This weekend at the APP was a mish-mash of expected and unexpected. In doubles, it was the favorites winning gold all around while in singles we had upsets on both the women’s and men’s side with Salome Devidze and Zane Navratil respectively. It’s an ongoing reminder for pickleball, and sports in general, that when we think we have things figured out, we do not. This is an ever-changing landscape and will continue to be unpredictable, which is why we watch sports. Obviously. Without any more rambling, let’s go to the takeaways.
1. OG. Oh My (Slim) – It has been a bit of renaissance for the OG, Kyle Yates, this year in men’s doubles. Last year, Kyle did not get a lot of results outside of a couple tournaments with Matt Wright. This year, he has shown though that if you put him with an upper tier male player he can still get results. He and DJ Young had a very solid weekend, taking bronze, and pushing Dekel Bar and Adam Stone to the brink in that bronze medal match.
It is also interesting to compare Kyle’s results to Adam Stone’s this year. Heading into 2022, I think most people would have had Adam ranked ahead of Kyle, however, their results seem to indicate that has flipped. In the tournament Dekel Bar and Kyle played together this year at Punta Gorda, Dekel and Kyle won the gold quite easily, beating JW Johnson and Dylan Frazier twice, in two games both times. On the flip side, Dekel and Adam have failed to get past JW and Dylan this year. Also in Punta Gorda, Adam Stone and DJ Young played together and had a disappointing 1 and 2 day, while this weekend we DJ Young and Kyle pick up the bronze. It’s obviously all small sample size stuff, but I do think it is interesting, and speaks to Kyle moving back up the rankings so to speak.
I have to think Kyle, with his recent success, has to, and should, be an appealing partner for some of the better left side players in the game right now.
We notably had Yates undrafted in our MLP mock draft and subsequently gave his Team Chimeras a D (not D mins) draft grade. As Kyle seemingly accepted his new place in the pickleball world and continued to grind his craft, the results have started to come again over the past 6 months or so.
I have to think Kyle with his recent success has to, and should, be an appealing for partner for some of the better left side players in the game.
2. By Hook or By Crook (Gritty) – Salome Devidze played her first professional pickleball tournament in December 2021. With 7 tournaments of pro singles under her belt now, she already has a reputation. And it’s not the good kind of reputation that comes from getting a gold medal at the Legacy Open while adding to her tally of 4 total wins against Jorja Johnson in her short career. No, it’s the kind of reputation that comes from a blatant disregard for fairness in line calls in a sport that demands some semblance of integrity.
Pro pickleball is not a perfect world. The term “hooking” is used when someone makes an intentional bad call. Whether you’re playing at the amateur or pro level, you have all probably been hooked by your opponent at some point in time. Hooking other players is one of the more prominent dirty little, mostly unspoken hush-hush deals in pro pickleball. We don’t spend a lot of space in this blog accounting for line calls as its prevalence makes it too much to keep track of. The lack of proper video replay makes it quite difficult to be entirely sure of anything as well.
However, Devidze has quickly become one of the most brazen line callers in the pro game. It has been happening in past events and there were multiple instances of it on Thursday with Devidze on center court. At 7-6 in game 2, Devidze calls a ball out that looks to catch the line on the video replay. In a vacuum, this isn’t anything to write home about. These kinds of calls happen on a fairly frequent basis. For Devidze, it is something to take notice of though:
Later, as Devidze was trying to close out the match against Jorja Johnson at 10-8, she serves a ball well long but is not pleased with Jorja’s out call on the serve. I’m not really sure why. Two points later on Jorja’s serve at 9-10, Devidze calls another ball on the same sideline out that, again, seems pretty clearly in. Jorja, who is one of the few players well known for being generous with her line calls, is justifiably not pleased with the call at such an important moment:
As a color commentator and pro singles player himself when healthy, Daniel Roditi has to give these players the benefit of the doubt. As a blogger I do not have to be that political. Devidze has lost the benefit of the doubt. She is staring this ball down as it hits the ground and she knows exactly what she is doing. In her mind, she was already on the wrong end of a tight call only two points prior to that. Not that we should be gleaning too much for what is being said in the Youtube comments generally, but it’s apparent the viewers watching are getting just as frustrated with Devidze.
We saw it against Yu-Chieh Hsieh later in the day . At 3-1 in game 1, Hsieh put a ball that was further in than any ball Devidze had called out up to that point and she had no issue making the out call. Amazingly, a few points later there is Devidze complaining about Hsieh calling a ball out that looks to be out – it is very close. I guess if you’re a person that wants to hook people on line calls, you aren’t going to feel weird complaining about tight calls the other way. It was clear later on in the match that Hsieh called a couple of balls out that looked to be in as retailiation to Devidz too.
