USA Pickleball Nationals – 5 Takeaways – Zane-Y Nationals
2021 Nationals is done and that signals the end of tournaments for the calendar year. The APP’s year end tournament will actually take place in 2022 in Boca Raton, Florida in January (not Mesa as was previously written). That means that this will also be our final post-tournament takeaways post for 2021. What a wild ride it has been for us over the last 8 months. We have truly been blown away with the amount of engagement there has been with all of our takes, musings, questions and overall pickleball fanaticism since we decided on a bit of a whim to start this blog. We really appreciate everyone who has taken time out of their day to read our stuff as knowing there are even a few people who care the slightest as what us yahoos have to say about pro pickleball keeps us motivated to push out more content. This definitely won’t be our last post of 2021 either. We’ll be doing some 2022 preview type stuff, including our thoughts on some of the new partnerships and big questions heading into a new year of pickleball. We are also hoping to upgrade the website with a little extra time over the holidays but no promises there! Again, thank you all very much and we hope you continue to come back for more in 2022.
1. Zane-Y Controversy (Gritty) – Probably the biggest story of the weekend came off the court with Zane Navratil. Frankly, I didn’t notice that Zane Navratil and Altaf Merchant were absent from the men’s doubles bracket on Saturday until we received some unconfirmed information that Zane had been disqualified from playing men’s doubles because he had pulled out of the singles final on Sunday. The tournament had already announced in their Thursday notebook that Navratil had withdrawn and Tyson had been awarded the gold. After we put the unconfirmed report on the Pickleball Forum and our live blog, Navratil came out on with his own personal statement that he had withdrawn from the final on Sunday because he had a prior commitment with his girlfriend competing in the Miss America pageant beginning on Sunday. Navratil stated in his release that he was not aware of the Championship Sunday format until December 2nd.
Based on the comments we have seen from fans on social media, Zane’s choice to withdraw from singles on Championship Sunday has been mostly met with applause. How could it not be, right? He is prioritizing being supportive of his girlfriend over his own professional career. In contrast, USA Pickleball’s decision to disqualify Zane and Altaf could be described as odd, at best. Presumably, USA Pickleball was upset at Zane for putting a wrench in their broadcast schedule and it seems they decided to punish Zane, which in turn punished his partner Altaf. USA Pickleball has not come out with any statement addressing the matter, which is not surprising given their lack of transparency overall.
We have talked ad nauseum at this point on the merits of getting pickleball on TV or paid streaming services like ESPN +. That’s not what I’m here to do today. Clearly, USA Pickleball prioritized getting a Championship Sunday format similar to the PPA and it all came together pretty last minute. It’s not fair at all for them to expect players to upend their schedule that has been made months in advance because they want to do something different than what was originally planned. The PPA had the same issue with Callie Smith earlier in the year when they shifted to a Championship Sunday format.
Nevertheless, in my view this story isn’t about one side being in the right and other side being in the wrong. We shouldn’t be overlooking the fact that Zane did not tell USA Pickleball that he was not going to be able to play Sunday until after he beat Tyson on Thursday. It’s evident that Navratil did not disclose this information before hand because he knew it would be a problem. He was wronged by the tournament organizers for losing a chance to be a National Champion so he wasn’t going to give them the benefit of the doubt. Realistically, he likely would have had a Callie Smith-PPA situation on his hands (although, who knows if that is possible with a double elimination format).
There is no doubt that USA Pickleball handled this about as poorly as possible. Changing the tournament schedule one week before the event begins is asinine (EDIT: Further clarification has been provided that the schedule was on the website earlier but it was not directly communicated until December 2nd). Disqualifying Zane/Altaf is childish, especially after he was allowed to play mixed on Friday (mixed was all played on the same day). Considering the way they handled Zane’s late disclosure of information, I can understand why Zane wouldn’t expect them to try to make things work somehow if he told them in advance. Unfortunately, we’ll never know how it would have been handled because Zane didn’t tell them in advance. Personally, I think you have to tell them in advance and if you get screwed over, you get screwed over. They have put you in a horrible spot but that doesn’t mean you have to do the same to them.
