We had another hiccup with our technical side this week so it doesn’t look like anyone received the newsletter on Friday. Amateur hour over here but, if anyone has some thoughts to provide on delivering a newsletter through WordPress on a different host site, that would be appreciated. We’ll work to figure it out but time can be at a premium sometimes. Anyway, this content was supposed to go to your inboxes Monday morning and we’re providing it here as always, but particularly so since we don’t want to waste perfectly good content!
Paddle Testing is Coming
Quite possibly the hottest topic in pickleball is paddle testing and the major entities of pickleball announced a partnership to implement more stringent paddle testing in the near future. MLP, the PPA and USA Pickleball put out a press release on Thursday that they will be collaborating on implementing the “best in class” equipment compliance testing standards. This announcement was made on the same day that the PPA announced a separate partnership with USA Pickleball to moving Nationals to Dallas, Texas.
The somewhat fractured state of pro pickleball has left a huge gap in having proper check and balances for paddles. Instead of going at it alone or hoping someone else addresses the major problem, the current three most important entities in the sport have banded together to say that they are not going to let this become a bigger issue. There are a bunch of questions that have be answered in this process to develop adequate paddle testing standards, but it is just so crucial that it is being dealt with. Regardless of how it is accomplished, ensuring a level playing field amongst competitors is paramount to keeping up the integrity of the game.
That may sound like hyperbole to some but there is no doubt that paddles make a difference and when players as well as manufacturers are taking steps to game the system to the extent that is causing a serious competitive disparity, something needs to be done. Proving paddles are illegal, particularly when it comes to deflection and dwell time, may be the hardest part of all of this. It is also clear that illegal stuff is happening, but showing definitively that it is happening is another question.
For those who may not feel that paddles make that much of a difference, that may have been the case not all that long ago in pickleball but it is not the case anymore. Rafa Hewett presented us with a perfect example of disparity in paddles on singles day at the Daytona PPA. Playing with the terrible Adidas paddle for the first time, Hewett had trouble getting the ball over the net. Hewett was frustrated to the point that he challenged Zane Navratil’s new ProXR paddle, which passed the test. The Rafa situation is a drastic example because the Adidas paddle is so bad and he obviously has not spent much time adjusting to it – William Sobek has played with an Adidas the past year plus and gets some decent results with it.
Nevertheless, Rafa’s frustration with the Adidas paddle is a clear demonstration that paddles can make a big difference and, if the rules developed are enforced, we are going to see it show in the results of some players most likely.
According to the press release, data collection and analysis of the current standards is going to start at the Daytona MLP event in a couple of weeks. There will not be any enforcement or penalties arising out of the data collection process, but it will be interesting to see whether we begin to see any immediate action from players who may not want any testing to show their paddles diverge significantly compared to the average. At least Rafa will know if he’s playing with that Adidas paddle, he doesn’t have anything to be concerned about.
Every person in the human race is delusional to a certain degree. As rational as a lot of us believe we are, we have inherent biases, perceptions and views that make it nearly impossible to have an entirely accurate opinion of ourselves, which is already incredibly subjective. Professional athletes can often be more delusional than the majority of the population. That delusion can be important in providing the confidence that is needed to perform at the highest level on a consistent basis.
The delusion is a balance. You don’t want usually want to be so delusional that you’re Russell Westbrook at the end of his NBA career still thinking he is the best player in the world. Conversely, you don’t want to be so realistic or overly negative that you don’t believe you can accomplish what very few are able to accomplish.
This concept of athlete delusion came to mind with James Ignatowich’s recent appearance on the ‘It Feels Right’ podcast. Ignatowich was obviously feeling good about himself coming off his first two PPA titles in Minnesota. He declared on the podcast that he is a top 5 mixed player in the world right now. Yes, top 5.* (this was edited from top 3. He says at 10:30 mark he thinks he is top 5 now and at 18:50 he says top 3 towards the middle of the year). There is a reason why athletes stray away from controversial opinions. If there was a First Take for pickleball, the lead story the next day would have been “is James Ignatowich crazy for saying he is a top 3 mixed player?”
However, the fact is that there are likely a bunch of players out there who have similarly high opinions of themselves. Tyson actually talked about this concept on a recent podcast and how he used that type of self-belief to beat Ben Johns in singles for the first time in forever last year. These athletes need some level of delusional self-belief. It may not always be the best when that type of thinking translates to other non-sports parts of your life, but there is almost a need for certain degree of delusion for pro athletes.
Ignatowich announcing himself as a top 5 mixed player after one PPA title is something. He also called himself a better mixed player than JW Johnson when JW Johnson is one of only two guys to beat Anna Leigh/Ben in mixed in the past calendar year. That’s not to say Ignatowich cannot get there. It’s just that he’s probably not where he thinks he is at this moment.
But that’s okay. He should think like that. As we said, a lot of players are likely thinking these kinds of things. Ignatowich is simply one of the only ones who is willing to say them.
As a loosely related aside, one of the more hilarious things this past week has been seeing amateurs and pros get very excited about a significant bump to their DUPRs due to some changes to the DUPR algorithm, which people may or may not be aware of. We know DUPR is always making tweaks but this recent change is pushing DUPR farther away from the traditional numbers baseline (i.e. 4.0, 4.5, 5.0) for determining skill level. If your DUPR suddenly goes up by anywhere from 0.2 to 0.3 points give or take, it does not suddenly mean you have reached a new skill level when the algorithm is doing the same for everyone else.
MLP Order of Play
There have now been 5 MLP events played since the first event in 2021 and the format is becoming more familiar to fans. For those who are not familiar, a match consists of 4 games starting with women’s doubles then men’s doubles and finishing with the two interchangeable mixed games. The order of the gender matchups has always been set in stone. However, is this something MLP should be looking to change?
In post-match interviews with the winning women’s doubles team, there is usually some kind of discussion about the importance of getting off to a good start. With both the men’s and women’s doubles games only being worth 1 point over the course of the match, there is no statistical difference in which gender goes first. Still, it is reasonable to question whether there is an undefined, psychological consideration at play that may need to be factored into the discussion.
Arguably, the current format slightly favors teams that have a stronger women’s doubles team as they get the opportunity to be up 1-0 and have that psychological advantage. One rebuttal to this point is that, if the on paper “stronger” team is upset, there could be an even bigger psychological edge gained there. Of course, there is a possibility that it makes no difference at all. There is also the chance that a stronger men’s team plays better with the motivation of being down 1-0.
With no reliable way to measure the impact of the current format, we are left to wonder whether MLP ought to consider a separate coin toss to determine the order of the gender doubles games. Not everything needs to be 100% fair at all times, but it seems to us that a coin toss would ensure the highest level of fairness.
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