way.

If not, it could be a tough road ahead for the young phenom.

(Update: Aug 3, 12:38 am EST: I should have noted there is a theory going around that ALW’s reaction was a response to her mom telling her to have more positive body language. My take is if that is the explanation, it still signals similar concerns initially identified in the article regarding the pressure she may be feeling)

Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below or email us at nmlpickleball@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Threads and Facebook. Also, listen and subscribe to our new podcast on Apple, Spotify and YouTube!

61 thoughts on “Anna Leigh Waters’ Reaction To Loss Highlights Pressure Filled Reality

  • August 3, 2023 at 9:09 pm
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    Good post. I said this in The Discord, but while I agree that what ALW was weird, all it said to me is that she isn’t used to losing and doesn’t really know how to handle it. All the stuff about sportsmanship and being bad for the game is wild to me. Like I saw people saying that she needs to apologize or be given a stern talking to.

    What exactly did she do that was wrong? Her actions were silly, sure, but they weren’t at all disrespectful or offensive to Tyra or anyone else. I get that it’s not great for her image and that it makes her look bratty (again, I fully agree that she’s not a good loser, nor has she appeared to be in the past), but that is much, much different from some of the outlandish stuff that people have been saying since her loss.

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    • August 3, 2023 at 11:15 pm
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      She is definitely not used to losing and sort of crazy to think we wrote after Parris lost last year that we wondered how she would handle losing but this is only her 2nd singles loss since.

      Generally people want to see competitors lose with class and even though this wasn’t classless it was not a way society wants someone to act after a loss. This was just different as you say

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    • August 4, 2023 at 7:30 am
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      ALW is young. She has a lot to learn and losing is difficult lesson. Hopefully she will be surrounded by people who can successfully guide her through the tough patches, love her unconditionally and teach her to let things like this pass without beating herself up and pick up some coping skills along the way. There are many pro athletes she can learn from, like Novack J speech after his recent loss to Alcaraz. Be gracious in your loss, genuinely congratulate your opponent and move forward with your day (not to say you won’t think about it and how to do better next time), but don’t allow oneself to ruminate over one match for too long. It’s self destructive. It’s a small part of the overall body of her work. She is an amazing pickleball player. Let’s not blow this out of proportion. Let’s allow her to move past it this time by being supportive of her growth. She is maturing under the spotlight. That’s cannot be easy.

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      • August 4, 2023 at 7:58 am
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        Yes, hopefully her support system can assist in navigating her through tough times.

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      • August 4, 2023 at 9:14 pm
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        I’ve seen teenagers act way worse in junior tennis than ALW did.

        She’s probably getting sick of listening to her Mom coach her 24/7 & needed to let off a little steam.

        Teenagers are a ball of emotions & being in the public spotlight doesn’t help.

        I think her Mom should start playing her in less tourneys at this point, Maybe 1 per month. Quit chasing the money!

        Burn out is real, Just ask Jennifer Caprioti.

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        • August 6, 2023 at 12:14 am
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          That may be the case. Teenage pro athlete is a tough line to walk

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      • August 4, 2023 at 10:27 pm
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        Totally agree. But it’s clear she’s not surrounded by people who are guiding her well. Her mother is even worse (as evidenced by the temper-tantrum she put up during the game where she complained about the lobbing the opponent was doing to her). I feel only sympathy for this young athlete who doesn’t have the support structure to handle anything but winning

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        • August 6, 2023 at 12:13 am
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          That one is not one we know enough info on but can’t rule it out either. We definitely feel sympathy

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    • August 4, 2023 at 8:01 am
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      Her reaction makes me wonder about the pressure she’s under or feeling. I worry about her mental health. Turning pro at 12 and not experiencing the average social development stages of a young teen. Obviously her self-esteem is attached to her pickleball success. Hopefully she and her team can use this as a motivator to gain perspective.

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      • August 4, 2023 at 8:09 am
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        Absolutely. It’s what I felt when watching and trying to make sense of it all.

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  • August 3, 2023 at 9:16 pm
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    Great comments Gritty! I agree with pretty much everything.
    Pretty weird reaction to a loss, I just rewound it and watched it 3 times wondering what I was watching lol! I appreciated Tyra’s comments on the post match interview. Wonder if ALW will end up being asked about it tomorrow.

