What is another major tournament without major controversy? At this point, there are only 2 big tournaments that are run outside of the PPA, APP and MLP banners, and both of them have featured some of the biggest controversy we have had all year. The US Open featured CRBN-Gate and Nationals featured the great partnership swap debacle involving Catherine Parenteau, the Waters’ and Allyce Jones. There was also pickleball that was played on the weekend. It’s a controversy heavy Monday for our takeaways column this week.
1. Catherine Parenteau and the Partnership Triangle (Gritty) – In case you missed it, Leigh Waters got injured playing mixed on Friday, leaving Anna Leigh without a partner for women’s doubles on Saturday. We had not realized that Catherine Parenteau was playing with Allyce Jones and had initially thought she was a free agent to be picked up, which we updated on the live blog after seeing the draw. Soon after, we received a number of reliable messages advising us that Parenteau was set to play with Allyce Jones and had dropped her to play with Anna Leigh so we updated our live blog accordingly. Later in the day, Dayne Gingrich, who is a coach and friend of Jones, wrote a scathing post confirming the basic details of the situation that sent the pickleball community into a frenzy of all-time proportions.
To give some more background, it appears that Catherine Parenteau’s camp, which includes her partner, Athena Trouillot, reached out to the Waters side about stepping in to play with Anna Leigh (update Nov 16: since this was published we have received conflicting information on whose camp reached out first). They were able to make the late partnership switch, and Jones was left without a partner. Patrick Sullivan Jr., co-founder of Jigsaw Health, attempted to clarify the situation on Facebook as seen in the screenshots below:
It has been further clarified that Parenteau was set to play Nationals with Ben Johns since the end of September, as that partnership was announced on social media as of September 30, but the Jones partnership was set only a few days before Nationals began. Anna Leigh Waters and Catherine Parenteau went on to win together in an epic 5-game barn burner against Anna Bright and Jessie Irvine.
Now that we have the basic set of events out of the way, time to talk about it.
It is rare that a controversial situation finds so much consensus amongst pros and fans, but this Catherine Parenteau deal united people like nothing else, and rightly so. In my view, Parenteau is not the only one to blame but she is obviously the catalyst here. She is the one who made the commitment to Allyce Jones, regardless of how close to Nationals it was, and she should not have left Jones without a partner at the very last minute without a viable replacement. Parenteau is a professional pickleball player who made a business decision in the hopes of winning Nationals with the best player in the world. The winning business was taken care of, but Parenteau massively underestimated the backlash she would receive for this.
The dropping of Allyce last minute was beyond brutal. However, this was a straw that broke the camel’s back kind of situation for a lot of pros and their feelings towards Parenteau. Sure, this kind of stuff happens all the time as pros like Irina Tereschenko and Michelle Esquivel stated when weighing in on the situation. The problem for Parenteau is that this is not a one-off for her.
This a pattern of behavior on Parenteau’s, which we were not fully aware of until the Jones situation had other pros speaking out publicly. Dumping Jessie Irvine in the middle of the year for Lea Jansen was not the first instance of poor form on the part of Parenteau. One of the original pros and true good guys of the sport, Joey Farias, commented on Dayne Gingrich’s Facebook post that he was the first to suffer the wrath of “Cathena”, as Adam Stone referred to Catherine Parenteau and Athene Trouillot:
It also appears things have already soured with Lea Jansen as she commented on a meme about Catherine’s propensity to change partners: “omg there has not been a truer one ever made.”
It is not the act of the partnership change alone that people are mad it. It’s the way it was done by Parenteau as she did not personally call, text or talk to Jones about the situation. Sullivan clarified in his Facebook comment that Trouillot reached out to Jones, but the bare minimum anyone can do in that situation is personally do the breaking up. If you’re going to do a bad thing, the least you can do is own up to it and not have your partner/manager do your dirty work. Being shy is not an excuse.
