Minto US Open – 5 Takeaways – A Real Rivalry?
It has been a weird US Open week in Naples, Florida. Once again, we have a number of storylines that are not related to the play on the pickleball courts. We already put out a full post about the Crbn situation on Saturday but we’ll have a bit more of an update in the takeaways. The one thing out of the control of everyone though was the rain. It messed up an already weird schedule with a handful of players interchanging between pro doubles and mixed pro doubles matches early on Saturday. Taking away the rain factor, it still felt like an odd schedule over an entire week of play.
It’s also crazy for us here at NML to think about how time flies as this is essentially our 1-year anniversary. We started this blog at last year’s US Open kind of on a whim (here is a link to our first ever takeaways column). But who cares about the past, it’s all about the present. Here are the takeaways from the 2022 Minto US Open.
1. A Real Rivalry? (Slim) – Something that is important in almost all individual sports, in terms of growing interest and viewership, is rivalries. This is something that pro pickleball, for the most part, has been lacking. However, we seem to be on the verge of it with Ben Johns and JW Johnson. Add in some paddle controversies, seeding drama, tour rivalries and the like and it makes for some great theatre.
Part of the problem with Ben Johns’ dominance in this sport the last couple years has been that we have seldom seen him pushed. He has often seemed to make it look too easy, and too many of his occasional losses have seemed to be the result of his own indifference, rather than him actually just getting beat. It has been somewhat reminiscent of the early Roger Federer years. Last Sunday though, we saw him pushed, and clearly looking to prove himself after having lost his last singles match to JW at the PPA Riverland Open in Florida, and also having lost his men’s doubles match to JW in that tournament as well.
It was clear Ben was wanting to prove that he is still king. We saw a level of emotion on the court that I can’t recall having seen from Ben before, or at least not for a long time. Again, somewhat reminiscent of later years Roger Federer going up against Rafael Nadal. Not only did we have a fully engaged Ben Johns, we also had an opponent up to the task of matching his level in JW Johnson. JW pushed Ben to his absolute limits, taking game one of the gold medal match, and getting match points on Ben in the second game of the gold medal match. Ben answered and was able to pull out game 2, and then seemed to outlast JW in the final and deciding game 3. It was one of the more entertaining pickleball matches I have ever watched.
Ben proved that the throne is still his, however JW also proved that he is very worthy adversary up to the task of regularly challenging Ben, and as the younger and hungrier player, I would expect that we will see an ever improving JW. So if Ben wants to keep his spot on top, he is also going to have to keep elevating his game, which is great for the sport and the fans. That’s the fun of all of this. We get debates about who is the best rather than how much better is the best than everyone else.
I am also hopeful that the Dekel Bar and JW Johnson partnership, which we will see for the first time this weekend in St. Louis, will pan out as well as I think it will, because it would be great to see this rivalry expand to the doubles game. Atlanta ,at the end of the month, is the first time we could potentially see JW and Dekel match up against the Johns brothers.
2. Stream Wars (Gritty) – It was one year ago that our number one takeaway from the US Open was the frustration at the Pickleball Channel streaming. Fast forward to 2022 and, somehow, things got worse. This feels like beating a dead horse as there was more than enough complaining going on in various Facebook groups and on the Pickleball Channel stream itself. The main problem is the complete lack of any pro matches getting streamed. Without the rain delays, Pickleball Channel was starting their stream at 2:00 pm EST at the earliest when pro matches were starting at 8:00 am EST. In a best case scenario, you might get a couple of main round draws and then you’re left with a gold medal match.
Imagine watching Wimbledon or the Australian Open where the only matches that are shown on TV are a semi-final or two, and then the Championship final. It doesn’t happen. They show matches throughout the tournament from round 1 all the way through to the Championship match. The gold matches were recorded to be shown on tape delay for CBS Sports Network. If it wasn’t for senior pro Alex Hamner streaming Tyler Loong’s matches on Sunday morning, we would have had nothing to watch from the mixed day. How many people missed out on Simone’s last hurrah with Ben, including what must have been a barnburner against Vivienne/Dekel?
