Please bear with us as we go through some website changes. You will still be able to access content through nmlpickleball.com and nmlpickleball.wordpress.com for the time being. However, once we get this completed, you will only be able to access our site using the nmlpickleball.com domain. Our IT specialist wants us to advise the readers to be patient as her work as NML’s IT specialist is 100% unpaid. Thanks!
It was noted on the live random thoughts, but it seemed like a particularly heavy line call dispute weekend. It’s possible that we noticed a little more because we had some more time this weekend to watch quite a bit of the action live or it may simply have been a matter of things happening more on center court. These types of things happen all the time on the outer courts, and you see the debate about line judges in the chat. Line judges have been a problem in pickleball as pro players have trouble with the quality that they get from the line judges. The PPA tried giving players the options between line judges and “passive” line judges for bigger matches, which appears to have gone away completely. There will have to come a point in time where pickleball has line judges. You can’t rely on players to make major calls that have such a significant impact on the outcome as the sport grows bigger. We know a lot less than the pros do about which players have the reputations for tight line calls, but this shouldn’t even be part of the equation as more money enters into the sport. No one really enjoys discussing line calls, especially when there don’t appear to be malicious intentions behind them. Unfortunately, it is a reality that all pickleball players have to live with, including the pros.
Let’s take about some other things though, shall we? We almost went with the are JW and Dylan’s excessive celebrations bad for pickleball takeaway this week, but we want to see more evidence before we go all-in on that. Now for the real takeaways from another week of pickleball.
1. Two Tours (Slim) – JW Johnson has clearly made his mark in the first quarter of the year as the second best male player on the planet, and someone hot on the heels of Ben Johns for that crown as the top player in the world. Now, that should be exciting for pickleball fans. Unfortunately, a quick perusal of tournament registrations seems to indicate that they may not be matched up in any tournaments for a while now, except for the US Open at the end of April, with JW currently not appearing to be registered for the next few PPAs, and Ben obviously being married to the PPA. Tournament registrations also show that Dekel Bar and Vivienne David are registered for the PPA Austin this weekend, but do not seem to be registered for many PPAs after that. Adam Stone and Zane Navratil also are not registered for many PPAs right now, among other players.
I have to think a large part of this is that if you are not a PPA signed player, the prize payouts for the PPA events do not create a lot of incentive for unsigned players to play. The PPA certainly has a few more of the big names, but especially on the men’s side it is not the difference that they would like you to believe that it is, especially with Thomas Wilson and AJ Koller registered for more APPs. JW Johnson and Dekel Bar are two of the top five men in the game. I continue to wish that instead of exclusivity agreements, tours focused on putting on the biggest and best tournaments, with the biggest and deepest prize payouts. At the end of the day, I think players, fans and pickleball would all win from that approach. Sadly, that is not the reality and, at least for the next while, we are going to live in a world where l talent is divided among two tours. And it is not going to be strictly a major and minor league tour situation because, for financial reasons, players are going to play on different tours. It may be good for the players, but it is not great for the fans and sport.
Sidenote: Dekel Bar and JW Johnson are lined up to play some tournaments together this year. I would be inclined to take this team against anyone right now, but I would like to see how they actually play together before making too bold of a prediction.
2. Singles Fluctuation (Gritty) – The underdog story du jour was Federico Staksrud. The Argentinian born NAIA tennis alum has made Fort Myers his home and began playing tournaments in September 2021. For the most part a singles specialist in his early career, going into this weekend Staksrud’s had wins over Jack Foster, Rafa Hewett, John Cincola, Dylan Frazier and Frank Anthony Davis. He then broke out in a big way in Delray. After pushing JW Johnson to 3 games and having an 8-6 lead in the third of the winner’s bracket quarter-final, Staksrud ran the table in the backdraw with wins over Foster, Zane Navratil, Ryler DeHeart, John Cincola and Jake Kusmider. He proceeded to once again take JW Johnson to 3 games in the gold medal match, losing 12-10 in the third. Other than Ben Johns, Staksrud is the only player to take a game off JW Johson in singles over this 4-week stretch of play and he actually has taken 3 total games off JW.
While Staksrud is obviously one to watch, the bigger takeaway from his run is that it is more evidence of what these men’s singles draws are becoming, which is a plethora of talented players challenging the current guard. With the learning curve being far less steep in singles relative to doubles in pickleball, a lot of these former tennis players are able to come into pickleball and give these top players a run for their money. As more and more talent come into the sport, we’re seeing earlier returns for less experienced players.
