Yesterday someone shared a pickleball/celebrity connection on social media:
My niece from Texas is visiting this week and we had an extended family party at my brother’s house in Scotts Valley. I left after dinner and popped down the road to nearby Skypark, arriving at 8 p.m.
Things were busy. I got into a game with barefoot Terry against Adrian and Larry’s wife Jacquie. Considering how funky my play has been since I got back from my trip, playing with middle-of-the-road players was good.
Over the course of the 75 minutes that I played, my dropshots were rather unreliable. While many were workable, too many were either into the net or too high. Frustrating. My lack of play while on vacation has taken its toll and it looks like I’ll have to work my way back into “proper form”.
Number of days on a court: 507 Number of total hours: 2,347
To start at the beginning of this blog click on “1st Post” in the menu above.
My daughter picked up my wife and me from San Francisco International Airport from our European trip and we were walking into our house about midnight. (I never was able to arranged any play for our brief visit in Sweden. Bummer. At least I got Rome!) Three weeks ago, I had arranged for others to open Derby Park in my stead. I arrived at Derby about 10:30 a.m. (That’s 7:30 p.m. Italy/Sweden time!)
Eric S. was there acting as the site coordinator. He pointed to the empty spot where the new metal storage bin had been, “Between Wednesday and Friday morning, someone stole our storage bin.” That thing is heavy! It had to have been a several person coordinated effort with a truck. We lost our battery-powered blower, loaner paddles, a bunch of balls, ball holsters, backpack with instructional handouts, and other things we use. Such a disappointment.
My first game was an ego booster, playing a game in a red/advanced box with players who shouldn’t be signing up as advanced.
Skill Creep Problem
I started a box in red. A woman, a regular, added her name under mine. I asked a few players if they’d join the box and they said “yes” until they saw her name then shook their heads and walked away to wait for a better opportunity. Other advanced players got a foursome together and they all filled an empty box en masse as “intermediate” players to get past the rule of completing matching skill level box before starting a new box.
This was a problem. I could either dilute the advanced category by getting intermediates to fill out the rest of my red box … or I do what Dan Bliss did with me some months back. Unpleasant, but probably the best solution.
I called the woman aside and told her that no one wanted to sign up in a box with her and that she’s really not an advanced player. I told her that Dan Bliss had to have this talk with me and it’s awkward and not a pleasant conversation to have to have. I told her if she wants to sign up in red, she needs to ask permission first.
She was very unhappy with me and accused me of gender discrimination. She said a woman named Linda—I don’t know this person—as well as a couple of young male players told her that she’s an advanced player. I suspect Linda and maybe the young guys aren’t advanced players either. And later she told me that “all men are a—oles”. Of course, I stopped to analyze myself and see things from her perspective. Nonetheless, I don’t consider her an advanced player. (As others also believe, obviously, given that they refused to sign up in her box.)
I talked to Tony (of the SCPC board) and he said that the same woman had been told at Brommer Park by different male player that she was not an advanced player.
I played three last games with Rick and René with Allen as my partner. Allen and I lost all three games. I was not at all happy with my play. It was frustrating. Maybe it was the 9-hour jet jag? (It was about 10 p.m. Italy time when we were playing. ) Or more likely, me only playing once in nearly three weeks.
We got everything remaining stowed and I locked up the remaining old storage bin. It was a little after 1:30 p.m. As I pulled out to drive away, Rick stopped me. “The entryway metal post isn’t locked. Anyone can pull it and drive in.” It was probably ripped out for the box theft . . . or maybe it was already useless prior to that. I wrote to the SCPC board to have them notify the city about it, but they had already just told the city. Good.
Monday, June 27, 2022 (No Play)
I thought this was interesting enough to share…
NEW TACTICS, NEW RESULTS.
One of the more compelling matches at the PPA Orange County Cup on June 12 was the Mixed Doubles Final. Anna Leigh Waters and JW Johnson defeated Lucy Kovalova and Matt Wright in five games, 11-7, 6-11, 11-9, 6-11, 11-1. These teams traded games by similar scores…but what happened in that 11-1 fifth game?
A shift in third-shot strategy.
Through the first four games, Waters had 16 3rd-drops and 16 3rd-drives, (50%). Johnson had 37 drops and 8 drives, (82%). Those numbers are relatively “normal” for both players. They were at 68% drops through four games; Then they flipped the switch.
In Game Five, on 15 service points, Waters/Johnson hit 13 drives, 1 drop, and 1 unclear. (The broadcast was showing a replay). They won 11 of those 15 rallies, 10 of the last 11, and their last 8 in a row.
Johnson had six 3rd shots. All drives. All from the left court, all forehand. He hit five straight ahead to Kovalova’s backhand, and one cross-court to Wright’s forehand. His team won all six rallies.