It’s commendable for Zane to prioritize what is most important to him. But he knew all along what he was doing by not putting all of his cards on the table before the tournament. He figured “what can they actually do to me” and when USA Pickleball went rogue on the situation, it essentially justifies the way he handled it. The real losers of all this is the sport itself as we add this notch to the belt of distrust between the players and USA Pickleball. I don’t want this to be seen as any defense of USA Pickleball because this was handled terribly at every stage by them. At the same time, Zane tried to have his cake and eat it too and shouldn’t be absolved of any responsibility from this very unfortunate situation.
2. Partnership Breathing Room (Slim) Nationals was JW Johnson and Callan Dawson’s 5th tournament playing together this year. When we first saw that these two players were partnering, we were very excited, as it seemed like it could be a very elite partnership. Callan Dawson is one of the best right side player’s in the game, who brings a level of consistency that few players can match, and it seemed like his game was perfect for the emerging star JW Johnson, to continue his growth of becoming a dominating force on the court. In theory, their styles should blend wonderfully and that with both players having elite hands, they should be able to compete with the top teams in the game.
However, in their first four tournaments together these two failed to reach a single podium. Their results weren’t terrible, but when both players are regularly making the podiums with other partners and when their styles on the court look like they should mesh so well it was a little mystifying. But sometimes these things just need a little time to come together and that may have been what happened for the pairing at Nationals. Callan and JW came away with the silver medal and picked up a very impressive win over Dekel Bar and Matt Wright enroute to that result. It is a good reminder that sometimes a partnership can take some time to come together even if it seems like the fit should be natural.
3. Bizarro Nationals (Slim) – Nationals has always felt like the biggest tournament of the year, particularly since it moved to Indian Wells. It has been the one tournament where you can pretty reliably count on seeing all the big names in the game at the same time. This year it just did not have that same feel, with smaller brackets in many of the pro events, and fairly empty stadium courts, it did not have the same special feeling that other nationals have had. The picture we used for this post is from the women’s doubles winners bracket final on Friday.
There’s something about Indian Wells that gives it a Wimbledon kind of feel, not that I’ve ever been to Wimbledon before. Not only is there a championship court that should be packed with fans but in prior years there were tons of fans packing the stands for the side court matches. With there now being a couple pro tours, and more large tournaments and events, it is very likely that Nationals may never again hold quite the place it used to, as “the event” of the year. Regardless, I think it is important to have it back as the biggest event of the year in pickleball. The venue is too cool for it not to be, and it’s important for the sport to have it back as a true major.
4. Irina’s Resurgence (Gritty) – Irina Tereschenko has had a fantastic conclusion to the 2021 season. We have been pretty critical of Irina in this space, but she has played at a very high levely since her loss with Ben Johns against Anna Leigh/Kyle Yates in their first match against the Chimeras. Irina played well at MLP, helping Team BLQK to a championship there. She followed that performance up with an almost gold medal with Lauren Stratman at the PPA Masters, getting wins over the Waters and Callie Smith/Lindsey Newman. Last week in Casa Grande, Irina won double gold in a thin women’s doubles and singles field. The icing on the cake for her in 2021 was at Nationals where Irina and Lea Jansen were able to make it to Championship Sunday after upsetting Catherine Parenteau and Jessie Irvine in the bronze 11-5, 11-6. They also rolled through Andrea Koop/Lucy Kovalova before the bronze in the back draw.
The numbers had not been friendly to Tereschenko for most of 2021 and it’s interesting she has been able to come up with these better results after playing the better part of the first half of 2021 with Jessie Irvine and Callie Smith to very limited success. I don’t have a ton of explanation for Irina’s resurgence. She looks to be more or less the same player, albeit with better consistency. You do always wonder what confidence can do to a player. We often forget how important that confidence means for athletes and that team win at MLP may have been a catalyst for Irina’s end of year push. I don’t always want to make things about the ball, but I do think it’s worth mentioning that Irina’s recent success at bigger tournaments have all been with softer balls for someone who doesn’t have elite, elite hands. MLP and Nationals were played with the Franklin, and Irina made a joke, not a joke in an interview at the PPA Masters at how the slow Dura was helping her in those hot conditions.
