Another tournament, another set of takeaways. This week we’re collaborating with The Kitchen – A Pickleball Community. The Kitchen is the fastest-growing Pickleball community on Facebook. They deliver the best curated content, do tons of paddle & gear giveaways and is a great place to connect with other Pickleball lovers. We also love how dedicated to helping see that the sport grow. If you aren’t in the group, come join us!
In terms of the actual pickleball this weekend, it was a knock ‘em out, drag ‘em out kind of weekend in Indianapolis with some of the most grueling gold medal matches we have seen on the pro tour this year. It’s time for our 5 takeaways after the first of 3 consecutive APP Tour weekends.
1. Breakout SZN (Slim) – It was the Lea Jansen coming out party this weekend, as she pulled off the triple crown this weekend in impressive fashion. It started with singles where she was in my mind at least a pretty significant favorite. Nevertheless, she showed great resilience after losing the first game 11-0 to Lauren Stratman, and falling behind early in the second game, she fought back, won the second game and was dominant the rest of the day. Then, in women’s doubles her win with Lauren Stratman cannot be considered a big surprise as they had won Cincinnati a few weeks prior, but they left little doubt they were the top team, and I was most impressed with the fact that Jansen looked like the dominant woman on the court all day, controlling the play. Finally, she and JW Johnson had the most impressive run of the tournament, winning the mixed doubles over Andrea Koop and Zane Navatri in a highly entertaining fashion. After losing the first game and falling down 10-4 in the second game, they fought off 7 match points to win that game 13-11, and after falling down 6-0, and 9-6 in the third game, they battled back to take it 11-9, and force a game to 15 which they won 15-9. The resilience was impressive, and Jansen’s encouragement with the young JW all day was notable.
I am excited to see where Jansen’s game goes from here. She obviously has natural talent, but she is also very obviously a competitor and a grinder. She is continuously working on her game, which is evident in all facets, but in particular I have noticed her backhand has really improved and is becoming a weapon. I also love seeing her working on her own chainsaw serve. I know Gritty in particular has been tough on Lea in the past and I don’t think it’s been fair she is still very new to the game relative to most of the top female pros she is trying to beat, and these things take time. However, given time, when talent meets hard work, the results usually come and I think that’s what we saw this weekend.
While the growth process won’t be a straight linear upwards projection for Lea, this weekend really does make you wonder what Lea may be able to do, in time, at the biggest tournaments. I would bet on her, as usually hard work and competitiveness win out.
While Jansen’s triple crown took most of the shine and rightfully so, it was also a breakout weekend for her partner JW Johnson, who along with the gold in mixed, took 4th in both men’s doubles and singles. Despite what can appear to be a nonchalant style, the talent of JW has always been obvious. It’s just that until this weekend, he had yet to really breakthrough. He’s a young guy so we’ll see what this gold medal run in particular will do for his confidence, and only turning 19 this year, the sky is literally the limit for JW.
2. #Fitness (Gritty) – It’s a grind to play 3 days of a pro pickleball tournament. Jay Devilliers and Zane Navratil played an exceptionally grinding gold medal match on the Friday in singles. Devilliers came back through the loser’s side and took Navratil to a game to 15 where they proceeded to trade what felt like a bazillion match points before Devilliers ultimately won 21-19. The Instagram stories out there showed them barely being able to walk later that day at the grocery store. I have no idea what Devilliers does for his fitness but he must be doing something right because he had to take even more court than he normally does to make up for Pat Smith’s bum knee. Devilliers alpha’d Team Model’s way to a gold medal match, once again needing the game to 15 to take gold. Devilliers isn’t a big social media guy but maybe he should help the people out with some fitness tips on there.
You also have to give Zane Navritil props but we know the man is in shape (or at least he looks like he should be). It does cross one’s mind if there was some element of fatigue in the gold medal match on the final day in mixed. That’s a loss that can’t sit well with him for a long time.
On the other end of the fitness spectrum is Adam Stone who continues to suffer from cramping issues and had to pull out for a 2nd time on mixed day this year with Corrine Carr due to this. I do feel for him. Cramping issues affect each person quite differently but, at the end of the day, Stone is a professional who needs to figure something out. Based on appearance, the fitness looks like it definitely could be improved and you have to think there is some combination of hydration, nutrition, stretching and/or massage that could help him more. I have no clue what he has or has not tried to rectify the problem, but there has to be something different he can do because this is an ongoing issue without even playing the singles day.