Waters hit one drop, cross-court from the right side. She hit seven drives, all from the right side. She hit three backhand drives (one into the net, one cross-court to Kovalova, one straight ahead to Wright). She hit four forehand drives (one into the net, one cross-court to Kovalova, and two straight ahead to Wright. Her team won four of the eight rallies where she hit the third shot (and two of those four losses came from her hitting the ball into the net.)
As Morgan Evans noted in the broadcast at 5-1 in the 5th, “JW is channeling his inner ‘Leigh Waters’ knowing that’s really going to make Anna Leigh Waters comfortable, and he’s applying serious pressure again and again.” That assessment is backed by these statistics.
(Photo: YouTube/PPA Tour.) Anna Leigh Waters prepares for a backhanded third shot drive. This drive “chicken-winged” Wright, leading to a Johnson “shake ‘n bake” forehand winner, and a 7-1 lead on the 5th.
In wee early hours of Thursday morning, since I couldn’t sleep, I was teaching myself how to count to 10 in Italian . . . I wanted to be able to call the score in my hosts’ native language. YouTube was very helpful. I was also killing time by listening to unrelated podcasts. One podcast attributed a quote to pro golfer Gary Player, a quote that I use a lot—when people tell me I made a lucky shot—that is, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” It turns out that this quote well predates Gary Player, having roots no later than the 19th Century. Good quotes stick around!
My Italian pickleball contact (this turned out to be Marcello—pronounced “Mar-chello”) told me to take the Metro to Anagnina and he’d pick me up from there. I have no idea where that is but I’ll figure it out!
My wife and I flew to Germany that afternoon, changed planes after a two-hour layover, then flew on to Italy and landed in Rome Friday mid-afternoon, yesterday.
Since Marcello would be picking me up, I sent him a photo so he could recognize me. He kindly sent one back:
Late afternoon, yesterday, while waiting for my wife in a hat shop, she asked what the number 2 is in Italian. (She wanted both hats!) “Due” (“Doo-A.”) This lead a me counting to ten in Italian for local man and earning a “bravo” when I finished. I’m ready to call the score in pickleball!
At breakfast, I messaged Marcello letting him know I was on my way. It would be warm, so I had three medium-sized water bottles in my backpack. Walking down four stories worth of hotel stairs on my way to the train station, the outside of my right knee was experiencing pain. “Oh, this is the last thing I need,” I was thinking. Fortunately, it wouldn’t bother me again today. Halfway to the subway, I realized that I’d forgotten to put on sunscreen—hopefully, some could be found at the court.
By 9 a.m., I was in the Metro station closest to my hotel. I tried two ticket machines, selecting a purchase of two passes (one for heading out, one for coming back) and both machines merely spit my five Euro note back out. Arg! What was I doing wrong? I asked the staff in the booth nearby, but they appeared disinterested, but one seemed to suggest I try a different machine. I tried a third machine, and, lo and behold, it worked! Sigh. Of course, the two I happened to try first in this new country, for a system I’ve never used before, are non-functional for paper currency! I was not super impressed with the Roman subway so far! 9:17 a.m. and I was waiting for my subway train. 9:20, I slipped on a mask—COVID is still a possible threat—and I was in and on my way! *whew*
Anagnina, being the very last stop, would be hard to miss but I kept track of my progress regardless. Having ridden these contraptions in Boston, London, and Madrid, I was relatively comfortable with the experience. Sitting on the train, I was getting excited to experience play in my third country. The USA, Spain, and now Italy!
I’d be early to meet Marcello. Better than being late! I arrived, walked outside, and texted Marcello at 9:47 and let him know where I’d be waiting. By 10:17, I was starting to freak out and texted him again with still no reply. Should I give up and head back? At 10:23, I called him and, thankfully, he merely said he was running late and he’d be there in 8 minutes. He apologized a few times. Italian time, I guess! LOL! (Later, I’d learn he was running a tennis tournament that day and was extremely busy.) I could relax some, contact made! Eventually, we found each other—he first thought I was across the road—and it was a quick 5-6 minute drive to the tennis club. He apologized again. Marcello said there were two other Americans visiting too.
At the Club
After parking, Marcello lead me past, then between, some fenced-in clay tennis courts—a type of court which I’d only previously seen on TV—then past some type of paddle ball courts and then to a single permanent pickleball court. On it were Sean and Kristina McNamara of Vancouver, Canada. (Northern Americans, yes, but Canadians, not “Americans”.) When I asked, Kristina shared they are 4.5 level players. And they explained that their two daughters went to UCLA (like my son Nicholas, though he wasn’t fortunate enough to be there on an athletic scholarship) and are now professional athletes for Team Canada and here in Italy for the Beach Volleyball World Cup. The 24-year-old McNamara twins are apparently a force to be reckoned with.
