It was another dual pickleball weekend with the APP New Jersey Open and PPA Tour Skechers Invitational that was the first big network broadcast of pickleball ever. It will be interesting to see what the ratings that come out for the PPA Tour’s event in comparison with other programming CBS can have on at the time of day. For the APP, it didn’t appear from the stream numbers there was any big hit to the viewing. Instead, it will continue to befuddle us how there can be a legitimate TV audience from professional pickleball anytime soon. If you do some research on disc golf, it is a stark contrast to what they were able to acquire for live streaming numbers. With both events happening, there is lots to talk about as we bring you 5 more takeaways from another packed weekend of pickleball.
1. PPA Tour Hits the Big 3 letter CBS (Gritty) – Let’s save all the historic moment for pickleball prefaces that have already been put out there countless times over the past week for now and talk about the broadcast itself. There is often discussion out there about what can be done to improve the viewership for pro pickleball and make the game appear on TV as fast as it is in-person. CBS brought a different side-ish angle for the Skechers Invitational that I hadn’t seen before. The angle itself was okay for stretches but to use a moving camera the whole time wasn’t my favorite. I may end up dying on this hill but I continue to believe that the standard overhead view behind the players is the optimal shot similar to what tennis has.
I believe that if people are ever going to watch pickleball in large droves, it is going to take time until a larger segment of the population has a basic understanding of what the game is when they tune in. Ultimately, it may be that it is a better participation than watchable game. That is to be determined. There is such a desire out there to have other non-picklers understand what makes the game so much fun but I don’t think playing around with angles and better cameras will be enough to make a huge difference to accelerate viewership numbers.
Camera angles aside, I thought it was an odd choice to have Morgan Evans and play-by-play announcer, Brett Haber, in a studio instead of on location at the Riviera Country Club doing the commentary. Camryn Irwin was there giving professional sideline commentary but it was a weird move for the match commentators themselves not to be at the venue. I don’t think on Saturday we literally saw Evans or Haber’s faces again after the intro.
I’m not sure how quickly this came together but, if I was the PPA, I would have gone to some extra lengths to make the event on CBS meaningful in some way. There was no explanation during the intro for why they were playing because I guess there wasn’t an explanation beyond we needed to make up an event since we found a TV slot.
I’m sure there are lots of factors that go into their ability to have a real event with stakes like TV scheduling, amount time leading up to the event etc. However, the pickleball itself was not interesting at all to me when it was the same partners with zero meaning behind the result. This may not be their fault but it’s just a fact of the matter. You want these TV events to mean something.
At the end of the day, this was undoubtedly a big weekend for pickleball and for Tom Dundon to be able to find a way to get it on TV, no matter how much it cost the PPA, is a landmark event for the sport. It will be a much bigger deal if networks ever starting paying for the rights to air pickleball instead of the other way around, but it is still baby steps right now. One small step for…ehhh you know the drill.
2. Vivienne David. Still Elite (Slim) – Vivienne David’s partnership choices, particularly in women’s doubles have been mystifying. She has proven herself to be one of the better right side women’s players out there. Her game is primarily built around her countering ability and her consistency. She has also molded her game around being a right sided player to the point that even when she is playing with a lefty she wants to play on the right side – see MLP with Olivia McMillan.
There is nothing wrong with this. In fact,it is smart given that there is probably a lack of specialization in pickleball and especially a lack of right side players at the pro level. Her partnership decisions though, have been far less strategic, as she has played 6 tournaments this year with Corrine Carr and Lee Whitwell,l. Both of those players, while solid, do not fit Vivienne’s game whatsoever. Lee is a lefty who likes to play on the right side, and Corrine Carr is a very defensive player, probably better suited to the right side and lacks any real weapons to compliment Vivienne’s defensive countering game.
This weekend, we saw her partner with Lauren Stratman, and they took gold, defeating a strong Anna Bright and Jorja Johnson team twice, to win gold. Vivienne has played three APP events this year with what I would say are strong left side partners, in Stratman this weekend, Andrea Koop and Irina Tereschenko and she is three for three in taking gold in those tournaments. Her win at the APP Mesa Open with Irina, included wins over Jessie Irvine and Andrea Koop and Lauren Stratman and Lea Jansen, strong teams. Outside of those 3 gold medal partnerships this year, she has played 9 other tournaments this year, and has total of 2 bronze medals in women’s doubles in those 9 tournaments.