This is supposed to be one of the, if not the, biggest showcase in pickleball. Outside a few exceptions, all of the best players were at the US Open this weekend. From the amount of streaming to the commentators to the matches chosen, it felt like we were back in 2018 with the coverage we got from Pickleball Channel. It was another big fumble on their part. I know there’s more that goes into an easy sounding start streaming earlier solution but this should have been sorted out by now.
As an aside, we were thinking about how these major tournaments could have a bigger and different feel than most tournaments we have week-in, week-out. On top of having the best players, it seems like possibly having a smaller main draw for doubles where the matches are all best out of 5 could provide that different feel similar to a tennis major. Singles would be tough to play a bunch of best out of 5 games, but not having the finals as best of 5 feels wrong for these bigger tournaments since the PPA has implemented their Championship Sunday best of 5.
Wait, where was I? Oh yeah, the streaming issue. Let’s make sure to showcase the talent at the big tournaments as much as possible. Deal?
3. Crbn Fever Update (Gritty) – Since we posted our article on Saturday, both JOOLA and Crbn have come out with their own statements. JOOLA addressed the odd video that was going around and Crbn addressed their paddles being banned. The general theme of Crbn’s statement that I wished I had fleshed out a bit more when I wrote our article is the importance of fairness. I alluded to the Electrum issues a couple of years back but what I didn’t highlight was the fact that the Electrum never was removed from the USAP approved list of paddles. Despite a lot of public chatter about their legality, Electrum was given the opportunity to rectify what was determined to be a bad batch. Crbn is saying in their statement, at least, that this is a bad batch type situation with only their 3rd generation paddle.
Crbn refers to numerous companies having unintentional and non-compliant batches in recent years, only receiving official warnings. Crbn also used the term “reactionary” in their statement and that’s exactly what the ban felt like – I used the term “hastiness” in our article. I still think there is some blame that has to fall to Crbn even if no official warning was provided.
But the overall point here is that there needs to be fairness and transparency across the board. John Davison posted on Facebook an interesting solution with his racing background in terms of more regular testing. That will probably have to be the way paddle testing goes as the sport gets bigger. Random testing is also a thought I had that would help keep companies in check to ensure pro players are not benefitting from what may be unintentional or intentional “bad batches”.
Who knows, maybe this public bungling of this Crbn situation could be exactly the thing that spurs bigger and better changes for the sport. Let’s hope that’s the case.
4. Wally Pipp’d? (Slim) – It was interesting to see Tyler Loong essentially take the place of Jay Devilliers this weekend at the US Open, playing with Jay’s regular partners this year, Tyson McGuffin and Jessie Irvine. Tyler, at least, got the same results that Jay has been getting with those partners this year, if not better and I thought going into the US Open he and Tyson were a much more natural fit than Jay and Tyson have been this year.
In reaching the finals in mixed, Tyler and Jessie had some very impressive wins, including beating Matt Wright and Lucy Kovalova 11-4, 11-3 in the quarter finals and the Newman siblings 12-10, 11-6 in the semi-finals. This was also great for Jessie Irvine’s mixed resume, as she continues to win at a very elite level in mixed with a few different partners now. I think Jessie is probably underrated in mixed at this point, as she seems to be able to reach the podium with multiple partners.
On the men’s side, Tyler and Tyson took fourth place. While we have seen Tyson and Jay battle though some backdraws to get some W’s this year, they have for the most part struggled, relative to their expectations, and I feel like that is largely due to their games not seeming to mesh well, and them struggling to find a style that works for them. While Tyson/Tyler’s end result may not have been much better at the US Open, it seemed evident that Tyson and Tyler’s styles meshed much better this weekend. They handily won the matches you expected them to win and lost the matches you expected them to lose. We are going to see Tyler partner with Tyson again this weekend in North Carolina, as Jay is not in the draw. In a field that is lacking depth, I expect Tyler and Tyson to do very well this weekend.
Tyler’s game usually frustrates me some to watch, as I feel like he has not maximized his talent, and too often just relies on his natural abilities and athleticism, but this week did show that when playing with high end partners, he gets results. Credit where credit is due to Mr. Loong.
5. Dawson and Gingrich’s Double Gold (Gritty) – The US Open has to be biggest grind for the senior pro players all year. The events started Sunday with singles, then they got right into doubles split age, mixed split age, alternating the gender days and then finishing it off with mixed on the Friday. There were some players in all of the events and that has to be a major toll on the body for the seniors. Big ups to the players for going deep in a bunch of those events.
