Random Thoughts – Strategic Musings ft. Rob Nunnery

Authored by Gritty

I’m not sure if this really qualifies as a random thought but here we go. Rob Nunnery provided a fairly detailed response last week to one of my takeaways from the APP Indianapolis Open on his personal Franklin blog. I had some strong opinions on Nunnery and Stone’s strategic choice to have Nunnery go cross court backhand to backhand with Devilliers. The biggest problem I had with this Patrick Smith’s lack of mobility with his knee injury. I called their strategy “egregious”. Nunnery called my analysis “egregious”.

Nunnery was very clear that he thought playing Patrick Smith straight on would have been foolish”

A certain blog wondered why I didn’t dink head on, down the line with Pat. I was sitting here talking to Dekel [Bar] about that and we got a good kick out of it. They called it an egregious mistake. I call it egregious analysis. Truly baffling if you ask me.

It makes me think they don’t understand elementary pickleball strategy. It’s the basics. Dinking down the line in men’s pro doubles is asking for trouble and should typically be avoided. Especially against players with reach.

Tell us how you really feel, Rob! But ultimately, I get the head on thing. Smith is the more dangerous player straight on – arguably not when injured – but I can still get on board with his response there.

The other main point Nunnery made in response to my analysis was that he referenced Smith was tired but “Although Pat was laboring between points, it didn’t really seem to affect his movement during points”.

I have two issues with Nunnery’s response on their strategy – one major and one more minor. The major issue I take is that Nunnery’s response is the incomplete nature of it. Totally cool if Nunnery wants to tell us that he doesn’t think we understand elementary pickleball strategy. We are not going to agree on everything. However, if you’re going to do that, you cannot cherry pick from the analysis to make a point of a possible lack of understanding of the game. To be clear, this is what I wrote:

We both thought that either Nunnery goes straight on with Smith or you could stack Nunnery on the right side.

You can go read our post for my full analysis but Nunnery spends three paragraphs saying why dinking head on is a bad strategy and then briefly mentions that if not for Stone’s fatigue and cramping they could have could have tried to get Stone cross court dinking with Smith. Nowhere does Nunnery address in his blog why they didn’t stack him on the right side. If you only read Nunnery’s Franklin Blog and don’t even know the “certain blog” that he is referring to (which would be more egregious than anything), you’re not getting the full picture for the critique.

The going straight on with Smith was not an exclusive criticism by me. It was an either/or type of deal. Maybe Rob thinks it would have been dumb to stack him on the right to dink cross court against Pat Smith’s weapons as well but I have no idea what he thinks about that.  

This takes me back to what is really the only reason you are trying to isolate Smith, which is also the minor issue I have with his response. It’s not that Smith is the weaker player, it’s that he was clearly injured. In my view, tired is a very generous interpretation of the Winter Solider’s physical state from that match. Nunnery obviously disagrees with that and, to be fair, I was only watching on my laptop APP stream.  

Let’s go through some examples though:

  • Smith and Devilliers abandoned switching when Smith was returning serve. You can count on one hand the number of times they switched when Smith returned serve even though Devilliers was switching the vast majority of the time to keep Smith on the right.
  • At 4-6-2 in game 2, Smith jumps the kitchen for a finish and it noticeably causes him difficulty.
  • At 2-0-1 in in the game 15, Stone puts Smith out wide and Smith comes up gingerly on his leg. Catalano notes on the broadcast any sudden or hard movement where Smith has to stop bothers him. He seems a little extra slow getting to the net after this for a period of time.
  • At 5-5-2, Smith limps after a sharp movement covering the court for Devilliers.
  • At 9-10-2, there is a rare cross court exchange between Smith and Stone, and Smith looks like he can’t get wide and blows the dink into the net.
  • After Smith and Devilliers get the ball back at 9-10-1, Smith mishits an ATP and you wonder whether that’s a movement issue.

Smith ended up playing mixed the next day but he pulled out of the entire set of California tournaments he was set to play after Indianapolis.

Update: Tyson McGuffin put out a podcast on June 16th. He taped it after Atlanta and before Indy, but somehow released it after both Indy and LA Open. In any event, McGuffin mentioned on the pod how Pat does not do well in the heat and is someone you want to grind in those situations, which is exactly what he and Riley did in Atlanta.

I’m sure we will continue to disagree about the movement issue but, in my view, when a guy is having as much difficulty moving as Smith was you have to make him work. The 9-10-2 blown dink I mentioned above could have just been an aberration but there isn’t enough evidence form the match to reach any conclusion because they didn’t test Smith at all.

There are 3 options to make Smith work – have Nunnery go head on, have Nunnery go cross court from the right side or have Stone go cross court from the right side.

The other possible benefit that going cross court with Smith from the right side would have given Nunnery/Stone is that it would have given Nunnery the option to attack Devilliers. It seems pretty accepted on tour that Smith’s hands are stronger than Devilliers and Nunnery is a guy who loves to speed up that ball.

Nunnery wrote that their “strategy clearly worked in the winners bracket final”. Devilliers was not stacked on the left side the entire match, although he was in the latter of game 2 when Nunnery/Stone made their comeback. While they won game 3 handily, Smith was on the left side for a good chunk of that game 3 and it’s pretty clear that Smith was already starting to struggle more with that knee issue, especially when he goes down on one-knee at the start of game 3 at 0-0.

It undoubtedly can be hard to switch away from what feels like a winning strategy, especially when all the games were close in the gold medal match. Nevertheless, I still think it was a big mistake not to try to make him work more.

It wasn’t missing out on utilizing a head on strategy that I thought was egregious. It was not making Smith earn it on a bum leg.

Agree or Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments below or email us at nmlpickleball@gmail.com

3 thoughts on “Random Thoughts – Strategic Musings ft. Rob Nunnery

  • June 29, 2021 at 9:19 am

    You also aren’t taking into account of what is going on in Pat/Jay’s minds, and what their game plan is. If I know that my partner is injured, i am going to want most of the balls, so I will dink cross so I get the ball back. If Pat is injured and getting dinked at, he can simply lift it over the net straight on, which force Rob to go back to crosscourt dink with Jay, because that is the safer shot for Rob.

    Who is to say if they switch Rob and Adam, that Jay and Pat are going to bail from their own plan to have Jay dink cross court so Pat stays less involved? Teams don’t always just target one player. They may also target certain spots on the court, regardless of the player.


    • June 29, 2021 at 10:17 am

      Thanks for weighing in John. I think you make a good point and something that I didn’t consider. My take on it assumes they would just continue the cross court pattern if Rob was on the right side. So you’re right in that we don’t know the answer. I will still go back to the fact that nothing was even attempted to make Pat work more and Rob was clear in his response they weren’t concerned about trying to make Pat work. Gotta try at a minimum IMO

  • July 13, 2021 at 10:33 am

    Nunnery seems a bit defensive. Maybe this stems from the fact he has failed to secure gold in any major tournament, despite the absence of many of the top pros in these APP events? If I were him, I would think about what improvements I could make to get over the hump and win a tournament. Instead of critiquing the critique, maybe keep an open mind and try something new. He seems like a really solid player with great fundamentals and weapons, but needs to put it all together strategically with his partners and finish. I hope he stays open to other perspectives so he continues to grow.


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