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    • August 3, 2023 at 11:16 pm
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      Thanks, Grant. Weird to say the least. Tyra is very well spoken and has a lot of life experience for a young person it seems. A unique perspective

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  • August 3, 2023 at 11:36 pm
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    Thank you for your time and posting. I agree with what you’ve said. Do we know how much pressure her parents are putting on her? Does she have any friends outside pball? And everyone remember she is 16 years old. That puts her in 10 grade (I think). She did tap Black’s paddle and IMO, ran off to be by herself. Heck, at 16, I’d be in the bathroom crying my eyes out, and I’m a guy. Maybe her parents told her never to cry in public if you lose). We don’t know. At the last time out, it looked like she was asking her mom something and her mom just shrugged her shoulders. Maybe, just maybe, this takes a lot of pressure off her and she was glad. We don’t know right now, but maybe (it’s up to her and not the commentators) she’ll explain tomorrow.

    The bottom line, HTB was the better player today and we shouldn’t get caught up with AL and forget about Black (which we have), and this is Black’s first year playing pro pball. IMO, there are three new women in pball that will defeat AL next year.

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    • August 4, 2023 at 7:55 am
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      I didn’t want to speculate on the stuff with the parenting because I don’t have any information what that’s like but those are good questions about her parents and friends. These are good questions and one that would help us understand the bigger picture. It was a big win for Black and we’ll see how ALW responds today.

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  • August 4, 2023 at 2:17 am
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    I wonder if she is a little socially awkward, I am not saying that in a degrading way. Although I can’t imagine she wants that title. She seems to struggle in odd ways when things don’t go her way. We all have a friend that when things get sideways they respond with awkwardness.

    I feel she will get better adjusted with some maturity.

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    • August 4, 2023 at 7:55 am
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      Absolutely. Any teenager is going to have some struggles and it has to be harder when you don’t have a normal life to live to become comfortable. It’s a lot to handle.

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    • November 19, 2023 at 7:45 pm
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      Premier athletes that never experience being a kid at the appropriate age usually get around to it at some point later. I worry about her being overly afraid to fail. Defending a world #1 ranking at her tender age is very taxing. She needs the perfect support group, which it is not clear that she has, to reinforce the correct idea that neither winning nor losing defines Anna Leigh, nor anyone else.

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  • August 4, 2023 at 4:39 am
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    I disagree that it wasn’t part of how she has been trained to maintain her public image. In post-match interviews, she is always more than gracious about her partner’s contribution to the win. You don’t see a lot of camera shots with a negative emotion on her face – always face-smiling for camera. She had just watched the close camera action of the words between Alshon and McGuffin after Alshon’s loss. So her first thought must have been, how do I react to this loss before cameras? I can’t go into a corner and sulk because I’ve got to maintain my public image. Okay, I’ll cheer. Odd reaction but if you are thinking of how to behave positively after a loss, then maybe it’s the best you can do at the spur of the moment.

    And the comment about the positive body language could be correct. We saw Leigh come on court and correct her posture before the beginning of game 2. AL’s posture had not indicated confidence or competitiveness.

    We’ve all seen Ben Johns disappear in a blink of an eye after one of his rare losses. He does it without the camera spotlight and doesn’t run but he does it very, very quickly.

    And we’ve seen Tellez one finger reaction to the crowd at the end of one of his losses.

    And we’ve seen Alshon mocked for having emotion after his loss to Ben in Denver.

    So yeah these athletes know the camera is there and public will jump on anything they don’t like or understand.

    I think you nailed it when you said this is not how spectators want someone to react. We all want to see the class act a la Roger Federer no matter the circumstances.

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    • August 4, 2023 at 7:56 am
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      Not everyone can be Roger Federer. It’s such a tough line because how would most of us react to all of the circumstances that go on for these players.

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      • August 4, 2023 at 9:43 am
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        Even Roger Federer demonstrated class at all times, win or lose.

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        • August 4, 2023 at 3:37 pm
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          Roger Federer is an adult and there are just differences in the circumstances. He is the exception to almost all pro athlete legends.

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          • August 4, 2023 at 3:45 pm
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            Most tennis players including Roger Federer when he was 18 knew how to lose with class. Not all, but she is an excuse.

          • November 19, 2023 at 7:47 pm
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            Premier athletes that never experience being a kid at the appropriate age usually get around to it at some point later. I worry about her being overly afraid to fail. Defending a world #1 ranking at her tender age is very taxing. She needs the perfect support group, which it is not clear that she has, to reinforce the correct idea that neither winning nor losing defines Anna Leigh, nor anyone else.

      • August 4, 2023 at 8:39 pm
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        Everyone can be like Roger Federer. But most people are not brought up in a positive, well-mannered way. Most are brought up that says, winning is absolutely everything. But we all can be… If we wanted to, we could change. 🙂

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  • August 4, 2023 at 6:20 am
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    Really wish the cameras and commentators would have stayed on Tyra for two reasons. 1- following ALW when she was obviously struggling is fuel to the fire…though they just love that, don’t they?
    2- Tyra won! Acknowledge the unlikely loss, but build up the winner who played great. Loved those serves!

