APP Tour LA Open – 5 Takeaways – Serve’s Up

It was a heater out in California this past weekend and, as usual, a lot of pickleball for the players to grind through. Long days in 90 degree heat with a slower dura ball can be tough sledding, especially when that ball is dancing the way Morgan Evans had it on his serve all weekend. You already know the results. Now, we have the takeaways. 

(1) Serve’s Up (Gritty) – Zane Navratil has gotten all the publicity for his spin, chain saw serve thingy that he unveiled last year. At the same time, Navratil is the one who has given credit to Morgan Evans as the pioneer of this stuff. Evans not only reminded us this weekend that we can’t forget the fact he is the pioneer of actually doing something with your serve in pickleball but als that the serve weapon is not going anywhere.

Evans hasn’t played much over the past year. If you saw Evans prior to COVID, it was pretty clear at that time he had the best serve in the game. He would get it to dance and do some kicking stuff. However, what he had going on this past weekend was a different level. It was on full display in the winner’s bracket final when he won free points off his serve 6 times in game 1 to Matt Chou alone. It was an unprecedented display of serving dominance at the pro level.

The thing about Zane’s serve is that it showed people how to do something different with your serve other than hitting it hard. It’s still unclear from Evans’ serve, at least to me, how he gets so much damn kick off of it. Navratil’s chain saw gave everyone a baseline that you put some spin on the ball with the tosd and you might get something to happen. While Evans was the pioneer of the serve, Navratil is the reason everyone is trying to do more stuff. There are more and more people attempting to do a little more with the serve when basically prior to COVID most people were still just making sure they never missed their serve.

Lea Jansen, JW Johnson, AJ Koller and Quinn Borchard are just a few players off the top of my head from this weekend that I saw trying to do different things with their serve. At a minimum, you’re seeing guys just hit their serve harder like Jack Foster, who really hits the crap out of it without doing anything unusual with his toss

The serve is becoming more than a formality at the pro level and players who aren’t adjusting yet better do it soon because it is a serious edge for those who have it a good one right now.

(2) Old Places, New Faces (Slim) – The men’s podium on Saturday was full of fresh faces and mainly young faces. Outside of the veteran Morgan Evans, only Dylan Frazier has any tournament history on Pickleball Tournaments before 2019, and he is only 20 years old and just started playing pro events in 2021. JW Johnson, all of 19 years old, and Jay Devilliers just started playing tournaments in 2019 and Rob Nunnery and Matt Chou played their first tournament in 2020. In a tournament that had its fair share of veterans including Jeff Warnick, Adam Stone, Callan Dawson, DJ Young, Rob Davidson and Randy Zbinden, it was impressive to the see the fresh blood rising to the top.

These results aren’t exactly shocking given that Devilliers is leading the APP standings, and Nunnery, Johnson and Frazier are becoming regular podium presences on the APP tour. However results like these also lead one to wonder who might be the next players coming along, and where will they come from? It also leads one to congemplate if some of these guys outside of Devillier, who is already there, may soon be making the podium in the biggest tournaments.

(3) Crowd Goes Wild (Slim) – The crowd was apparently a little rowdy on Saturday night, and it was obviously bothering the players in the men’s final. In particular, it seemed to bother the gold medalists Morgan Evans and Jay Devilliers. With a lot of the venues restricting fans etc. for the last year or so this isn’t something we have seen a lot of recently so I think it will take player’s some time to adjust to again. I am unclear with what exactly was going on with the crowd on Saturday, and think there may have been issues with yelling during points, which is another issue, but generally in what may be an unpopular opinion I would like pickleball crowds to get a little rowdier and for cheering to wildly encouraged between points. I think this leads to a better and more fun environment in the long run, and would make the sport more spectator friendly! We are not tennis!

The players are going to have to get used to more hootin’ and hollerin’ in between points. If you want to be a pro, you better buck up and learn to embrace crazy fans and crazy pros alike going nuts on the sideline.