It’s likely a multitude of factors, as it usually is with these things. Irina has fit in seamlessly with the aggressiveness of both Stratman and Jansen in their recent partnerships. Jansen played extremely well on Friday and showed that her one-handed backhand roll is still getting better as a serious weapon that most women at the top level don’t tend to have. We’ll see what happens to 2022 Irina, but she still has to be considered a podium threat for the time being.
5. APP Bonus Takeaway – DJ’s Double Gold (Gritty) – With Nationals happening this past weekend, there was also an APP tournament happening on the other side of the country. There weren’t a lot of true pros at the event but some of the pro draws were quite sizeable.. We were keeping tabs on the APP event and we thought it wouldn’t be fair to ignore DJ Young’s double gold performance with Thomas Wilson and Vivienne David.
For me, it was the men’s victory that was most impressive for the talented yet enigmatic DJ. After handling both Kyle Yates/Rob Cassidy and then Eden Lica/Andrei Daescu on the winner’s side of the bracket, Yates/Cassidy got a bit of a free pass to the gold medal match after Eden Lica couldn’t continue due to cramping (side note: the big man may want to spend a little less time hitting the weights if he’s at all serious about pickleball). The gold match was a finish of epic proportions, coming down to the game to 15 that didn’t end at 15. DJ and Wilson barely scraped out the gold, taking it 18-16 at the end of a very long day.
2022 DJ will be just as fascinating as 2021 DJ. He gives the appearance on social media he’s putting in the work like a pro should. He is in the gym regularly and we’re seeing new tools being added to his repertoire. While he has toned down the use of his new 2-handed backhand for the time being after he struggled with it at the PPA Master, I expect that to be a legit weapon for him in 2022 in addition to his already tantalizing array of shots. Taking down Yates/Cassidy twice is a real accomplishment. He’s had a few big wins this year at APP’s playing previously with Vivienne David, Jay Devilliers and Maggie Brascia. It sounds like DJ and Vivienne will be playing together quite a bit next year too. The question for DJ will always be whether he is just flash in the pan guy or can he put it all together to be a consistent threat on the pro tour?
Fantasy Update: Slim won 16-13 this week and it ends up being a landslide victory to conclude the year. He finishes 4 up, which will be a whopping $40 based on the agreement we had earlier in the year – in case you weren’t aware, we came up with the fantasy draft thing before the blog was started. We’re still figuring out what to do with our previews for next year because there’s no way we can handle 50 plus fantasy drafts, but we’ll have that all sorted out in time.
Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
12 thoughts on “USA Pickleball Nationals – 5 Takeaways – Zane-Y Nationals”
You’re making the assumption that USAPB “punished” ZANE and ALTAF because they were “upset” about Zane choosing not to play on Championship Sunday. But look at it from their perspective. What if Zane and Altaf made the men’s double’s final? What then? That was a real risk in such a small field, and double elimination format. USAPA would be in a position where 2 gold medal matches would be forfeited due to one player’s decision to prioritize another event. In addition, is it fair to have a team beat you and then not be able to meet their commitment to play a final’s match? There are two sides to this and you only explored one.
As for JW and CD, on paper it looked like a great team. the reality, despite their silver in Nationals, is that they don’t seem to have enough firepower. I thought they played amazing against matt and deckel and Deckel’s. Btw, that’s the team I think questions need to be asked about, not Jw and CD.
But I think you saw in the TM and RN matches, (I didn’t see the gold beatdown) that CD was being targeted on thirds and at the kitchen line. CD is a great player but I think the calculus was that he did not have the offense that JW had. And to be accurate BJ said he would enjoy playing with CD. He did not say he was one of the top right side players. CD does not drive his 3rds and he’s a safer bet to target because you know what you’re going to get.
I agree that CD has been on the podium with other partners, but not recently. And even before the MLP draft, he was not talked about as a participant. The other 3 players on the court Sunday were all top picks. Having said that I love the way CD competes and carries himself out there. One of my favorite players.
I think you’ve been a bit tough on DJ. the guy is 21 years old. You’re still figuring stuff out at that age. His talent in undeniable and I think you will see the results come in in 2022.