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    • August 4, 2023 at 7:56 am
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      Tyra did a really good job of handling everything.

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  • August 4, 2023 at 6:23 am
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    The lyrics to the song “Let It Go” really do apply. Look it up, it fits. She imploded and that’s not planned. The awkward (confusing) way her fight or flight response found to deal with the rush of panic and expectation exhaustion was involuntary and felt voyeuristic; I so wish she could have had privacy at that moment. Then, she did run like hell toward privacy. Like any embarrassed teen would, at a completely overwhelming moment at a bad prom, when they just can not stand in it any longer. Remember that embarrassment is as strong as rage. Add in panic and there it is. If we care enough to empathize. Hasn’t she earned that from us ? Some will say but she’s a rich pro etc etc. Nope, not in THOSE seconds she wasn’t and that is clear. I wish her a goldfish memory of this and I hope it will be Ben, who councils her in preparation for the next time.

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    • August 4, 2023 at 7:58 am
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      The difficulty is that when you play a pro sport, you don’t get to decide when you have privacy and when you don’t. That’s where I sometimes struggle with how I feel about this. We can’t simply equate this to our experiences as a teenager because there is give and take with the life she has – one of those downsides is being in the spotlight constantly. Whether she has truly chosen this life is another question, and that’s where a great deal of sympathy comes in.

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      • August 5, 2023 at 5:24 am
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        This is a great discussion! You keep bringing up the fact that she is just a teenager, which translates to give her some emotional/intellectual space as she matures before our eyes. Yet she is treated as an adult thru her compensation and other “adult” social benefits and they want as to listen to her interviewed after matches (which I don’t because when she opens her mouth you realize she is just a kid, do not mean that as a dismissive). Her “body language” during play has always been questionable, like how she doesn’t always return the ball after losing a point. Or aggressively arguing when a call doesn’t go her way (which is a competitive characteristic that can be in or out of control). I saw it mentioned that the women’s pool of players is finally starting to grow competitively and this is starting to show as Anna Leigh is being challenged athletically and that she may not have the maturity to handle the sports evolution. What this all comes down to IMHO? Parenting and coaching, not the player or her maturity, just as she is monitored for physical injuries/exhaustion she should be monitored on the emotional level as a 16 year old and trained appropriately.

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        • August 6, 2023 at 12:12 am
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          Great comment. The compensation and benefits vs. age / emotional maturity was a very good perspective to bring here

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    • August 4, 2023 at 8:41 pm
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      IMO, what is sad is HTB had a fantastic win and we saw ZERO of her after her win.

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  • August 4, 2023 at 7:43 am
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    I agree with you Gritty, I hope the Waters team help AL with the mental part of losing.

    The talent that is on the rise is so good it would be only a matter of time before she would lose.

    Lea Jansen is twice AL’S age and came close to beating her, that to me is very impressive.

    Focus on Tyra and how she was able to be #1 in the short time that she has been playing. Out standing job Tyra👏👏👏👏👏

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    • August 5, 2023 at 8:50 am
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      Lea is twice ALW’s age and Lea behaves way worse on court at times. Congratulations to Tyra for a game well played!

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      • August 6, 2023 at 12:11 am
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        Lea has never cheered after a loss. Not equating behaviors

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  • August 4, 2023 at 8:40 am
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    I’m thinking she was embaressed about the loss and between that and the crowd she didn’t know how to handle or couldn’t process those emotions so did that and ran off. (Maybe add in what Momma supposedly said to that and it is all the more a confused mess in her brain.)

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    • August 4, 2023 at 10:29 am
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      All roads lead to the Waters family-disfunction! Ask ANYONE that has observed – they feel entitled and they have produced a daughter that has no idea how to process life outside of their bubble.

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      • August 4, 2023 at 12:40 pm
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        Might be time for moma bear to step away and let her daughter play by herself without the constant supervision and coaching which to me, would get old really fast. Let her fend for herself like many other players do.

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        • August 4, 2023 at 3:37 pm
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          We’ll see what happens when she comes back from injury.

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  • August 4, 2023 at 9:32 am
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    I agree with this post by Gritty as well as most of the comments, Explanations/justifications/rationalizations notwithstanding, ALW’s behavior was really disjointed and I suspect a harbinger of a deeper emotional instability. Although the causes seem apparent in her age and circumstances, her reaction was abnormal and the underlying pathology may not be quite as transient as some speculate. Professional evaluation and counseling seem indicated to help ALW find perspective. She is an extraordinarily talented young lady and has a bright future.