It will be very interesting to see who Vivienne partners with going forward in women’s doubles, because it is very clear on the APP tour she can get results, but she needs the right partner. Also, there should be a number of players seeking out Vivienne to partner with her, because as we said earlier there are a lack of right side players out there, and she is one of the better ones in the women’s game.
3. JW Johnson’s Triple Crown (Gritty) – He’s back. JW Johnson had looked vulnerable in singles in recent events but JW was a monster in all three events over the weekend, which means another triple crown for his resume. He plays with a variety of different partners and continues to get it done at the APP event regardless of the circumstances. He’s playing a ton of pickleball this year, some might say too much, but it also has to be helping his development getting all those reps in.
Simone/JW have formed a dominant APP partnership and it’s hard to see anyone being able to overtake their throne in the near future. It’s understandable why Simone is most likely going to be playing after this year instead of retiring. When you keep winning medals and can play with one of the best players out there, it makes playing a lot more fun than it was for her towards the end of last year.
As for the men’s side of things, Dekel/JW are also forming a pretty dominant APP partnership but it is does not look like it is the juggernaut partnership that could challenge the top PPA teams like we thought it could. It’s a bit of a square peg, round hole kind of situation for Dekel/JW with Dekel having to concede to a right-side role. For a man who likes to take more court than any player out there, Dekel being on the right side takes away some of what makes him so dynamic but you have to have him there when JW is his partner as JW is just the better player.
It is a shame we don’t get to see JW at these PPA events competing against Ben and the rest of the top players out there outside of a few occasions. JW is not at Tournament of Champions this upcoming week and neither is Dekel. It makes for less compelling events when historically some of the bigger events do not feature some of the best players out there.
4. Rafa and Joey’s Surprise Podium (Slim) – Joey Farias and Rafa Hewett were able to squeak out a bronze in men’s doubles this weekend, pulling out a couple 16-14 victories in the losers bracket before decisively beating Andrei Daesecu and Eden Lica 15-4 to secure the bronze. In a very large and pretty deep men’s doubles draw, this was a solid result for both of the players. They are both guys who are probably often overlooked, but have exceeded our expectations this year. This was Joey’s third podium of the year in men’s doubles this year. Last year, Joey only reached the podium, which came in December at the World Pickleball Open, with Martina Kochli in mixed. So Joey is showing us that the game has not passed him by completely yet, and with the right partners he can still get results.
Rafa Hewett, has flashed potential and shot making on the pro scene for a few years now, but outside of a couple mixed results with Sarah Ansboury he really had not had a lot of success, to indicate he could be a factor at the highest level. That has changed this year though, as he took the first MLP Championship this year with BLQK in Austin Texas, and reached a Championship Sunday at the PPA’s Atlanta event, in singles. Now this weekend, he also showed he can be a factor in men’s doubles. It will be interesting to see if Rafa can ride the confidence of these results to further successes.
5. Double Senior Gold (Gritty) – The most notable senior takeaway from the weekend had to be Rick Witksen again. For the space we use to talk about senior pro pickleball, we have given Witsken his fair share of dues. Nevertheless, he has really shown an ability to get it down with a variety of different partners and that really speaks volumes for any player as we noted for JW earlier in these takeaways. This past weekend, Witsken finished with golds in men’s and mixed doubles with Paul Olin and Eva Welsher respectively. While Welsher and Olin both have good success in doubles on the pro tour, Welsher in particular on the mixed side, both players are not automatic podiums by any stretch.
The New Jersey event was not that deep on the senior pro side as can see at some bigger APP events but there were still quite a few strong teams. The silver medal in men’s went to Sperling/Morariu who were fairly dominant in 2021 together and they had to fight off APP star Julie Johnson and Morariu for the mixed title. To be able to pull out two golds with Olin and Welsher really speaks to where Witsken’s game is relative to the top senior pros.
Bonus Takeaway: We already wrote a bunch about Salome Devidze a couple of months ago that you can read so there’s not much more that needs to be said that doesn’t apply to what happened this weekend. We simply could not let another egregious Salome Devidze line call go without being called out. It’s an ongoing pattern for Devidze and it also highlights that there are going to be people who have zero shame in what is essentially cheating unless something is done to correct this. Here is the clip of the line call below:
Fantasy Update: Gritty is only 4 behind Slim on the year after a 14-13 nail biter of a win this weekend. The difference was Salome Devidze and her terrible line call against Jorja Johnson. There were missed points left out there from both of us as Hewett/Farias and John Cincola were left undrafted. Slim’s momentum following the summer break has passed. Can he rebound?
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