A young Italian woman in tennis garb who had been acting as a fourth, left as soon as I arrived to take her place. Marcello was very busy with an international “top 400” ATP tennis tournament they were hosting today—with competitors from as far away as Brazil—so I was partnered with Erik, Marcello’s 17-year-old son.
Erik is obviously primarily a tennis player and showed virtually no soft game. He drove just about every shot, though he did that well for the most part. However, when you drive at 4.5 level players, the ball can come back very fast or be sent off the court out of reach! Sean and Kristina are very good players and made relatively few errors. Shots that I’m used to ending a point would come back regardless. (Super fun! Though less so for them!) Sean made an ATP, and while I was able to get my paddle on it—even for my forehand—it was too low, fast, and wide for me to get it back over the net. Kristina had an ATP on the other side later, one I thought she wouldn’t have the angle for, but she pulled it off with nearly identical results though that one was low and fast to my backhand instead.
It was 93°F (34°C) and sunny with no shade. There were also some flying bugs, which were only occasionally annoying, fortunately. After just two games, I was dying. I was thinking, “How do pro tournament athletes do this?” Massive respect. I’m not in great shape—I don’t go out and run or swim for miles—but I do typically play for 2-4 hours several times a week, so I don’t remotely consider myself a couch potato. Yet, I’d played for just about half an hour and was breathing hard and felt drained. Heat, humidity, probably jet-lag, a more intense game, and I totally forgot about sunscreen (ouch)… it was adding up.
Marcello reappeared saying he had about 10 minutes to play. He’s better than I am, likely a 4.0+ level. Hats off to Marcello. It’s that tennis pro background and skill. We lost the first game, but as Kristina said afterward, “THAT was pickleball.” We had some good dink rallies at the net and an occasional blistering volley rally.
Sean asked Marcello if he had time for one more and we started a second game. The second game was taking a long time—and not just because I was dead on my feet! Marcello and I were unquestionably losing, but putting up a battle with a lot of service changes. Someone walked up and a conversation in Italian with Marcello occurred. He played one more rally, then he apologized and then Erik stepped in for his dad. After that, the game wrapped up in fairly short order.
I had only played about an hour—Sean and Kristina even played about 45 minutes longer than I had—but I was completely fatigued.
Marcello offered us a swim in their pool and Sean took him up on it. Marcello generously gifted us with “Pickleball Roma” T-shirts. Talk about going out of his way! After waiting about 45 minutes for a taxi that seemed to not be coming, I convinced Sean and Kristina to brave public transportation to get back to their hotel near the Vatican. Marcello loaded us into his small van and dropped us off at the train station. Marcello really made an effort be sure we enjoyed the experience. I’m very grateful to him.
On the subway, Kristina told me that I was playing better in the later games. Aside from warming up, I really think this has a lot to do with my partner. I remember once playing with an unknown married couple back home and thinking they were both poor players, but later, playing against the husband again but with him paired with a better partner and I learned he was a pretty decent player. Marcello is a far better pickleball player than his son is. (Though I’m sure Erik would kick my rear in tennis, it’s the opposite in pickleball until Erik gains more skills on the small court.)
Back at the Hotel
When I got back to our room, my wife had fortunately already returned from her shopping excursion. I sent Marcello a message:
“Ciao, Marcello! (Tramite Google Translate) Grazie mille per la tua ospitalità di oggi. Sei così accogliente e generoso! È stato un piacere conoscere te e tuo figlio Erik. Ti auguro il meglio con la coltivazione del pickleball a Roma!”
Which translates to:
“Hello, Marcello! (Via Google Translate) Thank you so much for your hospitality today. You are so welcoming and generous! It was delightful to meet you and your son Erik. I wish you the best with growing pickleball in Roma!”
He replied in Italian and asked for the photos we’d taken on my phone, which I happily shared with him.
Back at the hotel, I was experiencing pain with certain motions in my right elbow. Mild tennis elbow. I’m always worried about a relapse. I don’t want have to revert to another two year stretch of playing left-handed. That really slowed my development as a player.
Sunday, June 12, 2022 (No Play)
The last 2 1/2 days of our trip will be spent in Sweden. I contacted a pickleball group in Gothenburg but the day I have free is a big national holiday there (“Midsummer”) and I was unfortunately told that no games could be arranged. Maybe I can squeeze in some play one of the evenings, though that may be difficult. We’ll see.
Monday, June 13, 2022 (No Play)
My elbow—and right knee for that matter—is feeling better, thank goodness.
And I did look up how the McNamara twins were progressing at the World Cup. They are now 3-0, after winning another round by beating a highly respected Brazilian team. As one article said, they’ve put anyone who might underestimate them on notice!