The outpouring of support for Jones by other pros, a lot of whom have probably been on the wrong end of late partnership switches, is incredibly telling. Allyce Jones stayed relatively quiet on the matter, but she finally put something out on social media last night. The fact that Jones does not defend Parenteau in any way tells you all you need to know about how she feels.
In my opinion, and this is where I differ from Slim in our point of view on the situation, there is blame to go around everywhere. The Waters camp is not equally to blame here, but I think there is undoubtedly blame that should go towards them as well. I’m not going to put the 15-year-old Anna Leigh on blast for this as she has adults around her who should be helping her make good decisions. Although, how much can I really expect from someone who still thinks it was wrong of her opponents to throw some lobs into the sun? In my view, the first question the Waters camp should have asked the Parenteau camp when they were approached is what going to happen with Jones. I have no idea what their conversations were, but it seems that getting Anna Leigh on Center Court at Indian Wells to win a National title was the paramount consideration in all of this.
Again, this is a business decision made by everyone involved, but they should understand that part of the business of being a public figure is the public’s perception of you. You can justify the decision as this being pro pickleball not some recreational tournament with friends all you want, but you also have to know your actions have consequences. This likely won’t affect the Waters long-term, and fans may even forget about this with Parenteau, as we so often do for public figures when they do shitty things. Still, people want to root for players that they like and if this affects anyone involved negatively, they only have themselves to blame for it.
The final piece to all of this is USA Pickleball. Talk about a business decision. This is another example from USA Pickleball of allowing business to dictate how they operate. USA Pickleball did not want to allow the #1 superstar in the game, Anna Leigh Waters, to be left without a women’s partner. I would surmise they were relieved that Parenteau was willing to step-in and ensure they would still have the opportunity to feature baby Waters on Center Court as much as possible.
It is not surprising that USA Pickleball would make a business decision like this. The CRBN-gate situation at the US Open was a business decision and, since that time, USA Pickleball continues to be wilfully ignorant to the strong evidence indicating certain paddles on the market are over limit on grit, particularly the JOOLA.* Sadly, I am not surprised USA Pickleball did not care about a secondary pro like Allyce Jones being left without a partner. They are out making business decisions. There is always going to be favortism towards top pros. We see this in every sport. We see this with the PPA. Partnership switches will be always be on the players but something should change to ensure there is consistency in decisions for these types of situations. Casey Patterson commented on Jones’ post on Instagram with his take on the organizational failure with his pro beach volleyball lens:
There may be a small segment of people out there who think it is unfair Parenteau is being publicly shamed for something that is not uncommon to happen amongst pros. We had someone tell us that Riley Newman dumped Catherine for Nationals to play with Anna Leigh. It also sounds like Catherine was supposed to play with JW at Nationals before Ben Johns came calling. It all doesn’t matter. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Blah. Blah. Blah.
As is so often the case, for change to occur, there is usually something bigger that brings the public’s attention to it. Look how fast the NFL adjusted their concussion protocol after Tua Tagoviloa was left in the fencing position on national TV. As more eyeballs come to pickleball and there actual media covering the sport, it may be harder for players to treat partners in this way. The Parenteau-Waters-Jones partnership triangle just so happened to be the perfect storm to bring this issue to the forefront of the pickleball world.
It is our understanding that Parenteau will be putting out a public statement at some point soon. Anything other than a complete apology will be insufficient. Any attempt to excuse or justify the behavior will be a mistake. Fans and players don’t want to hear that. They want you to say you’re sorry for what you did to Jones and what you have done to others in the past.
When it is all that is said and done though, words can only do so much. The only way Catherine Parenteau is going to be able to get away from this situation is with her actions towards others going forward.
Additional Content (Wed, Nov 16, 2:00am EST): Allyce Jones responded to a comment on Instagram with her version of events as follows:
Lindsey Newman also clarified Riley Newman never dumped Catherine Parenteau:
2. New Matchups a Big Hit (Slim) – There was a fair amount of excitement and interest around Nationals, and it felt like a lot of that had to do with getting some new partnerships and as a result some new matchups. In addition, we had one of our few opportunities at a large mix around with PPA and APP talent.
