We have had a lot of US Open coverage here at NML Pickleball. There have been a lot of great matches in spite of the weather, and we figured we would wrap it all up with our takeaways from the tournament.
(1) APP is the leader in the streaming clubhouse (Gritty)
We were clearly not the only ones frustrated by the lack of matches being streamed by Pickleball Channel. While it appeared Pickleball Channel relaxed their initial policy early in the week of ZERO streaming, it is unacceptable in 2021 that Pickleball Channel was only streaming matches starting at around 3:00 pm. From a long term perspective, Pickleball Channel should, at a minimum, be starting their center court streaming early in the day. To rely on Scott Golden and then pro players like Lauren Stratman to stream matches for a major tournament is wild. You want to showcase your players and get as many eyeballs on the sport as possible at this point in time. The sport has a long way to go but the APP has proven with it’s dual streaming that it can be done, and it can be done well. For goodness sakes, Pickleball Channel only caught the end of the semi-final on center court between the Johns brothers and Pat Smith/Jay Devilliers. It’s unacceptable really.
I’m not going to take the time to get into the commentating minutiae for our 10 takeaways. We will do a complete breakdown of broadcasting in pickleball at some future time. However, having a 3-person announcing booth with two play-by-play guys in Rusty Howes and Drew Felios for multiple days is truly an odd choice as well. This is a small thing that is indicative of bigger decision making issues though.
Pickleball Channel, the PPA and other outlets providing streaming need to listen to its fans and also the pro players. There is clearly frustration with the lack of attention the game is getting and there is demand to watch multiple streams all day. Look at what Maggie Remynse Chou posted on the Pickleball Forum and the engagement it received. FYI, Kyle Selinko confirmed in the replies to Maggie’s post that the APP will have two-full production courts live streamed for the Cincinnati Tournament in May.
(2) Franklin Ball is Game Changer (Slim)
I understand that money will always talk, but clearly the Franklin ball leads to a slower game and which in my mind leads to an inferior product in terms of the way the game is played and viewed. I think if you were to ask any pro for their honest opinion they would say that their favored ball to play with is the Dura 40 (Lauren Stratman did say on a stream she liked the Franklin). If Franklin want their ball to be the real choice of the pros, they should make a harder ball that plays faster.
Apparently there are rumors that PPA is signing a deal with Franklin as well. I really hope that this is not true, or if it is that they will reconsider. If you want to be the premiere pro tour you need to have the best product out there, and having your pros playing with what is essentially a marshmallow is not it.
(3) Backdraw (Slim)
I really don’t understand why the US Open doesn’t have a true double knockout format with a backdoor to the gold medal match. I know, it is about the number of games it saves them across the board, allowing them to get more teams in the entire tournament, but it just seems silly to me.
I really don’t like the format, and my two gripes with it, are pickleball ratings aren’t accurate enough and the games aren’t long enough. I still don’t feel like pickleball rankings are accurate enough to create proper seeding, so you aren’t always going to get the #1 and #2 teams on different ends of the bracket. Also if you are going with this format, I feel like especially at the pro level where there is a fair amount of difference in prize money with each placing (and hopefully the prize money will continue to grow), then it should be best 3 out of 5 games on the winner’s side, which obviously would lead to needing to cap the draw.
I also think generally as a player, one of the cool things about pickleball tournaments, is that you usually know that even if you get knocked down early in the day, you have a chance to fight back all day and end it with the ultimate redemption, the gold medal.
(4) The old guard is changing but not entirely gone either (Gritty)
There is so much new blood in pickleball over the past 3 or 4 years. Slim highlighted in our men’s preview that Kyle Yates should no longer be considered an elite player and that has been the case for some time. Kyle actually had a pretty good tournament for his new standard, and he might have had a podium if not for some cramping. The point is that these fields are getting deeper and more difficult, and the players who were on top a few years ago have to evolve as the game evolves, Ben Johns not included in any of this discussion.
Callie Smith only started playing tournaments in 2018, Adam Stone is no longer the consistent bridesmaid for podiums, Morgan Evans and Matt Goebel went 2-2 with their respective partners, Christine McGrath is basically irrelevant, and Tyson McGuffin has to work harder than ever to get that silver in singles.
Also, poor Kyle Yates. It’s Rodney Dangerfield. No respect.
