In a shocking piece of news on Saturday, it was announced during the broadcast of the men’s double semi-finals at the PPA Newport Beach Shootout that Sarah Ansboury’s Gamma Obsidian Raw Carbon 16mm paddle failed on-site paddle testing. The testing was conducted following her quarter-final match against Lina Padegimaite and Lacy Schneemann, which Ansboury/Braverman had won 11-8 and 11-9. Dave Fleming’s words on the broadcast were that the paddle “failed on-site testing for delamination.”
We have to presume that Padegimaite/Schneemann challenged the paddle but that is purely an assumption right now. The PPA confirmed on their social media that Gamma paddle failed deflection testing and that Ansboury/Braverman would be defaulted, allowing Schneemann/Padegimaite to play into the semi-finals. In watching the match back, it did not appear anyone made an immediate appeal to the referee to challenge the paddle so we’ll have to see if more information comes out about the process of testing.
This failed test comes on the heels of paddle controversy taking over the conversation at the PPA’s last stop in Utah and MLP releasing its paddle testing findings from Daytona earlier this week. Post Red Rock, there was a lot of discussion on podcasts about the paddle situation. One bigger note from this Sarah Ansboury failed test is that she uses the same paddle as Riley Newman, who was specifically named by Travis Rettenmaier on his Tennis Sucks podcast as one of a number of pros he suspected was using an illegal paddle. It is unknown to us whether Riley Newman’s paddle was challenged at any point on Saturday.
We wrote in our Red Rock paddle moratorium that it had been reported by the Kitchen the PPA would be bringing on-site testing to Newport. It is unclear what the PPA’s policy for deflection testing is right now. It is good that they are doing something about this, but they should have a publicly available written policy so that we understand what the process is, what standards they are adhering to and what the penalties are. We’ll have to assume they are using USA Pickleball standards until further standards are developed in conjunction with MLP and USAP. But hey, at least they are doing something about the issue.
We have to trust that the current PPA testing is reliable, but we bring up reliability considering Ben Johns essentially said on the Pickle Pod that deflection testing on used paddles is not that reliable. Someone and some paddle manufacturer was going to be the unfortunate recipient of the first failed on-site paddle test and it happens to be Gamma. Interestingly, Gamme is not a company that has been in the news for paddle legality and they have not generally been on the cutting edge of innovative paddle technology.
It is important that this paddle situation is getting sorted out. A default and likely loss of any prize money and ranking points earned for Ansboury is a loud message to the rest of the pros that the jig is up. While players are adamant they can see and hear when a paddle is delaminated, it is notable that Salome Devidze came out with a message on social media that the PPA informed her that her paddle in question did not fail off-site testing. Assuming that is true and the testing is reliable, it is a reminder that we cannot take everything at face value that is said about controversial topics and, personally, we could have given Salome more of the benefit of the doubt.
In terms of the impact of this first failed test on players, they will need to be more careful as to what they are using. Tyson McGuffin played the I was too focused on the match to notice my paddle had delaminated card on his most recent podcast. It won’t matter going forward whether the player is aware if this is how testing is going to be conducted. Who knows whether Sarah Ansboury was aware her paddle was towing the line of legality. What matters is that her paddle failed the test. Just like the grit issue, it will be incumbent on the players to ensure they are not playing with a paddle that will fail a deflection test. There can be broader discussions as to whether players having to self-police their paddles is the ideal system, but it has to be better than no system as the entities work to create better and more reliable paddle testing standards.
We’ll provide more information if more news trickles out over the next couple of days. Sarah Ansboury could very well be the unfortunate sacrificial lamb for a paddle she was innocently playing with. We’ll probably never know. Nevertheless, players are officially on notice that stricter paddle testing is here to stay and the system is not going to care whether it is their fault or not.
Update (12:48 am EST, April 23): Sarah Ansboury and Jillian Braverman put out a video statement on Instagram you can watch here. Ansboury says all paddles for players in the quarters were tested and her paddle was approved prior to play, but both their paddles were challenged after. They failed the post-match test. She says it is not a delamination issue but it is within that realm. Short takeaway, it seems problematic that a player can be defaulted for a paddle that was tested and passed literally right before the match was played. There is clearly more to be fleshed out with the paddle testing situation.
Update (12:40 am EST, April 23): Here is a Lucy Kovalova and Connor Pardoe update as FYIs:
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