TOC Wrapping – Part One

I think you will enjoy hearing from 4 of the charismatic and talented women who won a big share of the medals at Brigham City. The Tournament of Champions is an important event for the pro players and is a good preview of the competition level they can expect at the US Nationals in November.

*First off we hear from one of best singles pb players in the world. Although new to pickleball, she is figuring out how to win in doubles and is one of the top 2 singles players in the world!…It is an exciting time in the pickleball world for spectators when they can attend a major event and watch her facing her rival  with a gold medal at stake. Let’s find out how she got to be there. What was it like to stand on the championship court at the TOC?…What is it like to be…

Lucy Kovalova

1. Lucy, there is a lot of buzz on the cucumber vine about you. I know very little except that you are doing well in tournaments for being the new girl on the courts. I think you are from Europe and I know you have a tennis background…Could you tell us where you were born, when you came to the US, what is your sports background and how you got into competitive pickleball?

LK – Hello Doug, you are right, I’m pretty new to the pickleball world. I played in only two tournaments so far (US Open and TOC) but I’m looking forward to playing more tournaments in the future…So let me tell you something about myself. I was born in a small town called Presov in a very small country – Slovakia. I’ve been playing tennis since I was 6. I played many Slovakian, as well as international tournaments, during my tennis career. I tried to play professionally but I wasn’t as successful as I would have liked to be, so I decided to try to get an athletic scholarship at some university in the US…I got a few offers but I ended up going to Wichita State University in fall 2011. I enjoyed playing for WSU and I can say that it was a great decision coming to the US…And how I got into competitive pickleball?…That is actually a funny story. We (Matt Wright, Jack Oxler and I) started to play pickleball at the Wichita Country Club maybe a year ago. Around Christmas time, all of us were talking about playing some tournaments and the US Open in Naples sounded like a great plan. I thought it was just a joke, so of course I agreed. But then a few months later, the guys were talking about signing in and buying flight tickets, so then I realized they were serious and it is really happening haha…So we basically went to Naples to have fun, play pickleball, and enjoy nice weather. I didn’t have any expectations but it turned out to be a great tournament:-)

2. You’re living in Wichita, Kansas…I think most of my Canadian readers do not have a clue what it is like there…Is it a nice place to call home, and is there a good pb community there?

LK – Yes, that’s correct, I currently live in Wichita, Kansas. It is a nice city but nothing compared to huge cities like Chicago or LA. I’m also from a small town so that might be the reason why I ended up here. People here are amazing and maybe that is why I consider Wichita to be my second home….I think pickleball is growing in Kansas very quickly. We have many people that started to play pickleball recently and I can tell you that they love it. We got brand new six designated outdoor pickleball courts in our local park and people really enjoy them. We use them all the time, especially when we are getting ready for the tournaments. It is fun to see people playing pickleball, having a good workout, and having fun at the same time:-)

3. In my US Open edition, I talked to you about your great performance there. At the Tournament of Champions you were in MX open competition with Matt Wright. That bracket was very competitive, but you  and your teammate had some very tight matches including a close 15 pointer against the eventual bronze team of Oliver Strecker and Irina Tereschenko…Did you and Matt feel good about getting so close to the medal round, and are you figuring out any new strategies for when you team up again for the US Nationals?

LK – I can’t agree more, the bracket was very competitive. We had a lot of tough matches during the day – lost to Kyle and Corrine 11-9 in the third set, lost to Oliver and Irina in a close 15 pointer, won against Joy and Kurtis 16-14…only a few points decided in all those matches. I can tell you I was very happy with our performance and how we competed/played at TOC (I hope Matt agrees haha). I enjoyed playing against top players because close matches like that are making us better. Matt and I don’t have that many opportunities to practice against tough opponents in Wichita, so maybe that is the main reason why we enjoy tournaments a lot….To answer your last question – of course, we have new strategies lined up so we can beat Oliver and Irina haha…I’m just kidding. We just want to have a good time and play as well as we can (and bring some medals home finally haha).

4. You had an incredible run in singles at the TOC!…That run included winning a 3 game set against Simone Jardim in the preliminary matches…In the finals you had to settle for a silver medal, but it must be very good for your confidence level going forward to know you came close to getting gold versus Simone?

