The APP continues to chug along as they have already released their 2024 schedule and appear to be continuing with business as usual. We had some non-chalk results at an APP in a couple of events where we have been seeing some real predictability. Not surprisingly, it feels like there is less visibility at the APP this year, but we’ll never know how much has to do with the lack of streaming and how much has to do with the talent pool being significantly worse in 2023. It is almost certainly more of the latter than the former, but it’s still a question that we won’t be able to answer.
(1) Fudge Double Dip – Megan Fudge came away with two gold medals this weekend, in singles and women’s doubles, and on both occasions, she was able to come around from the back draw to make it happen. Fudge has had a solid, although not spectacular year, on the APP Tour. She has won a lot of medals and is a consistent staple on Championship Sundays. What she has not been able to do in 2023 is rise to the cream of the crop. Silver medals have been far more frequent than gold for Fudge.
This past weekend, Fudge’s double gold was more impressive not only in the manner of how she accomplished it but who she beat in the process. In singles, she lost in the winner’s bracket semi-finals to Judit Castillo (11-6, 11-4) then worked her way to a gold medal by beating Jessica Warren (15-1), taking down Salome Devidze barely in 3 games (10-12, 12-10, 11-4) and double dipping Judit Castillo for some sweet revenge in the gold medal match (11-3, 8-11, 11-1, and 15-13). Double dipping Judit Castillo, whom she had gotten rolled by the previous day, is no small feat as Castillo’s singles game continues to improve.
Even more impressively, Susannah Barr and Megan Fudge finally climbed the Parris Todd/Simone Jardim mountain that has been so elusive all year. It didn’t look like it was going to happen after a tight 3-game loss to Vivian Glozman/Alix Truong in the winner’s bracket semi-final, but Fudge/Barr worked their way back through together, including more revenge by cruising past Glozman/Truong in the rematch (11-7, 11-4). They proceeded to not drop a game against Todd/Jardim in their double dip.
Barr/Fudge have a gold together this year, but it was in a tournament where Simone and Parris were not playing. It is a testament to the fight of Barr and Fudge that they continue to grind it out against the dominance of Todd/Jardim. Really, this whole weekend encompasses who Megan Fudge is as a competitor.
We have wavered back and forth on the long-term potential of Fudge. However, the one thing that has never wavered has been the fact that she is as much of a grinder as anyone on the pro tour. It is not easy to double dip and it is even harder to double dip when you are not the favorite. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to push through those hurdles and that’s what Fudge did this weekend. It doesn’t get lost on us that she once chose to forfeit her own match to finish watching her husband’s singles match and then grind out a singles backdraw after her husband’s match was done. That’s real character.
It is also apparent that Fudge is refining her game. Say what you want about Dayne Gingrich, but Dayne might be the right person to help Fudge add what she needs to her game. She’s playing more aggressively and, most importantly, finding more offense on that backhand side. It’s still unclear what the ceiling is on Fudge, but it seems apparent that the work she is putting into her game is paying dividends.
(2) Post-MLP Hangover – The post-MLP hangover wasn’t obviously there for the players, at least from the standpoint of any major upsets. Sure, we had Judit Castillo lose to Megan Fudge, Simone/Parris lose to Fudge/Barr and Daescu/Barr lose to Parris/Hunter, but most of the teams that we expected to see on the podium ended up there. It may speak more to the discrepancy in level between the top podium contenders on the APP and the second and third tier teams that makes those shocking upsets less likely.
Ultimately, this is still a professional sport, and these players are used to going out week after week to play in these tournaments, big or small, especially when players may feel like there is something to prove. Although Parris Todd lost with Simone Jardim, there may be a chip on she and Hunter Johnson’s shoulders after a rough weekend for the Atlanta Bouncers in Premier. Parris Todd dictated the trajectory of that Bouncers team. You live by the sword and die by the sword. Anna Bright has been basking in the glory of her team construction whereas Parris must be feeling the heat. It’s big that she and Hunter were able to take down Daescu/Barr twice in very close 3 game matches that could have gone either way.
