The end of 2021 is near with the first true complete season of professional pickleball tours in the home stretch. With the COVID shortened 2020 season, there likely has been a lot of learning for the pros on tour in terms of scheduling and managing their bodies over the course of such a long season. We have had some discussion in this space that we think players are going to have to self-impose offseasons on themselves. Regardless, this is all going to be a process and different players will handle things differently.
There are still takeaways to be had and we have them for you as always after a packed weekend at Hilton Head.
(1) David vs. Goliath (Gritty) – Vivienne David has not been playing competitive pickleball for very long. Her first tournament on record is one from January 2019. So this is the end of year 3 for David and her results have not been world beating for the most part. She has shown moments and flashes of being able to make a step up into the highest tiers of the game. However, the dreaded and fickle consistency hasn’t been there as much as I’m sure she would like. David’s last couple of tournaments, she has demonstrated that she can be more than just another female in that middle upper tier of women in pickleball.
At the PPA Orlando Cup in September , David and Dekel Bar took down Simone and Ben in two games before narrowly dropping their next match against the eventual silver medalists, Irvine and Devilliers, 12-10 in the third. 2 weeks ago in Texas, David and Bar lost in the bronze medal match to end up in 4thplace. David’s game is very well suited for mixed doubles. She is consistent on her forehand side and she counter punches like a monster with her 2-handed backhand.
While David’s mixed results at Hilton Head this past weekend were very good with Zane Navratil, it was her women’s results that made the most noise. David and partner Lea Jansen were able to beat Simone Jardim and Catherine Parenteau twice en route to winning the gold medal in a strong women’s field. I did not think this team had the upside to win this tournament but these Major League Pickleball (MLP) teammates made me strongly reconsider how we graded their team after the MLP draft. Jansen herself has been playing pickleball competitively for even less time than Vivienne David so to roll through two undeniable top five players in the world was extraordinary from the pair. We have seen Jansen get big results not only in singles, but this is a big breakthrough for a pair that are currently viewed as outside the top tier of players in women’s doubles. David seems to slowly but surely be making her way to the top of the game, and this may be just the start.
(2) Collin Johns without Ben Johns (Slim) – Has Collin made himself a Ben Johns specialist, only? When Collin was first breaking into pickleball, we saw him generally playing all three events singles, mixed and men’s doubles. This year we have seen a number of tournaments where he is only playing men’s doubles, though he has started to play more mixed doubles again of late. He has not been playing singles at all, this year. Last year we saw Collin have success when not playing Ben in men’s doubles, when he picked up a silver medal at the Mesa PPA with Adam Stone and a bronze with Zane Affleck at the Georgia Open PPA. This year we have not seen Collin have the same level of success when not partnering with Ben.
Heading into this week I was quite high on Collin and was very interested to see him partner with Dekel Bar and Susannah Barr, a couple players who have had a fair amount of success this year. Collin and Dekel ended up losing their second match 11-5, 11-6 to Thomas Wilson and John Cincola and then were knocked out by Patrick Smith and Jay Devilliers. In mixed he and Susannah were knocked down to the losers brackets by Lea Jansen and Callan Dawson, 11-5, 11-9 and were knocked out by AJ Koller and Lee Whitwell.
I think Collin is clearly, a very talented player, and I also think he is excellent at playing his role in his partnership with Ben, however, I do think it is fair to ask questions about what kind of a player Collin is without Ben? And perhaps even wonder, if, that while working to make his game fit Ben’s style, if it has perhaps caused his overall pickleball game to take a step back?
Update: An additional thought Gritty and I had since posting this, is does Collin fall the way to the 16th pick in the MLP draft, if this weekend had of occurred before the draft?
(3) Podium John (Gritty) – Let’s take a look at some numbers. John Sperling has played 19 tournaments this year. He has medalled in 14 of his 19 events that he has played – 3 of those non-podiums have been with Paul Olin (sorry, Paul, it’s facts only though). He has 10 gold medals in those 19 events. After winning gold at Hilton Head with Mircea Morariu, 5 of his 10 gold medals have come when he was partnered with Morariu. Sperling and Morariu have played 6 tournaments together in 2021.
That is scary.
John Sperling is the not as well known as some of the other senior pros on the tour such as Dave Weinbach, Dayne Gingrich, Scott Moore and Mills Miller. Sperling is almost as consistent as it gets in terms of podiums. If you ever get a chance to watch Sperling play, it’s not hard to see why. Sperling and Morariu did it again at a strong field in Hilton Head after beating Jose Derisi and Rick Witsken to take the gold – they had to go to the game to 15 to do it. Sperling is the Steve Deakin of the senior pro circuit. He’s a consistency man who does not miss and strong hands that are hard to go after. You combine that with the strong counter punching power of Morariu and you have a deadly partnership.
Do I need to repeat that they have played 6 tournaments together in 2021 and won gold in 5 of them?
There’s a lot of mixing in the senior pro world with partnerships, but Sperling just gets podiums. Add another one for the wall. Ho hum.
(4) 4th place Foster No More (Gritty) – Jack Foster is probably the least conventional singles player who competes at a high level on the pro circuit. He basically just rips windmill forehands from anywhere and everywhere on the court. It looks like he’s working on adding more weapons to his repertoire but he’s still forehand dominant at the moment. At first glance, Foster’s style does not appear to be for winning at a high level but he makes it work somehow. 2021 has been a breakout year for Foster in singles with lots of good wins sprinkled across various tournaments. However, any sort of podium consistency, especially at bigger tournaments, has been elusive for him. He has finished 4th place at 4 different tournaments since June – PPA Orlando, APP Chicago, APP New Jersey, APP LA Open.
Foster has been chosen late in a lot of our fantasy drafts in the recent months without ever finding his way on the podium. This weekend, Foster finally had his breakout weekend and he broke out in a big way at one of the larger APP tournaments of the year with a lot of the top players in the draw. Of course, it’s the weekend he gets left out of our draft.
Foster was able to fight through the back draw getting wins over Dylan Frazier and JW Johnson, and then getting Devilliers in 2 straight games. Sure, Devilliers was probably not at his peak for the match as he had played a lot of pickleball over the weekend but that’s a big silver for Foster. He has beaten a lot of the big dogs, including Devilliers, on the tour this year but stringing together enough wins to reach podiums is really hard at this level. I was not a Foster believer early in 2021 until the results became undeniable. The results are getting there for a guy who seems to have been too hard on himself mentally. I don’t have a grand prediction on Foster but he surely will not be someone top players want to see on their side of the draw.
(5) Simone and JW (Slim) – Hilton Head, was a fun tournament, because it gave us a number of new and different partnerships. One of the more exciting ones was the partnership of JW Johnson and Simone Jardim. They did drop one game to Zane and Vivienne, but otherwise they rolled through the bracket on their way to gold. It was an interesting mix of the veteran Simone and the young gun in JW, and I though both players benefited from the partnership. I thought JW benefited from the steadiness and experience of Simone, while Simone clearly seemed to be feeding off the energy of the new partnership as she seemed to be playing with more aggression and passion than we have seen in quite some time.
Will we be seeing more of this partnership in 2022? I think both players could benefit from this partnership in 2022, but Simone will have plenty of competition as JW has to be one of the hottest commodities in the game.
Fantasy Update: It’s another win for Slim as he is going to be able to end the year ahead with the amount of tournaments remaining. The doubles results went his way with Callan and AJ as well as Simone and JW winning. The difference maker for the 15-13 win was Catherine Parenteau beating Lea Jansen in singles though.
Slim is 4 up on the year.
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