We were making that assumption but Ben and Rob have confirmed that on their podcast now as Zane/Altaf apparently said they would forfeit as Callie did. We still think Zane should be getting more flack for this situation.
Agree on both JW and CD, and Matt/Dekel. But because there are so few exclusive right side players and CD has to be at the top of the list. I believe the Freestyle Boys talked about CD for MLP and we thought he was on the border in our mock
We have been tough on DJ and he is young. It’s possible but we wouldn’t bet on it. Sometimes the light turns on though. All the talent in the world
ben has been hyper critical of usa pickelball of late. it would not surprise me if he and his dreamland partners are cooking up and alternative to the national championships for 2022 and beyond. DUPR competes with USAP head on in at least one major area already.
I heard their discussion and they also did not offer potential alternative reasons why USA pickelball would not have wanted ZN and AM to be in Saturday’s draw. I am sure they got a full refund for event entry fees. 🙂
So bottom line is everybody is up in arms because ZN and AM were not allowed to play a few matches together in Nationals in 2021, when most pros weren’t even there?
Remember their idea was to bow out before the bronze medal match, so they would not impede other’s pathway to the medal rounds.
Everybody who responded to ZN on facebook said a variation of one thing in support of ZN decision. And that was Nationals will “always be there”. Lets remember that before we contemplate how “catastrophic” this decision was.
I have my own criticisms of USA pickleball. But this seems to be more about FB venting, 1st world complaining, shaping a narrative, and piling on when USA pickelball is down for the count.
There does appear to be a certain aspect of no one likes USAP right now so let’s pile on. At the same time, while the decision may not be a big deal in the grand scheme, it is not a good sign for how USAP is dealing with issues
How much do you think vaccination status had to do with the low pro turnout at Indian Wells? It was my first Nationals to attend, and I loved it. Obviously wish there were more pros there though.
The rumor I heard is that many players and families are anti-vax, including that one family. Is that true?
I’d be careful about painting all pros not at Nationals with an anti-vax brush unless they’ve explicitly said so — many companies won’t allow anti-vaxers as spokespeople/reps, let’s not put people’s reputations into jeopardy.
Tyler Loong had a great post about the missing pros. Anti-vax was one factor, as was the shifting dates/other responsibilities, as well of the high cost of hotels in the area. Since his post, I’ve really been mulling on what a difficult position those second-tier pros are in. We call them pros, they’re sponsored by sometimes several companies, and yet they still have to worry about whether they can afford hotels for major events?
To add onto Denise, vax is a fairly significant factor probably but there are a lot of other reasons. Another reason has to be that with so many pro events now, Nationals is not a must for pros anymore
I haven’t been to many of the other pro events so I can’t comment as to how Nationals compares, but it’s hard to imagine that there wouldn’t be such a fallout if it weren’t for the vaccination component. Indian Wells is a premiere destination in a beautiful location, also happens end of the year, all feels like it should be the #1 destination. Granted, the purse money could be increased.
Yes, they were wrong on the Zane doubles situation, but that happened well after many pros declined to attend. Disappointing that pros taking an anti-vax stance is denying fans the opportunity to see them play in person.
A good friend went to the Indian Wells Tennis Tournament a few months before. She said it was completely dead, hardly anyone in the stands, and the big names did not show up. I think mandatory vaxx was a big reason why. And all the hoopla you had to go through just to get a ticket. JMO.
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Interesting and overall balanced blog post, though the comments were enlightening as well.
Let me just say that overall, your Nationals’ review was pro-centric. Is that what Nationals is all about? Sacrilege? Heresy? Maybe from a vendor, sponsor, media/TV peeps, and IWTG perspective, it’s all about the pros. I would like to offer a different perspective: it’s about the amateurs.
With the emergence of APP, PPA, MLP, and whatever other 3-letter pro event I’m forgetting, the world gets to see the same pros playing each other all the time. Yes, it’s great to see them compete in person. But with more and more pro events almost every weekend, we have a lot more chances to see them play online and in person. And yes, that’s a good thing and does help our sport grow.