Exhibit A of this has to be Ben and Anna Leigh playing with different partners. The mixed events at the PPA’s generally feel pretty boring these days, with what seems like the inevitability of Ben and Anna Leigh. Suddenly, putting Ben with Catherine, Anna Leigh with Riley and the relatively new partnership of JW and Parris, there were a bunch of intriguing matchups and mixed was probably the most interesting event.
It is understandable why, unless incentivized to do so, players won’t want to switch their partners up, but if we got to see the top players have to play at least a few times a year with different players it would be great for pickleball fans. Something like what MLP has proposed with having doubles events where players have to play with different players at each stop, or some sort of triple crown, would just be a lot more interesting, than basically watch the same tournament play out twenty times a year. It sounds like MLP is going to be doing away with their new proposed format, but that shouldn’t prevent someone else from doing something along those lines..
Let’s hope 2023 features more partnership switches and different matchups more frequently than 2022.
3. USA Pickleball Bumbles Through Nationals (Gritty) – USA Pickleball reported that there were a record-breaking 5,522 fans in attendance at Indian Wells on Championship Sunday. That’s a big number for pickleball. The level of play itself was top notch with new matchups and partnerships making Nationals one of the most intriguing tournaments of the entire calendar year. I already did some complaining in the column about how USA Pickleball dealt with the Parenteau situation. It is apparent that if USA Pickleball is going to keep running major tournaments for professional players, they are going to need to do better to keep up with the growth of the sport.
Boxcar Productions was running 3 live court streams from Thursday to Saturday beginning at 11:00 am PST. Fantastic, right? Yeah, it’s great except that no human can reasonably watch that much pickleball at once, especially for those who watch on their phones. I would be here praising the live streams, if not for the fact that the live streams could not be accessed once the stream was over. All of the live streams, including the senior and split pro age stuff from earlier in the week, were set to private mode after concluding meaning fans could not go back to watch any of the action. Whether it is some contractual thing with ESPN or simply their own decision, it’s hard to fathom who would make this decision intentionally.
USA Pickleball is allegedly out here trying to grow this sport and not a single person can go back to watch any of the matches that happened at quite possibly the biggest tournament of the year. What are we doing here?
Gosh, I sound like a broken record on the ESPN+ topic, but there are a lot fans frustrated that they have to pay to watch the most important matches of the year. All these entities should negotiate their deals like the PPA has with the Tennis Channel to ensure anything broadcast on TV can be seen simultaneously on YouTube while the sport is still growing. I will die on this hill that it is better to the sport to ensure as many eyeballs are watching rather than putting the sport on some secondary sports network. With all the mainstream attention pickleball is getting, we should be giving potential fans as many chances as possible to find the watch pro pickleball happening.
Interestingly, the stream numbers were good on the weekend. Like, really good. The USA Pickleball Nationals YouTube page only has about 6,000 subscribers yet the middle of the day on Saturday featured combined numbers above 3,000 total live viewers at times for all 3 streams. The Ben Johns vs. Julian Arnold gold medal match had over 4,000 live views on YouTube, which is about as high as it gets from what I have seen for singles matches. I would have been very curious to see how many views the more marquee doubles matches would have had later Sunday.
If we want to talk about eyeballs, there were also scheduling issues with starting all the pro events at 11:00 am PST. Players were told that events would be done by about 6 pm PST, which did not end up being the case. The late and same start time for men’s and women’s brackets meant that the important matches later in the day had far fewer in-person spectators than otherwise would have been the case. It also left big time matchups away from center court. To cap it all off, the men’s doubles winners bracket final between Wright/Newman and Bar/JW Johnson was put on a side court. A side court! How is that even possible?
I think it is better for the sport if we have a US Open and a Nationals as major events. However, there are so many pro events now that the pros do not need to attend these events. USA Pickleball better find a way to up its game or they are going to be left completely behind when it comes to being involved in the professional side of the sport.