LK – Thank you, Doug. Simone is a great player and I have to tell you that she played great in our final match. We had so many singles games that day and both of us gave it our all on the court during the finals. I played her much closer at TOC than at the US Open final and I even beat her in a main draw, which is of course encouraging for the next tournament. I was close to gold but silver is great as well:-)

5. This is my last question for now, Lucy…I’ve heard from some of the ladies that I play with on a recreational basis, that they don’t like it when men try to take too much of the court…I’m wondering if you have ever had to say ”don’t poach me” to a male playing partner?

LK – That’s a good question and I’m sure that many women have this issue. I usually play with Matt and I have to say that he is pretty good about it. I play on the forehand side and he plays on the backhand side with his forehand in the middle. I would say that in all our mix doubles matches men are ones ”in charge”…and I definitely can’t say that I don’t like it haha:-)

Doug, thank you for the questions:-) I tried to answer them as good as I could have…I’m sorry for all grammatical errors, English can be tricky sometimes. I hope your edition will be very popular, let me know when you finish it so I can share it on my FB:-)

* Thanks Lucy, I think any of your grammar issues add to the charm of interviewing you….For new CC readers, you can go to my archive edition of May 31st, 2016 to read more about Lucy. Her Kansas friend, Jack Oxler, was interviewed in the May 10th edition.



 

Why is it that some tennis players are able to transition to become top pickleball players? The answer may not be as obvious as it seems…We may get an insight into how to make the change by listening carefully to my next interviewee…Since making the shift, she has become the best pb singles player and ”in the discussion” as the top ladies doubles player ever….How did she do it and what in the pb world is going on with…

Simone Jardim

1. Simone, you have made a big impact to the scene in the short time you have been competing in pb tournaments. I know that you and your family have recently moved to Naples, Florida from Michigan and that you were originally from Brazil. How old were you when you came to the US and have you always been interested in sports?

SJ – I moved to the U.S. when I was 18 to play college tennis. I’ve always played sports. I started tennis when I was 6, but I also danced, played volleyball, handball and soccer.

2. You were previously the head tennis coach at MSU. One of your students was Canadian pb star Catherine Parenteau. She mentioned to me that you encouraged her to get into pickleball. Did you mentor other students to try our game when you were a tennis instructor at Michigan State?

SJ – I knew Catherine would be good at pickleball because she has great hands, moves well and is very competitive. Tyler Faulkner, who is the Associate Head Coach has also gotten into it, we have played a couple of tournaments together.

3. I am curious about something…What do you consider would be the biggest challenge for a great tennis player if they took up our game?…Would a Roger Federer or a Serena Williams automatically be a top player if they became a pickleballer?

SJ – At first it would be a challenge to not stay back and want to hit the ball extremely hard, or to not stay patient. However, someone with the skills they have would be amazing at pickleball. There are so many similar shots, and they have amazing hands at the net.

4. You have been a dominant player in the major events you have competed in – 1 silver & 2 gold at US Nationals, WS gold at US Open, 1 silver & 2 gold at TOC…Congratulations on your success! In the singles finals at Naples and Brigham City, you bested Lucy Kovalova twice to win the top prizes. Lucy’s game seems to be improving quickly…Was she a challenging opponent for you to face at the TOC?

SJ – Lucy has made some adjustments since the US Open. Her backhand is a lot better and she can now attack it, which makes a difference in singles. Lucy is tall and extremely athletic, she will continue to get better the more she plays.

5. You talked about your friend and doubles partner, Corrine Carr Siebenschien, in the September 2nd edition of my blog. You two had an incredible run at the TOC, where you only lost one game on your way to the gold medal! That must have been a very gratifying win for you to share with Corrine…In the TOC MX final you and Rafael Siebenschien came close to a win in the deciding 15 point game vs Sarah Ansboury and Wes Gabrielsen. It was a very exciting match to watch on the live feed….How was it for you to compete with Raf in the ”game of the year”?

SJ – Corrine and I always have fun competing together. We hadn’t played together since Nationals of last year, so we were extremely excited to go out and play together. Corrine is an amazing player and a great friend. I feel like I can be my crazy competitive self out on the court and she just looks at me and laughs….I’ve played with Raf a few times in the past and we most definitely match each others’ game well. I’m very comfortable with him, and he is a great player.

6. You have recently started a new enterprise in Naples, Florida… You are the head instructor and your husband, Chadwick Edwards, is the director of a pickleball academy. I have a feeling that every pickleballer in the State is going to want to get some sessions at your facility…Are you and Chad nervous or excited to be starting on this venture?