Everyone has been on the wrong end of bad calls and everyone has been the maker of a bad call. Not intentionally a lot of the time, but it happens. We are all humans. What Devidze is doing is something I can’t ignore any longer. It’s a pattern. Jorja was on the Pickler Podcast recently and displayed a really good attitude about hooked line calls, essentially saying that if you have to beat me that way then I feel bad for you (I’m paraphrasing here). The Johnson siblings don’t react to very much but it’s impossible for Jorja not to be frustrated by what Devidze has been doing. It doesn’t matter that Jorja went on to win game 2. It doesn’t matter that Jorja did not lose because of Devidze’s bad calls. Devidze beat Johnson again in the finals. That’s not the point.
It does not happen as often but there are other things that are done by players outside of line calls. I have noticed Andrei Daescu as someone who uses certain rules to his advantage that may not technically be considered cheating such as his “hindrance” call at MLP that I noted in the live blog at the time or the controversy with Dekel/Adam in Boca Raton that led what was almost certainly a retalitory hindrance call by Dekel. This stuff is far from an isolated incident in the pro world
None of this funny business is going to stop. We have competitive people playing for legitimate money in a sport that relies on fairness from players. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to call out repeated and intentional cheating for what it is.
3. In-Zane in the Membrane (Slim) – Zane Navratil was coming off what had to be a disappointing Delray Beach tournament, where he failed to make the podium in all three events. He rebounded in a big way this weekend though, taking gold over JW Johnson who up until now, has had his number this year (along with everybody else), and also added a bronze in mixed with Susannah Barr. Zane seemed to be serving a little bigger than he had been this year in singles, and was following up those serves, with big drives and was able to pass JW. We know that the big serve and big drive is Zane’s recipe for success in singles. There is not a lot of cat and mouse happening on his end.
It will be interesting to see if Zane is able to keep the success from this tournament going. Can he regularly start beating JW or at least competing with JW? Zane also has some intriguing partnerships coming up, particularly in men’s doubles, he has a couple with JW Johnson. It will also be interesting to see if he can string together a run of podium finishes in all events at the APPs.
4. Witsken and Gingrich’s Wild Ride (Gritty) – Dayne Gingrich has mostly stayed away from playing APP Tour events despite the fact that the APP is where most of the senior pros are playing these days. It does sound like Gingrich has finally made the switch to the APP though.
This past weekend, Rick Witsken was partnered with Dayne Gingrich and they had quite the day before eventually reaching the top of the podium. Gingrich outlined on social media the general gist of the day. They played 4 total matches during the day. With the level of competition on the senior pro tour now, Witsken/Gingrich had to battle. They won in 3 games over Peery/Robbins in their first match and then barely squeaked out a 12-10 victory in the third game over Crandall/Booth. They proceeded to win in 3 games against Mills Miller/Paul Olin in the winners bracket final before having to face a 4th different team on the day in Morariu/Sperling for the gold. They lost the 2 out of 3 there but prevailed in the game to 15.
It’s not too often you see the gold medal team having to battle that hard. It really speaks to the parity that we see in the senior men’s division right now particularly. We have gone on quite a bit about Dave Weinbach and Dayne Gingrich’s dominance together, but not apart, and this was also another example of that. That’s 4 different teams at each stage of the bracket that gave Rick Witsken, another top senior player, and Dayne Gingrich, arguably the best senior men’s doubles player, a run for their money. That is a wild ride indeed and undoubtedly good for Mr. Gingrich’s mental coach brand.
We also wanted to give a shoutout to the super senior division. Ken Curry was able to come away with double gold. Curry played men’s doubles with long-time pickleball veteran, Larry Moon, and mixed doubles with Bee Kilgore.
5. Ben and Joola (Gritty) – For our 5th takeaway, we decided to re-post the update I added to our Ben Johns to JOOLA? Report from February after the news came out on April Fools day. That news was that Ben Johns is indeed going to be sponsored by JOOLA. It is very notable when the #1 player out there goes to a company that previously had next to zero ties to the pickleball world. Here is what I wrote:
Ben Johns has announced he is signing with JOOLA. It is clear at this point that JOOLA is going all-in on pickleball as we had noted in our original post below – there are going to be 14 paddles total being released. Johns lined up some media rounds to make his announcement instead of on his own podcast that has not had an episode since January 22, 2022. It sounds like there are a number of other current pros who have sponsorship deals lined up with JOOLA.
The most interesting thing to monitor with this official announcement is where Ben Johns’ new signature paddle fits into the current landscape of pro pickleball. There has been a lot of discussion about the Crbn, its legality and even reports of the PPA possibly banning the paddle. We expect the goal for Johns in partnering with JOOLA is to have a paddle that will push the limits of what can be done. While training, fitness, diet etc. are clearly the most important aspects for a player, it will be monitored whether this change in sponsorship will make any difference for the current #1 player.
Fantasy Update: The big mistakes for Gritty was going Koop/Frazier over Barr/Ansboury during the draft and then having Yates/Young behind Gridley/Cassidy. It was an 18-13 victory for Slim but those two picks would have flipped the win the other direction. Tough. It’s back to 6 up for Slim.
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