1. Winning (no matter the cost?) (Gritty) – Let’s set the scene here. It is game 2 of the women’s singles gold medal match between Jillian Braverman and Vivienne David. Braverman won the first game 11-1 and is up 3-1 in the 2nd when David calls a timeout. The referee gives the players their 15 second warning. Braverman walks back to her paddle, the ref looks for David, but David is nowhere to be found. Braverman proceeds to pick up her paddle, bounces the ball as if she is preparing to serve, the ref calls time in and the score, the ref calls the score, and within 2 seconds Braverman serves to an empty court. David is still not in the picture. Only her Niupipo paddle. The serve goes untouched. 4-1 Braverman. David is then seen walking to her paddle wryly smiling as only Vivienne David can. David picks up the paddle almost as if nothing has happened and gets ready to play the next point. You can hear the odd comment from the crowd but otherwise it is crickets.
The APP broadcast is silent here. Braverman wins the next point, let’s out a huge “LET’S GO” and Dominic Catalano finally chimes in with the comment “5-1” Braverman. No mention anywhere of the wild sequence of events we saw. I wish the APP would have at least commented on what happened – an opinion isn’t even necessary but note what happened for the viewers. They gave Zane Navratil and Altaf Merchant major kudos when the pairing took the non-Braverman path to this dilemma and refused to serve until the other team was ready (that time Andrei Daescu was changing his shirt during the timeout and it took a little longer than the allotted 1 minute).
I don’t intend to really make this into a whole giant sportsmanship thing even if that’s part of it. Braverman clearly has no guilt about taking the point. In fact, she is chomping at the bit to get the serve off before David can come back to the court. And yeah, technically, Jillian did not do anything wrong. She was fully within the rights under the rules to make the serve. I don’t know what Vivienne was doing and why she took so long to get back on the court.
Although this is partly about sportsmanship, for me personally, it’s a more of a competitive thing. I will never understand people like Braverman. The win by any means personality. Maybe I have too much of a utopian ideal of how humans should behave in these situations. Maybe my definition of what is should be done is an unfair standard. Maybe these are supposed to be pros and it’s David’s fault if she is not back on the court in time.
Or maybe, we should be asking why any competitor wants to win the way Braverman did. Braverman was undoubtedly deserving of the gold on Sunday because she played well. I’m also quite confident from her on court behavior and her post-match interview that she isn’t losing any sleep after taking that 4-1 point from David. It’s quite possible she didn’t contemplate she did anything wrong until she talked to someone after the match. She sure didn’t seem to think about doing anything else in the moment, which is probably what infuriates me more than anything about this.
Jillian, don’t you want to win knowing that you took the gold because you were the better player? Don’t you want to win without thinking back to yourself that maybe I drop that game 2 if I don’t get that cheap ass point? It’s pretty evident form Glenn Lucey’s post on the Pickleball Forum that not everyone shares my point of view on this. It’s not like David has any history with trying to extending timeouts, at least not to my knowledge (this would change my opinion of the situation though)
Vivienne David is by far the bigger person than I am. I wish I was more like Vivienne, just being able to smile it off and not worry that someone only cares about winning and not how they win. We have precedent for something like this from Navratil and Merchant. They showed us what you do, at least in my opinion what you should do. But it’d probably still be better for the world if more of us reacted to Braverman’s actions like Vivienne did.
Braverman is a bright talent in pickleball where more talent is desperately needed on the women’s side. While Braverman may be very competitive, one thing I’ll never be able to call her is a competitor.
Slim Note: I was actually fairly on board with Gritty here, who is definitely an idealist about these things, until we got to this last paragraph, where he says he can’t call Jillian a competitor. There have been plenty of all-time great competitors who would beat their own grandmother, to get to the top, so I can’t get behind not calling Jillian a competitor. She might be a competitor that Gritty respects, but she is certainly a competitor.