SJ – The opportunity for us to work with Jim Ludwig and the US Open Pickleball Academy came a little after we made the decision to move. We came to Naples to have a better life. Right now, I’m sitting on the beach watching my kids play while sitting under the umbrella with my husband. For the past few years I’ve felt guilty because I was working too much and not spending enough time with family. I didn’t want to regret it later, so gambled with the support of our family and friends. We were nervous, but excited all at the same time…We are settled now and working on promoting the Academy and getting things started.

7. Here is my last question Simone…Some ladies complain about this, so I had to ask you…Have you ever had a male teammate that crosses the centre line too much…have you ever had to say to someone, ”don’t poach me”.

SJ – I’ve been very lucky with my partners, most of the time they are the ones telling me to get out of the way because I’m such a ball hog. I believe it’s ok for anyone to poach as long as you communicate with your partner and you are both on the same page. Most importantly, poaching has to occur because you want to win and not just because. If your partner can handle the cross court dink and is able to keep it down then you do your part of supporting and being ready to put the ball away. During recreational play I think you should play everyone, especially the best guy on the court, because that’s what’s going to get you better….Lastly, mixed doubles in tournament plays hard for guys, because the majority of the time they are watching and waiting. It would be frustrating if the only ball they see is the one down their throat, so if I was in their shoes I would try to get involved if that was the case.

Thank you for all the time you spend spreading the word about this awesome sport.

* Back at you, Simone…I like what you, Chad and the rest of the Academy staff are doing to make Naples the ”centre of the pb world” for all the East Coast players. Florida has to be on the ”to go to” list for every hard core pickle head. Everyone should visit and attend one of your teaching sessions. Thanks for the great info you have been sharing with me….Simone Jardim also had comments in the September 2nd, and May 10th editions of my blog.

* For info on the US Open Pickleball Academy go to usopenpickleballchampionship.com/academy.html  and also  naplesnew.com pickleball academy



 

Classy – that’s the word I would use to describe my next interviewee in one word… If you’re ready, I don’t think she is shy, so let’s hear from…

Christine McGrath

1. So Christine, I know some things about you already…I know you have two children, a little girl and a very little boy, a tall husband and you are all very beautiful and nice people. You live, I think, in Pasedena, you have a strong tennis background and your husband’s family introduced you to pickleball. Could you fill in a few more details in your history by telling me if you have always been into sports activities, what you studied at University, and if your husband’s family deserves a special award for getting you into our crazy and addicting game?

CMcG – Filling in the details, I grew up competing in tennis since I was 8 years old. I was a 5 star recruit for tennis going into college and played Division 1 tennis at United States Military Academy at West Point for 2 years and at Marist College for 2 years. I then played club tennis during grad school at Brown University where I studied Public Health. Pickleball was pretty easy to get addicted to since it has similar components as tennis but is different enough that it gave me a challenge to master, as well as an outlet for my competitive nature. My husband deserves a special award for supporting me at some of the long tournament days!

2. You have won a lot of medals since you got on the pb tournament trail…When it comes to mixed play, a lot of your success has been when your playing with Matt Staub. What is it about Matt’s play that makes him the right partner for you?

CMcG – I have liked that Matt is consistent and plays smart with good shot selection. He also dresses nicely:-) but seriously, we have almost showed up accidentally matching in the same colour for every tournament.

3. You and Sarah Ansboury are almost unbeatable when you team up together. That included the time at this year’s US Open when you won 2 golds with Sarah while you were quite pregnant (over 7 months). I’m sure you have had a lot of people ask you this question, but…how did you do it? Top level pickleball is difficult even when you aren’t carrying a little pickle of a passenger.

CMcG – Playing pregnant, I got good at saying ‘yours’:-) Sarah and I had to rework different strategies and tweak my game in order to make it work! I could go on for days about this, but I will spare you. It definitely put pressure on my shot selection:-)

4. In the last question, I said you and Sarah were almost unbeatable…Well, the almost happened at the TOC…You and she lost a close WD finals to Simone Jardim and Corrine Carr Siebenschien…Sarah and you are great friends on and off the court, so what did you talk about after the match? Are you two good at encouraging each other to be at your best for the next tournament?

CMcG – With both of us being so competitive, after we cooled off, we talked just a little about how we could improve and we were pumped right away for the next tourney. We both absolutely HATE losing.

5. Last question Christine…I’m doing a survey with the top lady players and asking them if they ever had a problem when they have been competing with a guy who takes too much court…Have you ever had to say to a guy who was a court hog..”don’t poach me”.