(5) Ben Johns is King (Gritty)
All hail the king. Racket sports allow for sustained dominance more than any other sport out there. The nature of the game simply makes variance less possible when someone is substantially better than everyone. This is Ben Johns. We keep waiting for someone to come forward to challenge him but I don’t see anyone currently on tour who has the potential to be that person. He’s young and if he wants to keep playing it’s going to be a while before I see anyone overtaking his throne as the top player in pickleball.
(6) Withdrawals (Slim)
Withdrawals from the backdraw in singles is something Gritty and I have been griping about for a while, and it continued at the US Open. While I will give the benefit of the doubt to an athlete with an injury, if you withdraw from an event but then are able to play multiple events the rest of the week and perform well in those events, I am going to presume that you were not seriously injured and that your withdrawal was based more on trying not to hurt your pride etc. I think it is bad for the game when pros won’t play out their day. And as someone who has always prided himself on a never say die attitude, I probably get more annoyed by the withdrawals than I should.
Simone, who is supposed to be one of the premiere players in the game withdrawing from the singles because she no longer had a path to gold leaves a sour taste in my mouth. She is also always trying to grow the game with the juniors, perhaps she should send a better message to the kids (yes, get off my lawn).
(7) Play in tournament (Slim)
Further to my takeaway about the no backdoor gold, I think the larger pro events should start considering having a play in tournament, and capping the size of the field. Patrick Smith raised this recently on Morgan Evans podcast and I think it is a great idea.
Capping pro fields at 32 teams and having a play in tournament for the last say 4 spots, (so say the top 28 teams are in the field, and everyone else has to play in the play in tournament) is a good idea. Obviously this would only apply to the largest events in pickleball right now, but I think it’s a good way to prevent draws from getting too large, while allowing more teams to compete and as Patrick pointed out, its a way for these teams not quite ready for that pro level but maybe on the cusp to get more games in.
(8) Deep Senior Pro Men’s Field (Gritty)
We talked about the pro fields already but people should take notice of how good these senior pro fields are getting. Dayne Gingrich and Dave Weinbach have won every time they played together this near yet neither was able to podium with other quality partners. Just like the younger pros, the senior men are seeing an influx of players who have incredibly strong tennis backgrounds. Two lesser known players who showed out at the US Open were Jaime Oncins and Mircea Morariu. Oncins was once ranked in the top 50 on the ATP in both singles and doubles, and Morariu is in the Brown Hall of Fame after his tennis career there. It was also super deep senior men’s field despite a number of absences of podium regulars like Kevin Booth, Steve Cole and Rich Lopez. Somehow, Scott Moore has been able to delay father time and is still able to compete with all these relatively young bucks.
(9) Players to Watch (Gritty)
We have highlighted some players on the live blog who had a good day or week at the US Open that you should know about but you probably haven’t heard of. I want to take this opportunity to give those guys the spotlight again. From men’s pro, John Cincola and AJ Koller are two guys who we mentioned throughout the week. Cincola was noted in our dark horses category of the singles preview but it was Koller who took down Cincola on his way to a FOURTH PLACE finish. Koller does not have youth on his side yet his results are steadily improving. These guys played together in men’s pro and Cincola had some big wins in the mixed category. I don’t know if these guys will be on podiums soon but I guarantee these are players the the top pros won’t be excited to see on their side of a bracket.
On the senior pro side, if you haven’t been following pickleball in 2020, you also may not know Mircea Morariu and Scott Crandall. Both guys have had really good results in 2020 and that has carried over into 2021. The US Open was their coming out party. These two guys are going to podium regulars for a while to come.
10. Simone Slipping or Just a Blip? (Slim)
Simone has basically had a stranglehold as the undisputed top woman in the sport. Since partnering with Lucy and Ben in doubles last year, she has owned the top of the podium and has been a lock for the triple crown every time she competes. This week however we saw her lose her semi-final matchup in singles to Irina and withdraw, and then she and Lucy lost in two games to Catherine and Callie in the gold medal match of the women’s doubles tournament. Everyone has an off week, and with some of the quirks of this tournament as discussed above, I am not going to jump to the conclusion that Simone has been passed by, but I do think it is something to monitor. I think the Catherine and Callie partnership this year presents a real challenge and rivalry for her and Lucy, add in the fact the Waters are back playing this year and I think the women’s doubles field has some depth and is far from the walk through that it often was for her and Lucy last year. The women’s singles fields at the larger events are also starting to get a little deeper and I suspect that they will continue to become more challenging more her as well. So well Simone still clearly deserves the title of top women’s player in the game, I do think her stranglehold on that title is going to start slipping.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know your thoughts! Reply in the comments section below, comment on our Facebook page or email us at email@example.com