(4) Anna Leigh Waters Asserts Dominance Yet Again (Slim) – One of the more fascinating storylines heading into the weekend was seeing Anna Leigh and Ben Johns teaming up with different partners. It was Anna Leigh teaming up with Riley Newman, who took gold this weekend and they were dominant the whole tournament, not dropping a game at Nationals. Their win included a schellacking of Johns and Parenteau, 11-3, 11-0 and 11-3, in the gold medal match.
I think this primarily speaks to Anna Leigh’s dominance. The gap between her and the next best female player right now is absolutely massive and this weekend was exhibit 348 of that. She is the most dominant player in the game right now and this weekends results further point to that. This is Anna Leigh’s 3rd gold medal in mixed with a different partner this year as she won with JW Johnson too.
Riley Newman and Catherine Parenteau have given Anna Leigh and Ben a lot more to work for than Ben and Catherine gave to Anna Leigh and Riley on Sunday. Of course, Riley and Catherine have had many more tournaments together, but this is all we have to go off of now.
It also does lend itself to raising the potential question of whether Riley Newman might be the best men’s mixed player in the game. At the end of 2021, we actually ranked Riley number one of the mixed men’s players, in our second edition of the rankings, after some disappointing results from Ben when he seemed to check out of the Simone Jardim partnership. Newman has undoubtedly upped his game over the past year.
Ben’s comment on this, on his podcast at the time, were along the lines of, when I am engaged, I can beat anyone in mixed. He since has teamed up with Anna Leigh and been absolutely dominant with her. Riley’s even more dominant performance with Anna Leigh does the raise the question though of who is the top men’s mixed player out there?
(5) Men’s Doubles Futures (Gritty) – This weekend saw Ben Johns win another title with brother Collin.* After being dropped to the loser’s bracket by Jay Devilliers and Tyson McGuffin, Backdraw Benny did his thing as he loves to do after getting kicked down from the main draw. Ben and Collin were able to get to the bronze to take down current rivals, Matt Wright and Riley Newman, then pounded down JW Johnson and Dekel Bar in the gold winning 3 straight games as well as the game to 15 quite handily. With the 2022 calendar year coming to a close, the top two men’s teams in the world will be the Johns brothers and Wright/Newman respectively. How long that will last for is a completely different question.
While Matt/Riley have had a cup of coffee as the best team in the world this year, it seems inevitable that the safest bet on the future of men’s doubles is for there to be more than 2 teams vying for top dog status. With all the talent influx, pickleball is only getting better and the top 2 teams are not so much better than the rest that we can expect to run it back the same way for 2023. JW Johnson and Dekel Bar creamed Matt Wright and Riley Newman, 11-2 and 11-3, in the winners bracket final on Saturday. Although Johnson/Bar did not give the Johns brothers much trouble, their result over Newman/Wright was a full 180 from the last time they played them.
Whether Jay/Tyson are a team next year is unknown to us, but Tyson got another monkey off his back this weekend, beating Ben Johns in men’s doubles for the first time in 5 years (at least that’s what Tyson claims. I didn’t do the research). Both the Johns brothers and Riley/Matt have not looked completely unbeatable in recent months against the rest of the field, and it’s only a matter of time before there is some kind of shifting of the guard, if not a changing of the guard altogether.
The PPA is happy to promote that their players went 8 for 8 swiping all the gold medals at Nationals, which is true. At the same time, you had JW, Dekel, Julian Arnold and Anna Bright all coming away with silver medals along with Lauren Stratman, Parris Todd and Salome Devidze taking bronzes home with them.
This is not writing the obituary for either team or any of its players. That the top men’s players, all of whom have been around for a long time in pickleball years, are still at the top of the game with all the changes that have happened is not lost on me. It shows that it is not easy to come in and just win baby, as the late Al Davis might say. It’s simply an acknowledgement of the reality that is slowly creeping up on the top teams in men’s doubles. As remarkable as their staying power has been, the times are changing.
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*this article has been edited to amend that Johns did not win the Triple Crown and there is strong evidence of paddles over grit on the market instead of using the term “illegal”