(4) Unpredictable Results (Gritty) – This weekend has probably been the most unpredictable pro weekend of the year so far from a results standpoint. Dominic Catalano and Lauren McLaughlin were gracious enough to bring up our fantasy draft preview both Friday and Saturday on the broadcast. Of course, we’re never going to complain about getting shout outs on the APP broadcast but did they really have to do it on the weekend when our picks missed as much as they did this weekend? In all seriousness, the reason they brought it up was because neither of us picked the gold or silver mixed teams on Friday nor did we pick Matthew Chou and Dylan Frazier for men’s doubles on Saturday.

I think the unpredictable results is a reminder of how difficult it is to win a bunch of matches in a row on any given tournament day. Those top guys make it look routine but when the top players like Ben Johns, Simone Jardim, Matt Wright, Lucy Kovalova, Riley Newman, Tyson McGuffin and Steve Deakin are not in the field, you are bound to get some crazier results. The only pick I feel bad about missing of those three teams we didn’t choose in our fantasy draft were Susannah Barr and Rob Cassidy. Slim had them at the bottom of his big board but I left them completely off, which is clearly a mistake in that field considering how much we have been on Barr in both our rankings and as an under the radar player. Furthermore, her and Cassidy had a big time bronze in Las Vegas last year.

In any event, without the top dogs in the field, these tournaments are much harder predict and that’s what sports are all about. More of this please. Even if it means broadcasters out us as the talking (blogging?) heads we really are.

p.s. Big ups to Daniel Roditi. I kind of laughed at Slim when he picked Roditi at the end of his fantasy draft. I figured a 45 year old guy who has basically only been coaching and not playing any tournaments over the past year plus would not be able to work his way through a fairly deep men’s singles field. We did not put Roditi in our over 40 singles club when we did our rankings. I clearly should have had more faith in the pastor.

(5) Show Me the Money (Slim) – This is a subject that the Freestyle Boys, Ben Johns and Rob Nunnery touched on in their podcast, but it seems like there should be some sort of correction in tournament payouts, based on the size of the draw. This issue was highlighted Sunday with the singles draws, as the men’s draw featured 28 players, while the women’s draw featured 4 players, yet the tournament paid out for places 1st to 4th place in both draws the same amount (unless the APP changed something on Sunday after all the withdrawals that we are unaware of). In the men’s draw, to get fourth place and get paid, Jack Foster had to win 5 matches. In the women’s draw you simply had to show up Sunday to get paid. As a side note, I cannot figure out why so many women dropped out Sunday when it was already a small bracket – Vivienne David, Lauren Stratman, Michelle Esquivel and Christine McGrath weee all registered to play prior to the tournament.

When tournaments are still charging higher fees for pro division entry, partially to fund those prize pools, it seems like there needs to be some sort of accounting for that in payouts. I think there is merit that tournaments do offer guaranteed prize money of equal amounts to encourage the continued growth of the sport across all divisions, but it seems like there should be some sort of accounting for size of draws in payouts.

To piggyback off the Freestyle Boys, one possible solution would be where he podium spots are paid out the same, but then the tournament agrees to pay 4th, 5th, 6th etc as well based on number of entrants in the division. For example, a tournament could pay out the set podium amounts if there were less then 12 teams in a division, but if there were 12 or more, than 4th place gets paid X amount, and if there were 24 or more teams, then 5/6th places also get paid Y amount and if there were 32 or more teams then 7/8th places get paid Z amount. I think this would be more fair to the players playing in the larger brackets, while also perhaps encouraging more players to sign up for those brackets that currently aren’t attracting as many players. If players think they will have a better chance to win a little money.

There has to be a solution here as it is not a good look for the sport to have the same total prize payouts when there is such a massive discrepancy in the player pool.

Fantasy Recap – It’s another winning week for Gritty, albeit a low scoring week at that. The women’s singles withdrawals did not help the scoring and the difference in the week came down to Gritty getting 5 points on the men’s singles day to Slim’s 1 point. Neither of us had much success when it came to the doubles portion, particularly in mixed where Slim had the only point of the entire weekend from Carr/Stone.

13-9 for Gritty this week. It’s back to all square for the year.

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