We had a lot of fun previewing and live blogging the past three days of play at the APP Tour’s Cincinnati Open. It’s intriguing to see different players than we’re used to battling it out on bigger stages and seeing what they are made of. We have 5 takeaways to wrap up the weekend
1. Sleeping on players (Gritty) – Dylan Frazier and Jack Foster are two guys who showed up at Cincinnati in a big way but we may have missed the boat on them prior to this weekend. The thing is, we have watched both of these guys and, admittedly, neither of us saw this in them. We did highlight Frazier/Koller as a team who could possibly medal in this specific tournament. However, it’s clear Frazier is legit on his own. His style is a bit deceptive in that he doesn’t have big weapons and he’s happy to play that beta role. But he can also be an alpha if he needs to be and you see that when he plays mixed or when he played with Matt Chou in Newport not too long ago. We should have known after the US Open performance he had.
Jack Foster got a silver and was not on our radar even after he has had some big wins recently, including against Jay Devilliers in Delray. I (Gritty) told Slim I was out on Jack Foster after some very unnecessary trick shots when he played mixed with Lucy Kitcher in a gold medal match versus Scott Golden/Milan Rane at a smaller tournament a couple of months ago. The unnecessary trick shots in real matches generally indicates to me someone who isn’t going to put in the work. This may be a mistake in typecasting but that’s my rule of thumb. (Slim Note: Gritty does have a blind spot here, he is a ‘fundamentals guy’ all the way. I am not a huge fan of the unnecessary trick shots either, but if you can get the job done, you can get the job done). Regardless, hell or high water, he runs around his forehand and keeps ripping it no matter what. And you know what? It works somehow. He’s talented and we probably should stop being surprised by his results
2. Games to 15 – It’s not the tournaments fault when it rains but we are not a fan of games to 15. We want the most deserving teams to win and games to 15 don’t give you that for the entire draw. It’s a tough spot for the tournament with no real winners, because the vast majority of people want to finish that day, so you have to find a way to fit in the games, but it certainly does provide for the best product necessarily.
3. Sunday Singles (Gritty)– I’m still not sure how I feel about the Sunday singles. You want your best players in top form for the marquee events, which are the doubles events in pickleball. However, the Sunday singles is ripe for both withdrawals and players being gassed from the previous day or two. There were a bunch of withdrawals on Sunday during the event itself and that’s because it is a lot harder to play a long singles day when you are not fresh.
I have not dug into the numbers but the other aspect of things is that Saturday and Sunday seem like they would be better for viewers. Friday during the work day and in the evening never lends itself to appointment viewing for sports or any TV in general. Do you want one of your marquee events on a Friday or a Sunday?
I think because most of the pickleball playing world centers around doubles, the players prefer having Sunday singles as the last day so they don’t have to worry about it screwing themselves or their partners for doubles on the weekend. It may not be best for the sport but, personally, I prefer the Friday singles.
(Slim Note: This is a Gritty take and he is a singles guy, so he wants to be as fresh as possible for singles with it on Friday. As more of a doubles player who will play singles, I much prefer singles at the end, because I know I can empty the gas tank on singles day without having to worry about it. I am actually much more likely to play singles when it is on the last day and I don’t have to worry about potentially hurting my partners.
I do like what some of the larger tournaments have done over the last year where they have the singles on Thursday and then Friday off with doubles on the weekend, and I think for larger pro tournaments this is a preferable format. Though not always the best for those of us with 9-5 jobs. Gritty rebuttal: I think singles on the Thursday is the best for everyone with the only caveat being that it makes scheduling for players difficult having to come another day early).
4. Heartbreakers – A number of true heartbreaking games this weekend. It started in mixed with Remynse-Chou/Cassidy losing to Franco/Devilliers after being up a game and having match point at 10-7 in the 2nd game. They ended up losing their next match in the losers bracket but who knows how their day shakes out after that. Carr/Stone later took down Koop/Navratil 12-10 in the third on their way to the winners bracket final.
On the men’s side. Koller/Frazier lost a tight three game match to Devilliers/Smith and then proceeded to lose to the Rob’s in the bronze match 11-9 in the third after having a healthy lead. They often say in a lot sports that it is a game of inches and pickleball is no different.
5. Time, Time, Time – Pickleball is the easy sport to pick up, difficult to master. Yada yada yada, we have heard it before. However, we sometimes forget that it does not happen overnight for most of these very talented players. Other than some exceptions here and there, it is a progression to get to compete at the highest level. Prior to this weekend, the only time I had seen the Kawamoto’s play before was versus Parenteau/Leigh Waters at Simone’s Florida Grand Slam in 2020. They weren’t totally out of place but they were also clearly overmatched at that point. Their results since then have not screamed “WATCH OUT FOR THESE GALS” necessarily but you can only get so much from looking briefly at tournament history results.
It’s clearly unfair to have though this but, frankly, we both expected a little bit better in terms of results from sisters who played very high-level tennis. The doubles game in particular is one that takes time to learn even for the very talented racket sports background players entering the game. Lea Jansen falls into this category as well. She won gold this weekend in singles and doubles this weekend, but it wasn’t as clean as we expected in singles considering the field. Still, Jansen’s game is on the upswing, albeit a little slower than we would have expected. The Kawamoto’s did not play their first tournament until August 2019 and we have to remind ourselves that results like the Kawamoto’s had this past weekend at Cincinnati are not usually going to come immediately.
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