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    • August 4, 2023 at 3:35 pm
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      All of this is very fair. It’s a fine line with all of this stuff

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  • August 4, 2023 at 9:41 am
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    The bottom line is that at her level, you are being paid to perform, by sponsors and winning prize money. This raises the expectations far above how an amateur player may react to losing in a weekend tournament – no comparison. Ben Johns is tru class win or lose. ALW could learn a few things from him, but perhaps she has had it easy all her career. I am sure she has won games from the time she started playing to now seeing very few loses. However, the women’s side of pro pickleball is growing and players are analyzing each other more and more. ALW will likely remain the top women’s player for a while, but the gap between her and others in the Top 10 will diminish as players figure her out and play better against her. Time to learn how to lose with class. It will go a long way for her.

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    • August 4, 2023 at 3:36 pm
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      Not sure I agree that Ben Johns is all class win or lose. The man gets mopey as heck when he loses. There are undoubtedly expectations that come along with what she is doing and she will have to figure this one out.

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      • August 5, 2023 at 8:59 am
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        Ben challenges the paddles that beat him. Behind the scenes those paddles don’t fair well. CRBN at the last Open he played were yanked off shelves and players during their matches (JW) even though Joola didn’t pass. Now PPA questioning another recent paddle that beat Ben. He may be gracious in front of the camera but we don’t see quite a bit.

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  • August 4, 2023 at 11:47 am
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    I guess she dropped out of the tournament? Ben is playing with Allyce now?

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  • August 4, 2023 at 8:46 pm
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    Hollyshamoly. There sure are a lot of barstool phycologists here.

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  • August 5, 2023 at 8:21 pm
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    I agree with David J. Who here (including the author) asked her personally about this? Who here has never made a regrettable decision? I don’t agree with a lot of things children do but I’ll try to at least establish some degree of civil discourse, reason and understanding by asking them first. Others have done “better” others worse. Stop with the armchair QB talk when most of you couldn’t carry her water.

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    • August 6, 2023 at 12:10 am
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      All we do here is armchair QB, though. That’s what an opinion blog is!

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  • August 7, 2023 at 3:31 pm
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    It was said she was annoyed at the crowd for cheering for Black. So she made fun of them by joining in with them. What was most annoying was that she stole the moment from Black who played brilliantly and showed that in the future Anna Leigh may not be guaranteed a gold medal in every tournament. Black showed she may be number 1 in the not too distant future.

    ALW should be granted some slack because of her age. Hopefully, she will learn from this and emulate her partner in mixed doubles more. Ben Johns is always a complete gentileman on the court. Given her talent and success, she should be also.

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    • August 7, 2023 at 11:34 pm
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      Interesting about the Black crowd situation. We have also had comments about it being a reaction to her mom saying to be more positive. Black will be a fascinating player to monitor

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  • August 17, 2023 at 1:04 pm
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    I feel like both parents should step back and seek professional help. The father has been seen out of control at tournaments, arguing with people in the stands who do not cheer for his daughter. The mother is worse, complaining of being lobbed at by opponents during a match and fighting with Riley Neumann’s mother at a tournament. Living their lives through their daughter is not a good look for either of them. Both parents will come up with any story to “protect the brand” of their daughter. Anna Leigh is forever commenting on how she’s been in the business since she was 10, really? Because if you’ve been in the business for 6 years, you should know how to act after a loss, a very dominant loss at that. People need to stop making excuses for her, namely, her mother. She made a mistake and she needs to learn from it. Apologize for the behavior and move on. Her interview with Anna Bright regarding the partner dance with AB and Catherine Parenteau was really something to watch. The arrogance is incredulous. ABright sitting in the interview with ALW took real maturity. I really enjoy watching the newer players’ matches. It seems ALW and the Johns’ brothers are the only matches that get televised. Hope this changes soon.

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  • August 17, 2023 at 3:28 pm
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    She played horribly, for her, and lost to a lesser player, which happens to everyone occasionally. She was not calm nor very focused during the match. Her reaction to losing was immature, a 16-year old’s reaction and certainly could have been worse. There could be some mental burnout, she is playing 3 events, and she is number one in the world in each, so there is that 3-event pressure. She may need some time off. No one knows what is happening behind the scenes, but her mother has always seemed a bit creepy, and they probably spend way too much time together, which is not normal. She is just a kid and her parents need to allow her to grow up.

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  • August 17, 2023 at 4:46 pm
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    On Tyson’s podcast, he said there was someone in the crowd heckling her and her reaction was to show that person she didn’t care – either about the heckling or the loss – not sure. I don’t remember how Tyson phrased it exactly.

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    • August 17, 2023 at 6:02 pm
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      There are a number of theories as to the why. From my perspective, it doesn’t really matter why. It’s that it happened

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