In terms of what we wanted to highlight, it’s Dayne Gingrich and Jennifer Dawson. The two of them found their way to gold in mixed doubles with one another and then in doubles with their respective partners. Jen Dawson has been going at this for a while and to be able to keep up her level with all the influx of talent in the senior pro game is very impressive. Dawson and Cammy MacGregor are both playing less tournaments overall as the focus of senior pro has shifted to the APP Tour, but when they show up together they have announced themselves, again, as still the team to beat.
Dayne Gingrich backs up his mental guru talk with walking the walk as the guy who is probably the best senior pro doubles player out there. Now, he may not practice the relentless attacking quite as much as he may preach it, but he still has a lot of offence in his game that makes him such a tough duo with Dave Weinbach. It sounds like we’ll see Dayne more on the APP Tour more and it’ll be more fun seeing him in some different, less dominating partnerships.
Fantasy Update: It’s a 17-10 win for Gritty and Webby as maybe Webby was the thing needed to get Gritty on the right track. The women’s singles sweep was a big swing for Webby and Gritty. It was a ton of fun doing this with Eddie and Webby, and we’ll probably try to do it again with them at some point in the future.
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11 thoughts on “Minto US Open – 5 Takeaways – A Real Rivalry?”
How about Loong and DeVillers or JW.
It’s Loong who deserves a shot with top partners and I hope he just earned it. He has shown in the past with Jessie as well as Sunday, that he can rise (or float around the court) to the occasion. I’m sorry but Tyson just doesn’t put balls away in doubles.
He and Catherine were great of course, and Tyson played smart and present, but also, the Newman’s had an uncharacteristic amount of unforced errors in the Bronze match. A rematch is in order.
Good point. Tyler would be a solid fit with Jay and might be an even more natural fit. It wasn’t that long ago though that Loong was not getting results with very good mixed partners like Catherine Parenteau
About 2 streaming: US Open really pushes the party atmosphere of the tournament. I now think that the streaming is very secondary to US Open. They want fun and party for attendees. Forget about the at home viewers. One of the reasons Pickleball Channel had for not streaming longer was something about union regulations. Color me skeptical.
About 3 grit-gate: Somewhere it was mentioned that the USAP by-laws says you have to give out a warning to equipment manufacturers. If that is true, I would think CRBN could take legal action. I’m hopeful some good comes out of all this with changes in specs, procedure, testing, etc. And most of all transparency and equal treatment.
About 1: rivalry: I think the JW vs Staksrud matches have been really fun to watch. So maybe we’ll get to the point of 3: JW, Staksrud, Ben like Federer, Nadal, Novak.
Did the US Open ever explain why Senior’s got two days but the Pro were only slotted one day for both male and female.
I thought they did a good job on production values but it seemed wasted on how short the daily streams were.
Thank you for your time and posting. Ben Johns has about 5 years’ experience. JW Johnson has about two years. I wonder how good JW will be in three more years. I do hope he continues to play close-line balls. But that is a detriment to him.
Player-wise, pickleball is moving forward nicely. Lots of new (and exciting) players. As a sport, pickleball is moving backward or at the most, standing still. It is not the same sport as 10 years ago. And I can tell you with experience, just because you have a great resume, doesn’t mean you are a great manager. I would like to see the SOP in each of the 14 different departments at USAPA. I’m betting there are zero.
A LOT of changes need to be made in the sport of pickleball if it is to move forward in a positive way. Instead of moving negatively as it is now.
Thank you for your time.
Would you say JW is better than Ben when he was 2 years into the game? It’s hard to compare apples to apples because in general the players are so much better than when BJ started.
Regarding the streaming coverage. perhaps it was just me but I am 100% not a fan of Chad Edwards in the booth. For one his accent drove me crazy. Secondly, he talked over the points so much and came across as a know-it-all and how he would have done it better. Please, please don’t have him back.