So maybe that’s why someone commented that Nationals is losing its attraction on pros because they may not make the same $$ or it’s not required in their contract. And for those prose who teach or do clinics, is saying you’re a “National Champion” still a big marketing draw for pros?
I would argue that Nationals—like the Olympics—is for the amateurs. We are the ones who have to qualify. No other tourney requires a player to do that. At least half, if not more, of the field are golden ticket holders, which means very strong competition.
For me personally, this was my 3rd Nationals and my first time to win a medal (silver, MXD 3.5 55+, all thx to my partner Linda!). But more importantly, this was the first Nationals for my 83 y/o mom, who won a bronze in the 80+ 3.0/3.5 WD division (missed silver by 1 point!).
Winning a medal at the same time my mom did was a dream come true. Who knows if we will be able to pull this off next year? We are planning the qualifying process again.
Speaking of my mom and pros, right after she got her medal, Anna Leigh and her mom Leigh were in the Paddletek booth with their gold medals so we were fortunate enough to get a pix with them—my mom was excited to meet them! We may be the only 2 pairs of parent-child to win medals at Nationals, I don’t know. But they were very gracious to take the time to do that.
So while it’s great to have pros there at Nationals, especially from a sponsorship’s standpoint, I like to think it’s really about the amateurs experience, both what it took to qualify and then compete there. That’s what makes it so special and different than all the other tourneys. (Also the grounds for spectators is head and shoulders above any other venue I’ve been to so far.)
This year, I had so many friends playing in Nationals I didn’t get a chance to see any of the pros play. But that’s ok, I was glad to support and cheer on my friends playing.
One last thing about Nationals and the vaccine mandate. I have a heart condition that puts me at higher risk if I get COViD. My mom is 83. What was reassuring was while on the grounds, we felt like we were in an island of ultra low risk for COViD, knowing everyone there was vaccinated. (Working in public health and my mom being a full time MD, we know a vaccinated person can pass it on but we know the viral load would be very low and this the risk.) That was one less thing to worry about.
Finally, regarding USA Pball…USAP is NOT a pro tour, nor is it’s mission to cater to pros. It’s mission is to “grow the sport” in the USA. Tournaments is one way but that’s a small portion of USAP’s work.
As the national governing body, it has a lot more on its plate than just Nationals. Setting the rules, approving equipment, giving grants to start new locations, helping clubs grow, youth and school initiatives, the ambassador program…all if these things and more are focused in our mission.
You mentioned Ben Johns being critical of UsAP, and many others on social media…are they critical of the $$$ that is given out to new locations? Are they critical of ambassadors working their butts off in the trenches to grow the sport, giving free lessons to newbies?
I know Ben personally and I know he would not be critical about me as an ambassador or grants giving to new locations. So when people say they are “critical of USAP”, it usually is a specific thing and not our overall mission.
So if anyone else is trying to overcome USAP when it comes to tourneys for pros, they can try. I believe there is plenty of room for other orgs to do more in pball.
USAP is the national governing body, with dedicated people, and focused on growing the sport. And as the water of pball popularity rises, it will raise all pickleboats higher and higher. 😉
Thanks for your blogs! Keep’em coming.
Disclaimer: I am a USAP ambassador and also a USAP Board member, so while I may have strong biases towards USAP, I know no one is perfect. I do know every single USAP employee and board member are passionate about pickleball and growing the sport. So while we may not all agree on the “how”, there is no question in my mind about the passion for pickleball.
Thanks for the perspective Ernie. On the pro-centric comment, our blog is entirely pro-centric so there will be very little focus on amateur stuff. However, your point is well taken about amateurs and nationals. Something to think about could be that nationals becomes an entirely amateur event and that could be a very good thing.
The thing is that USAP seems to clearly be trying to attract pros as evidenced by the amount of prize money and cutting a deal to put it on ESPN+. USAP also will be involved in APP events in the future so if that’s the goal then pros do matter. It may not be mission to cater to pros but it’s also important to have pros supporting the governing body of the sport in the country. I think the pros seem mainly critical in relation to the pro events and treatment not in its entirety.
Congrats on you and your mom’s medals too! It seems like there were lots of ppl who had good experiences at nationals and there should be some recognition of that out there