The takeaway? #Fitness is becoming far more important with the pro game getting strong with each passing day in pickleball.
3. Senior Pro Parity (Gritty) – This is not the first time we have discussed this topic and the increasing depth of the senior men, but this weekend solidifies the parity in this division outside of the Gingrich/Weinbach pairing. The US Open featured Gingrich not medaling with a top senior player in Tao Thongvanh while this past weekend featured Weinbach getting 2nd in a 2 team race for gold despite being partnered with Rick Witsken. Mircea Morariu did not play singles this weekend but he continues to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with on the senior pro circuit. John Sperling is a podium staple but to be able to take down a team that features arguably the best senior pro in Weinbach and arguably a top 5 senior pro in Witsken is undoubtedly impressive. Keep an eye on these senior fields when Weinbach/Gingrich aren’t paired up together as neither is dominant enough on their own to steamroll these fields without the other. It’s a different world since Weinbach first turned 50.
4. APP Streaming Setback (Slim) – One of the things that Gritty and I have felt that the APP really has going for it, is streaming. They have been the leaders in bringing all day tournament coverage to pickleball fans everywhere, and it is great exposure for both the game and the tour. They were also the first ones to bring multiple streams all day, further creating goodwill among pickeball fanatics everywhere.
However, this weekend, they only had one stream (a decision of the tournament, not the Tour we understand) and the last two tournaments have featured a lot of interruptions to the streams. In our opinion these are issues that the APP needs to work out quickly if they want to maintain the reputation of providing the best coverage to pickleball fans everywhere.
Hopefully, the APP will be able to work these issues out, because it appears that PPA has taken note of the streams issue, and in Atlanta they offered multiple streams for most of the tournament, which seemed to gain favor with pickleball fans everywhere.
5. Baffling Strategy (Gritty) – Two weeks ago it was the Waters playing everything to Simone Jardim in Atlanta. This week it’s Nunnery/Stone playing the vast majority of the balls to Jay Devilliers. This would be defensible typically as Devilliers and Smith are both very strong players. However, Patrick Smith was seriously hampered going into the gold match with a knee injury. He talked in the post-match interview about how he couldn’t move in the bronze match and it seemed like it was more of the same in the gold medal match. I understand that Devilliers was playing the Ben Johns role and taking just about everything he could to help Smith out. What I couldn’t understand was why Nunnery/Stone were content returning a lot of serves his way and, more egregiously, having Nunnery go at him cross court, backhand to backhand for three straight games.
I guess Stone/Nunnery wanted the stack with Nunnery on the left. They won the winners bracket final so it was working for them throughout the day. The question I am left with is how can you play against a guy who can barely move and not try to make him work more than they did? Yeah, Devilliers had played a long singles day on Friday but after losing game 1 then game 2, do you not switch your strategy at some point? What about going into the game to 15?
We both thought that either Nunnery goes straight on with Smith or you could stack Nunnery on the right side – Nunnery himself has said on both his podcast and blog very recently he may focus on becoming a right-sided player. I have said on a previous post I don’t understand why players are so averse to dinking straight on so maybe it’s a preference of dinking cross court? But then the question goes back to playing the right side, except Nunnery has said publicly he is not as comfortable on that side yet.
Maybe, just maybe, Nunnery and Stone felt bad for an injured Smith and wanted it to be a fair fight? And they say chivalry is dead.
Regardless of the reason, it was like beating a dead horse by playing the ball time and again to Devilliers. They played right into their hands. An early birthday gift perhaps? Despite our view of this as a major strategic boo boo, Nunnery/Stone were super close to winning the game to 15. I’m guessing they wouldn’t have been too disappointed with a silver going into the day but this should be seen as a missed opportunity for Nunnery/Stone.
Truly baffling, if you ask me.
Fantasy Pickleball Recap – There was some trash task from Slim after getting 2 up on the year with the ATL win but Gritty was able to bounce back this week. The somewhat accidental women’s singles strategy paid off while the saving grace for Slim was having Lea/JW in mixed. It was 16-8 heading into the mixed day and Slim got 5 out of a possible 6 points from the final day despite losing Carr/Stone.
17-13 for Gritty this week. Slim is up 1 on the year.
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