APP Tour Chicago Open – 5 Takeaways – Barr None

A lot of action this weekend, including possibly our favorite thing in pickleball, a pumped up Altaf Merchinator. It was another rain delay filled weekend too that caused the senior pro gender doubles brackets to have the dreaded co-gold medals awarded. The APP has not been getting too fortunate with rain. There are always storylines coming out of these tourneys and we have 5 for you as almost usual.

1. Barr None (Gritty) – Susannah Barr has been one of the biggest and probably unexpected risers of 2021 on the female side of the game. Barr had a double gold this weekend in new partnerships with Zane Navratil and Lauren Stratman.

Barr does not play in a style that one would call conventional and does not come from the elite college tennis background that we so often see. However, her strong hands and seemingly small margin top spin rolls make her a very tough opponent. She has been getting a lot of wins in mixed this year and it seemed like only a matter of time before the women’s results came too with better partners.

To take a second to pat ourselves on the back. Both of us had Barr/Stratman as the slight favorite heading into the weekend. We also highlighted Barr as part of our under the radar players feature back in May and she has exceeded expectations to this point. After her big day with Jillian Braverman at the PPA Takeaya Showcase, I wrote on the live blog that it was “kind of hilarious” the Freestyle Boys took Yana Grechkina over Jillian Braverman in their Major League Pickleball (MLP) mock draft while also noting Barr would have been a better choice. I actually like Yana’s talent long term but that was a bad 16th pick from Rob and Ben in the mock draft.

But I digress. I think we’re going to start seeing Barr have some real high end mixed and women’s partnerships pretty soon, and I’ll be very curious to see how that goes. For what it’s worth, Barr is showing she is worth picking higher than #16 when the actual MLP draft comes around at the end of this month in Orlando.

2. Zane Double Gold (Slim) – After starting the year on a tear, with his new serve, particularly in singles we have seen Zane’s results level off and he has had some pretty disappointing results, particularly in doubles. This after showing a fair amount of promise at the end of the 2020 season in doubles. This weekend however he went and got double gold, in mixed doubles, with Susannah Barr, and in men’s doubles with Altaf Merchant, winning an absolute thriller over Jay Devilliers and Adam Stone in the gold medal match. Also notable is that he was down 11-13, 0-10 to Dylan Frazier on the winners side, came back to win game 2 and was down 2-8 in game 3 eventually making the full comeback.

You have to wonder if this could be the start of a better run on the doubles side of things for Navratil heading into the last quarter of 2021?

3. Consistent Greatness (Gritty) – The biggest thing that separates the best players in any sport is the ability to be great day in and day out. In tennis, that’s why it’s so hard to beat the greats in majors. Those top guys like Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have the ability to find the level they need over the course of 5 sets while most other players can’t sustain it.

This isn’t a knock on JW Johnson, who did not podium in singles yesterday after his enormous TOC weekend winning gold. It’s simply a commentary on how hard it is to be consistently great at the top level of any sport. It’s why Ben Johns winning 4765 straight singles matches was so unbelievable. To be able to sustain a level high enough not to lose over that many matches takes incredible ability physically and mentally.

JW is still a teen. We aren’t expecting that he is Ben Johns right now, or ever really. But it should remind us of how hard it is to do what the very best do on a tourney in, tourney out basis. It’s one thing to play at a top level on any given weekend but to bring that level over the course of a month, half a year, a year and multiple years is a totally different beast.

4. Senior Men’s Dominance (Slim) -The senior men’s fields in these pro tournaments seem to be fairly deep and it has become pretty obvious, that when Dave Weinbach and Dayne Gingrich are not playing together, there is no dominant player or team in these brackets and the results can go any number of ways, on any given day. In Chicago this weekend, we had a co-gold medal between Dave Weinbach/Mircea Morariu and Rick Witsken/Jose Derisi. Notably though, Witsken and Derisi defeated Weinbach and Morariu in the winner’s bracket final.

Both Gritty and I continue to be baffled about how Weinbach and Gingrich can be so dominant when playing together (I don’t believe they have dropped a game playing together, let alone a match) yet when playing separately, they are both clearly mortals. My guess is that neither guy really has the mobility to cover a majority of the court when they are playing separately and really insert themselves and dominate, like Ben Johns, but when playing together their combined hands are just to good, and it leaves their opponents with few options.

5. Sneaking In (Gritty) – We have highlighted these players before yet it is still worth noting the podiums for Jackie and Jada Kawamoto in women’s and Dylan Frazier in singles. The Kawamoto’s played Koop and Carr to 3 games twice on Saturday and they were able to knock off the veteran duo of Michelle Esquivel and Sarah Ansboury 15-13 to get to bronze. Jackie Kawamoto also played with Rob Cassidy in mixed on Friday and looked very good despite a 3 game loss to JW/Esquivel and a 15-13 loss to Carr/Stone on the back side.

Dylan Frazier bounced back after a bit of a rough singles appearance at his most recent pro outing to take a bronze after a win of JW and a near win of Zane to get to the winners bracket final.

It’s a couple of new teams sneaking onto podium spots. Not the expected result but, at the same time, not unexpected either. Frazier has been on a lot of podiums recently and the Kawamoto’s came out this weekend to remind us they are here to stay. Not to mention Jade Kawamoto’s gold in singles too.

Fantasy Update: It was a bit weird this week with the withdrawal of Nunnery throwing a wrench in both our teams, but Slim was able to pull out a close 14-13 victory. Annica Cooper’s withdrawal in singles and Kawamoto’s victory were the biggest difference in the matchups.

Slim is now up 2 on the year.

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