The PPA is no doubt doing some things and some things wrong, at least in our opinion. However, for tournament organizers, there aren’t always great options for some problems a. In the middle of a lot of pickleball, there was yet another reffing controversy at a major tournament that was a dark cloud over the play this weekend. The reffing wasn’t the only thing to talk about though. Here are our 5 takeaways from a long weekend in Atlanta.
1. Pickleball Refereeing (Slim) – It was a tough day for pickleball reffing on Sunday. Mistakes happen, and errors are made at every level, but for the referees to have the wrong score in the gold medal match of one of the PPA’s majors and not to be able to get it right is awful. In other professional sports we see referees routinely mess up, but it’s never awarding the New York Knicks an extra point, type of scoring error. There has to be procedures and back checks in place to prevent these kind of mistakes. I know that Gritty and I were both shocked that they were not able to correct themselves.
It also is hard for the players to have any confidence in the reffing and the calls that are being made when they cannot get something as straightforward as the score right. Which if you have ever reffed, you will know that they that will often tell you before your first match, that your only real job is keeping the score. (Referees don’t get mad at me, I know you have more jobs, but from the most simplistic view, a pickleball referee’s job is to make sure the score is right and player’s and serving and returning from the correct positions).
Also I think that the PPA’s 8 person referee/lines person experiment is failure. On multiple calls in the Women’s Doubles Gold Medal Match on Sunday, when a call was questioned the lines person whose call it was claimed they could not see it. This isn’t like a ref who is watching multiple things, and often probably should not be overruling a call. The lines person sole job is to be watching that line and they should be able to give a definitive call 9 out of 10 times. I know Gritty thinks that the line people and referees are often afraid to overrule the players, and I have to tend to agree as I don’t have any other explanation. There is no point in having line people though, if they won’t actually do their job.
I think the reality with line calls is that they will remain an issue until professional pickleball actually grows to the point that it can afford technology to assist with calls.
2. Stormy Waters (Gritty) – This is what I wrote on our live blog after the women’s gold match that went 5 games.
There was some fun strategic stuff going on in the 4th and 5th games, and I think it was clear the Waters were out-strategized by Jardim/Kovalova. In game 4 the Waters went up 6-1 with Lucy on the left side and Leigh on the right side. They isolated Lucy to success so Jardim and her switched sides. While the Waters still won game 4, the game got all tied up at 6-6 with the Waters keeping the same alignment but choosing to isolate the steadiest player in the world. The Waters switched up their alignment in game 3 to put Leigh on the left side but then continued to go at Simone. They proceeded to switch Leigh back to the right side and still went after Simone. Did I mention Simone is the steadiest player in the world? It was wild to me that they willingly chose to go after Simone, particularly with Leigh straight on with her. Leigh saw most of the balls and I think they will watch that back knowing they should have won that match not due to execution but strategic decisions.
After reflecting with Slim on the Waters decisions in that match, we both still cannot comprehend the logic of going after Simone Jardim time and time again. They basically did it for the first three games and only changed it up in game 4 well after Lucy/Simone had stacked Lucy on the left side in the 3rd. This is the most patient I have ever seen the Waters play and they choose to do this against the player that is least likely in the world to fold under that kind of grind. I would love to hear their logic in all of this because it is wildly inexplicable decision making in my view.
3. Triple Crowns (Gritty) – No triple crowns for Ben or Simone this weekend. For Jardim, the competition in both singles and women’s doubles is making it less and less likely that we will see more triple crowns. The added depth across the game is making it less of a cake walk for these two. Kovalova/Jardim were the clear cut dominate team last year but now there are three legitimate teams that can go out to win any tournament if you have the Waters and Parenteau/Smith out there.
With Ben, the mixed and singles brackets are essentially sealed still sealed but it’s getting harder for him to roll through the men’s fields. Not only did the Johns brother’s lose to Smith/Devilliers, they had a 15-13 win over Farias/Warnick, a 15-11 win over Wright/Stone and then a super tight 3-game win over Nunnery/Bar. That’s three straight matches in the back side of the draw that all could have gone either way to have the Johns brother’s off the podium.
4. Single Elimination (Slim) – I continue to not be a huge fan of this format, and find it particularly problematic when you are getting first round match like the Waters versus Smith/Parenteau. These are clearly two of the top three women’s team, and for one of them to have, at best, a shot at bronze after the first round simply is not fair, and it is not good for the game.
As long as pickleball continues to have seeding issues and continues to use the best 2 out 3 games format, I would like there to be a backdoor to the gold medal game.
We put this out in our 10 Takeaways after the US Open but one thing I think a larger tournament could play around with, perhaps one of the tour finales, is a single elimination tournament, where the whole thing is best 3 out 5 games. You would of course have to cap it to the top 8 or 16 teams, which is why I think it might work well for a tour championship and you could have a play in bracket for the last couple of spots if you wanted.
I am not opposed to best 3 out of 5, but would not want it to become a regular thing. I think for practical reasons it will not become the typical format, but I would not be opposed to seeing it implemented by one of the big tournaments, as I mentioned above. However, I wasn’t a huge fan of using it just for the gold medal matches. I think the gold medal match should keep the same format as the rest of the tournament.
5. Ben Johns Career Switch? (Gritty) – It’s a good thing for the PPA announcing crew that Ben Johns likely isn’t retiring anytime soon for that sweet pickleball broadcasting money. Johns was on the broadcast for the men’s gold medal match and, unsurprisingly, Johns is probably the most insightful person on any broadcast in pickleball. The PPA rotating announcing booth, in particular, seems to make a very concerted effort to simply pump up the players and get excited at any decent rally without providing anything meaningful in terms of insight. On the other hand, Ben was not shy about offering strategic thoughts to the viewers at home and I guess this is easier for him to be comfortable to do when he’s the GOAT. For example, he talked about how Devilliers should drop his thirds while Smith should drive them because of their relative strengths. Johns also noted the importance of returning balls to Riley Newman to avoid McGuffin’s harder rolling thirds and Riley crashing the net. It was nice to learn some things on the broadcast. It was a very refreshing change of pace to hear something other than how amazing everything is.
As a side note, the PPA is taking notes and had two streams going throughout the weekend. Kudos to the PPA for making the adjustment when the demand has clearly been expressed.
Fantasy Pickleball Recap – See our fantasy picks from the weekend here. Slim is now 2 up on Gritty for the year. He took 17 points to Gritty’s 14. There was not a missed fantasy point anywhere on the board as between the two of us all of the podium players were taken at some point in our draft.
The big swing for the fantasy weekend came with Gritty getting a bagel from Simone Jardim in singles whereas Slim had Lea Jansen and Callie Smith. Jansen was just a few points away from a giant grind it out win over Catherine Parenteau. Jansen is proving she can hang with anyone out there in singles but the consistency seems to be the issue. You could see it in the 5 game match. She will look unbeatable one minute then she’s giving up freebies the next. Is it just a matter of time and progression in her game to get to that level?
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