Alex Neumann had a big run in the PPA Riverland Open two weeks ago, getting wins over Tyler Loong and Jay Devilliers. Following a loss to Ryler DeHeart in round one, Julian Arnold came away with 4th place at the PPA last weekend, ultimately losing to Ben Johns. DeHeart and doubles teammate Travis Rettenmaier have had some results in singles (Rettenmaier actually beat Staksrud 17-15 in Punta Gorda). Gabriel Tardio got a bronze in Punta Gorda. James Ignatowich beat Thomas Wilson and AJ Koller at the Riverland Open. And here I am talking like Thomas Wilson shouldn’t be included in this group of up and comers.
I’m probably missing some other names, but you get the point. Not a single player noted above has a tournament played prior to December 2020 (I’m not including Thomas Wilson in that). Jay Devilliers, who was arguably the most consistent singles player in 2021 other than Ben Johns, already looks like he may be falling behind in the singles race. It makes sense that the singles game would be ripe for newcomers to make some noise, and nothing highlights that more over these past 4 weeks than Staksrud’s run in Delray.
3. Will the Competitive Women’s Fields Continue? (Slim) – A concern both of us had heading into the year was what would the women’s fields look like in APP tournaments? With pro women’s brackets often already very small, and a number of the top women locked into the PPA, we worried about both the numbers and quality of the fields. But at least for the first quarter of the season, the women’s fields have been a pleasant surprise. Over the past three APP tournaments, we have seen good sized brackets that have had a nice mix of new players (Anna Bright, Megan Fudge), rising talents (the Kawamoto’s, Jorja Johnson) and established veteran’s (Simone Jardim, Andrea Koop). I think taking out the elite women provides motivation for more women to enter the pro brackets, which is something that has been desperately needed. We are also seeing these PPA women’s fields get bigger too with a fairly sizable doubles field in Austin coming up and it may be that slowly, but surely, more talented women are entering the sport at a higher rate. Now, it will be interesting to see if this trend continues for the APP as they leave Florida. Florida, with its depth of talent, really helps solidify these fields, and some of these new players may not want to travel outside of Florida.
4. Susannah Barr’s Big Weekend (Slim) – It was a big weekend for Susannah Barr as she picked up two silver medals this weekend. I doubt going into the weekend many people would have predicted that Susannah would have made the podium in either event so it is quite noteworthy that she took away a couple of silvers. That often seems to be the case with Barr, though. She is often over looked, but at the end of the day she finds herself on her fair share of podiums. When she is playing with the right partner, Susannah continues to be someone no one wants to face, especially in mixed. Susannah’s women’s results are more sporadic, but that may largely be due to the difficulty in finding consistent partners. Susannah has shown us she can get women’s results as well with her gold medals in Chicago and Newport Beach, with Lauren Stratman and Jessie Irvine, last year.
Also, of note in women’s results this weekend was Simone Jardim going double gold, with JW Johnson and Andrea Koop. Simone is showing that she can still get it done in these fields when she has the right partners. And both Susannah and Simone are showing the forty plus women can still get it done, and should not be counted out.
5. Senior Pro Double Dip (Gritty) – Steve Kennedy and Jamie Oncins came away with the win in men’s senior pro doubles this weekend in a very strong field. These APP fields are generally quite deep for senior players with the most notable missing players being Dayne Gingrich and Dave Weinbach. However, it’s nothing to scoff at for Kennedy/Oncins to come back through the back draw after losing 13-11 in the third to Derisi/Witsken to beat them twice in the gold. Oncins mostly plays Florida tournaments and Kennedy is getting up there at age 57 from a senior pro perspective (although Scott Moore would disagree with that probably).
On the other side of the field, I wanted to highlight the quite random women’s doubles silver medal by play-in seeded Shelly Maher and Jenny Hubbard. I had not seen their names before and that’s because they don’t play many tournaments. Both from New York, they have played together quite a bit but their only tournament since COVID began was the 2021 US Open. Hubbard, who is in first eligible senior pro year, waltzes into her first senior pro event with Shelley Maher and gets a silver medal. After their first round match, they had to play Bellamy/Bagby, who ended up being their only team they lost to all day. Shelley Maher, in particular, has some very smooth looking strokes and it appears the hands on both players are strong. Curious if we will see these two at any more senior pro events going forward.
Fantasy Update: Not even sure what to say at this point. 16-9 for Slim as it doesn’t get any better for Gritty. Slim bet on JW and Anna Bright this weekend, and they paid off big with 6 podiums between the two of them. Impossible to chalk up this weekend to luck as this was purely better analysis on Slim’s part overall. It’s now 6 up and a giant run of 10 up going back to the end of 2021. The trash talk is one-sided at this point. We’ll see if things start to get more competitive, but it is not looking promising.
Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below or email us at email@example.com. Follow us on Instagram or Facebook too!
Teaser: Keep an eye out for our DUPR Beat the Dream Team Preview that we’ll be posting Tuesday morning!