Although, it does not bode well for the Bouncers that their 1st and 2nd round women’s team got double dipped by two Challenger players. It has left me wondering if we have overvalued Simone Jardim’s strong first season of MLP. At her age and place in pickleball, Simone is who she is. She demonstrated she can hang at that top level of Premier in season 1, but we’re now more than 10 months removed from the season 1 draft. So much changes in pickleball in that period of time. Simone’s early 2nd round selection was an overdraft in season 2, but it didn’t feel like a crazy reach in a vacuum. Whether the field is catching up to her faster than we realized is something worth monitoring.
From a personal standpoint, the MLP hangover felt real. It was hard to get into any of the matches this weekend. I had to go back to watch the Parris/Simone vs. Fudge/Barr gold medal match to see what happened, but it felt more like a chore than something I wanted to do. There’s only so much Andrei Daescu, Parris Todd and Susannah Barr a pickleball fanatic can get excited for at a certain point. It’s starting to feel that way more and more each month when it comes to the APP Tour. While we plan to continue to follow the APP Tour events, how long that can continue without any changes in its structure remains to be seen.
(3) Bronze Medal Matches – What is with the choice not to stream bronze medal matches? The PPA has done away with that for a good chunk of time with the removal of the come around to gold, and the APP is doing this as well now. I didn’t take the time to do the research to see when the APP stopped streaming bronze matches this year, but I bring this up as we aren’t the only ones to take issue with it. When you have a come around to gold, it is irresponsible not to stream the bronze medal matches.
I have heard some PPA players talk about getting rid of the bronze medal matches and I don’t think that makes much sense. There are enough players out there who have realized that fans care about bronze medals. You can post about podiums on social media because people care about them. We have created a society that cares about 3rd place in some sporting situations with the Olympics being the most prominent of those.
I can understand not wanting to stream the bronze match when there’s no come around to gold. But it really doesn’t make sense not to stream those matches where they have real significance in the context of a tournament. The men’s bronze featuring Stefan Auvergne/Brendon Long versus Anderson Scarpa/Greg Dow was much more appealing than whatever the gold medal match was going to be. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see that bronze match and all we ended up getting was the Scarpa/Dow double bagel at the hands of Daescu/Nunnery.
Make it make sense. We’ll crow about this until the cows come home. You don’t need commentators. Keep a camera up with a live stream on. There are enough people that want to see that content live or watch it back later.
(4) Salome the Line Call Queen is Back – We haven’t heard much from the worst line caller in pro pickleball in a little while, but Salome Devidze was (allegedly) back at it in the bronze medal match in Atlanta against Megan Fudge. We’ll let Megan Fudge explain her version of what happened:
As we all know, an overrule from a referee does not mean it was the wrong call from the player. At the same time, 4 overrules in a match is 4 overrules and Salome doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt whether you agree with that sentiment being fair. I watch a lot of pro pickleball and there is something that has to change with how line calling is done. It seems to me that not only is video review needed, but line judges are also a necessity. I don’t really care how bad the line judges are if there is video review. From a professionalism standpoint, we can’t have players making their own calls.
Where there isn’t video review, I still think line judges are a better solution for matches on center court or at least podium matches on center court. I’m tired of talking about players hooking one another like this is college tennis or your local rec tournament. This is a professional sport so let’s direct the players anger where it is in every other sport – at the referees.
That’s kind of a joke but not really a joke. We have a sport where players are making their own calls and getting overruled by referees that are not in position to make a call. Have we ever thought about giving the centre court referees a big chair like in tennis? This referee overrule of Roscoe Bellamy’s out call highlights both the problem of referees overruling player calls from their current position at the net and also the player’s concern about having some of these referees end up as line judges in big matches.
I don’t think there is a perfect solution to any of this until there is proper video review everywhere. You’re choosing between the lesser of evils. Personally, I think maintaining the status quo with the players calling their own lines is not the way to go.
Fantasy Update: This might be the biggest spanking ever. 20-7 for Slim as almost everything went right. This might be the first time one person ended up with every gold medal player on their team. That puts Slim 2 up on the year. The 3 points missed were in singles with Roscoe Bellamny’s silver and Jack Foster’s bronze.
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