His accent drove you crazy? You might want to re-think that one. I don’t think that we should be saying that commentators should be restricted only to people with an American accent
My main takeaway – how in the heck can the US Open be considered a major when the #1 female in the world and her doubles partner decline to participate….when it is right in their backyard. No offense to the winners in women’s doubles…..but I’m not really taking a “major” tournament event seriously if the clear #1 isn’t in it. I had a similar attitude to when Ben Johns sat out the last Nationals. Any reason why the Waters passed on this? Outside of a family event….unacceptable for the US Open to have the Waters to miss. Write the check and get the deal done. SHM.
Credit for a great singles match between JW and Ben. But aside from that, the US Open seemed like an overhyped event that seemed more like a money grab than a serious attempt to try to get all the best players in the world together along with decent streaming. If Pickleball Channel can’t start streaming until 2 PM because of union issues (if that rumor is true) – time to find a new broadcast team. Fans only saw a handful of matches each day. Unacceptable. I understand how weather issues can come up and complicate streaming efforts….but it isn’t that hard to have a scaled back stream and they could have done something on championship court on the remainder of mixed on Sunday. We will never see final time that Ben and Simone won a gold in mixed….and major props to Simone for pulling that off despite her injuries and not being at her peak. Unacceptable for US Open to have fans miss that. SMH.
Announcing….I thought Edwards was ok but I’m not dying to hear him again anytime soon either. I don’t know why Melissa McCurley is the 3rd wheel in the booth. Do other sports have a tourney organizer as a color commentator? Seems unnecessary and a little amateurish to have her in the booth. Stop. Next time, put a real PB pro player in the booth to give analysis of the major matches.
Sadly, this US Open will be more remembered for the paddle grit controversy. I actually give them credit for taking action on it, even if it is awkward midway through the tourney. I can’t imagine the quality control on the paddle company side (many of the paddles come from other countries like Mexico and China) is a perfect science. And USA Pickleball seems to be better at alienating people in PB than being an effective governing body on issues like this. I’m not surprised that something like this hasn’t happened sooner. Unlike the theories I’ve heard on the politics and/or conspiracy of why certain paddles are approved/banned…..the most likely scenario is along the lines of “everything in Pickleball is clunky right now” because you don’t have strong a governing body and these paddle companies are not a super high margin industry and with that….quality and proper engineering suffers at some point. Glad the PPA is doing testing at each event. LONG overdue. Now get line judges and get rid of pro’s making their own line calls and we might have real progress…..and then you have a sport that can be taken seriously enough to get legalized gambling involved in. Then we have something that will get real $$$ involved.
Going forward, I think I’m only going to use my time to watch PPA and APP events. I might give the 2023 US Open one more shot to get their act together……but only if all the top pros are in it and we have respectable all-day streaming like PPA and APP. Sadly, I think it is more of a cash grab for the organizers who got to be the first ones to a good name that can get all the amateur players to pay an inflated price to play at the “important sounding” U.S. Open.
Rant over. I’m just tired of amateur hour in Pro Pickleball. Especially at “major” events. SHM
A-Train: Nothing wrong with the Waters taking some time off. AL is studying some college material during this break! It’ll be interesting if the Open can keep attracting the pros after this year. I heard PB channel has “promised” to put up the other recorded semi-final of the MXD games from Sunday. But in past Opens, those promises were never realized so we’ll see. But they did post they would “live stream” the MXD gold at some future date.
Jan – thanks for the heads up about AL. I’m 100% fine with her taking time off and skipping whatever tourney she pleases for whatever reason she wants. My point is the US Open just can’t let the clear #1 player miss a “major” and especially when it is right in her backyard. If you need to write a 5-digit check, do it. Honestly, I don’t blame a player for missing a tourney if the $$$ isn’t there. AL and her mom have more than earned the right to do whatever they want – I got mad respect for their games and I get AL is a teen and has other stuff in life too. But i’m sure if there was some real money involved in the US Open and it was communicated to them in advance…..the break for academics or whatever might have been adjusted/looked different. Unacceptable for the organizers of a “major” to let this happen. Proves my point that this is more of a money grab to profit from the thousands of PB players who flock to Naples because they want to do the US Open because it sounds important and it is in a vacation part of the country. That’s what it is. It is no longer a major unless all the top pros are there. It would be great for the sport to have a few major events that we all can look forward to each year. US Open ain’t it.