Also while I would like to think that I would ohandle the situation differently than Jillian, Vivienne has to be back on the court on time. As someone who probably has an unhealthy level of paranoia about losing on technicalities and is always panicked about making it the court as soon as possible after they are called to avoid a forfeit, I have a hard time fathoming how you don’t make it back to the court on time after a timeout.
UPDATE NOTE: The Dink put out an article with their take on the Braverman controversy and included some comments from Braverman with her alleged thought process during the events in question. In a nutshell, I am not buying what Jillian is selling. Here’s a few brief points:
- Braverman wrote “But there is no shot clock on the court and when you hear the score called you are trained to serve the ball.” Come. On. We are not robots who are trained to serve the ball when no one is on the other side of the court. Braverman starts preparing to serve and looks to David’s side of the court about prior to time in being called by the referee. She takes one more look up to the court as the score is called and then serves. This is not something pickleball soldiers are trained to do. Colonel Jessup did not order the Code Red.
- There is reference to a lost point (serve is probably more accurate) at the LA Open after a timeout but, if we want to talk about context, that was not a similar situation. My understanding is neither team heard the 15 second warning coming out of the timeout when Braverman’s team lost the serve. It’s not an apples to apples comparison.
- The whole “it’s my first day” excuse is laughable. In fact, it was clear Braverman was experienced enough to know, especially coming off of the LA Open lost serve, that if David was not on the court when time was called in that she could get a free point by serving it before she got back. An inexperienced player would be wondering what the hell they are supposed to do when there isn’t a player on the other side. Braverman does not acknowledge at any point, before or after, that what she has done is even a little off. That’s someone with enough experience who very well knew what she was doing.
SLIM’S UPDATE NOTE: While Braverman’s choice is not what I would have done, in a weird way I was ready to respect Jillian, if she stood by what she did and said something along the lines of “you play to win the game”, but her given explanation just rings hollow to me.
EXTRA SIDE NOTE: The Freestyle Boys, Rob and Ben, provided their opinion to the controversy towards the end of their podcast yesterday too. You can listen to it here or wherever you get your podcasts
2. Girl Power (Slim) – It’s know secret that the sport could definitely use more women who are capable of competing at the pro level, and I thought one of the more exciting things this weekend was we saw some relatively new faces who show promise to really make an impact and be able to compete at the women’s pro level.
Jillian Braverman’s dominant singles gold medal performance, was very impressive and continued to make both Gritty and I wonder what her potential ceiling is. It will also be interesting to see if she plays more singles after this performance. She definitely has the ground strokes, powerful serve, good movement and length to be a great singles players.
The Utah girls, Meghan Sheehan-Dizon and Allyce Jones, had a good run in women’s doubles and ended up fourth but beat the very solid bronze medalist team of Vivienne David and Lee Whitwell on the winner’s side of the bracket, before falling to them in the rematch game to 15. Allyce Jones also had a couple of impressive mixed weekends, playing with Chuck Taylor, picking up some very solid wins. Sheehan-Dizon also had a number of wins in mixed the last couple weekends playing with Morgan Evans and the Unicorn. Sheehan-Dizon only has tournament history since 2020, and Jones first tournament shows as being in 2021, so the fact they are getting these results already is very promising for their future potential.
Cierra Gaytan-Leach was quite impressive, showing very good hands, which always indicates further upside. Michelle Lui also continues to show as smooth of strokes as any female and great hands, but continues to only play tournaments sporadically. She had a good run with Morgan Evans in mixed this weekend.
It’s great to see new faces, and we do wonder what the potential ceiling is for all of the these players. Can any of them challenge the top players in the game? Even if they end up falling short of that, it is clear that they can all compete at the professional level and that is a great thing for pickleball.
3. Double Dip Devilliers (Gritty) – The last 3 weeks from Devilliers has been the most consistent run in all 3 brackets (mixed, gender doubles and singles) since the APP and PPAs began running. I’m not including Ben Johns in this “most consistent” definition FYI. The weird thing about Devilliers’ consistency is that he has been doing the ultra-hard way. I’m not sure whether it truly qualified for consistency if you’re having to go the back draw every time but having the fortitude to consistently come back through to win from the back draw is undoubtedly remarkable. In the last three weekends, Devilliers has won 6 gold medals in the following ways:
- It started on a singles Friday in Indianapolis coming back to take down Zane Navratil in three games and then 21-19 in an epic game to “15”.
- The next day in Indy he comes back to carry an injured Patrick Smith to another tight win in the game to 15 over Rob Nunnery and Adam Stone.
- After a disappointing mixed day at the LA Open, Devilliers double dipped with Morgan Evans winning against Nunnery and JW Johnson 16-14 in the game to “15”.
- On singles Sunday in LA, Devillers won gold the old fashioned way in 3 games against Gabriel Joseph.
- This past weekend he gets a gold with DJ Young after losing early in the day against Dylan Frazier and AJ Koller.
- In mixed on Saturday, Devilliers came back around with Michelle Esquivel to win the game to 15.
There’s not much in the way of analytics in pickleball but the law of averages would seem to suggest Devilliers is going to lose some more of those close matches if he keeps this up. He already lost a tough one in the bronze to JW Johnson in singles on Sunday after losing the main draw to Gabriel Joseph. However, to do what he has done with a bunch of different partners and playing all three days of tournaments with very long singles days is something to behold. He likely needs to stop losing early in these tournaments without the top guys in play if he wants to be a constant force at the major tournaments. Considering how well he is playing, I expect that will come for Devilliers in time.
4. Where There’s Whitwell, There’s a Way (Gritty) – After a solid bronze with Vivienne David on Friday, Whitwell surprised us with a shocking run eventually taking silver in mixed with her partner AJ Koller. Whitwell is a player who has been playing for a while at this point in relative pickleball terms. She’s a lefty who is very athletic and arguably hits as hard an overhead as any female in pickleball. She has not had any major success in bigger tournaments recently and was not on our radar at all in the mixed field coming into the So Cal Classic. We mentioned 8 mixed teams in our fantasy draft write up but no mention of Whitwell/Koller.
One thing to note is despite her being in her age 47 year in 2021, she looked like she was moving better this past weekend than at any point in the past couple of years. It made a real difference as she was out there being a serious Erne threat and, if you know Whitwell, you know she has the hands and power to hold up in mixed particularly. Things were going as expected in game 3 against Carr/Stone when they were down 8-0 but they came all the way back against a team that we could have seen winning gold. They beat a bunch of good teams and barely lost to Devilliers/Esquivel, 15-12, after going 3 games in the gold medal match.
We don’t want to give away all the secrets as gambling makes its way to pickleball but what about Lee Whitwell and her fellow Team Head compadre Steve Deakin, Senior Pro mixed, 2024? Book it. Who is stopping them? She’s the only woman close to 50 who is still consistently competitive at the pro level right now so watch out 2024 senior pros. But I digress…great weekend from Whitwell
5. Fresh is best? (Slim) – Something that I will be interested to watch next weekend at the PPA Orange County Cup, is if there any correlation between rest or rust, and success? There are obviously a few exceptions, but a vast number of the players expecting to compete for podium spots fall into two categories, those that have been off for the last month since Atlanta, and those that will playing for the third or fourth weekend in a row here. I obviously don’t really count Ben or Simone in this because it seems they always perform, but I am curious with other players. You have guys like Rob Nunnery, Jay Devilliers and Adam Stone who will be playing for their fourth weekend in a row and then there Tyson McGuffin, Riley Newman and Dekel Bar who will be playing for the first time in a month. I’ll be curious to see how it shakes out.
Fantasy Recap – It’s a tie! Slim swept the women’s doubles grouping but the singles day with Jillian Braverman and Gabe Joseph winning gold along with JW Johnson’s silver salvaged the week for Gritty. The Lee Whitwell/AJ Koller podium was a missed undrafted team for us this week.
14-14 tie on the week and, fittingly, we are both tied for the year in fantasy still. Onto the next one.
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