CMcG – With the top mixed teams, even with top female players who can obviously hold their own, the males are very aggressive and there is nothing wrong with that! In fact, it is good and puts pressure on the opponents. So I would say…go for it! I also come from tennis so poaching is a natural concept to me!

* Thanks Christine for taking the time to share some of your thoughts on the pb game and your life journey with us…I had a smile when you talked about how you and your pickle pal are not happy with second place finishes…That must be a big part of the makeup of a winner! It will also make for a good line when I do a story about the WD competition at the US Nationals in November – what gold means to the top teams.



 

Alright…I hope you are wondering who is the lady that I have been saving to be the cleanup hitter for this post. You know it’s going to be a star player…You know it’s going to be someone who did well at the Tournament of Champions…But did you know it would be a woman who is talented in every aspect of our sport..from playing, teaching, writing and being influential with her 3 b’s philosophy of pickleball…You should know that if this lady is going to do something, she is going to do it well…Let’s hear how the game is going with…

Sarah Ansboury

1. Sarah, I’m wondering how you, Linh and your pooches have been enjoying the RVing scene that you embarked on this year? Have you visited some interesting places to do your clinics and tournaments that you hadn’t been to before?

SA – We sure have seen a lot of pickleball courts and met a ton of people. We need to slow down a bit to see a little more of the country. I’m in Nashville right now and we just spent two days sleeping! The pups get so much attention they love it! We are enjoying our lives right now for sure.

2. You really had an epic pickleball journey coming up to the TOC, Sarah. If I’m not mistaken, other than the Grand Canyon State Games where you got food poisoning and only won 1 gold, you had won multiple medals in every pb event you entered!…But the TOC is something special. I think it must be one of the hardest tournaments there is to medal in…Would you agree? If so, what is it about this event that brings out so many tough and hungry competitors?

SA – I was playing a mixed match and looked around and every court around us was surrounded with the top players competing against each other. It was so cool. TOC gets overlooked by a lot of players because it is only a pro event, but it has been the best draws all year…ok every bracket. We know it will be like that which is such a draw. You are seeing more and more prize money and I believe TOC has the most right now, so it brings us out to compete.

3. The WD bracket at Brigham City was your first chance since the US Open for you to play with Christine McGrath. What did it mean for you to have her with you on the court again?

SA – Both of us were anxious to get back on the court. It was different. We had regretted not playing a warm up tournament, especially with that ball, to get a little more tuned up. I love being on the court with her and competing with her. Especially it being her first tournament since Ethan. It was nice just to see her running again!

4. Christine and you made it to the finals, but Corrine Carr Siebenschien and Simone Jardim had the pickle sauce going that day. They took the gold after winning 2 out of 3 games. Corrine and Simone lost to you and Gigi at last year’s Nationals. Do you look that far ahead – to this November – and think of how you would like to play if you and McGrath face Jardim and Carr Siebenschien in US Nationals VIII?

SA – I don’t think we look at what we need to do against them as what we need to do for ourselves. They totally outplayed us that day. We learned a big lesson on what we need to do before a big tournament so that we can play to the best our our abilities. Draws are getting tougher every tournament and that is exciting for pickleball. We want to be challenged as often as possible so we can play our best and so people can see how far pickleball is going.

5. Wes Gabrielsen is a great player. Sarah Ansboury is a great player. Together Gabrielsen/Ansboury are a winning team. It was no surprise to any of your fans that you two made it to the MX finals at Brigham City or that your opponents would be the talented pair of Rafael Siebenschien and Simone Jardim. What was surprising was how entertaining the match became after Wes and you managed an exciting comeback after being down 10-4 in the 15 point tiebreaker. You and he went on an incredible run and won 15-13. Looking back at the match now, did you think you two would be able to get back in that game when you were so far back at the start?

SA – You really can’t ask for a better partner than Wes Gabrielsen. He’s a great player on the court and a great guy off the court. We had gotten through the winner’s bracket playing the game we wanted and it came down to Simone and Raf doing a really good job at pulling us out of it. We knew in the game to 15 if we could get back on the game we wanted we would pull it off. I’ve been down countless times to a match point for an opponent and came back to win. That’s the great thing about pickleball…You are always in it. Sometimes it takes losing some points to get back on track. We never lose faith in each other on the court and that always puts us in a good position. We did our best to keep going and it worked out in the end.

6. Last question Sarah…It’s sort of a survey I’ve been doing. I’m asking you something that may not have come up for you…Have you ever had to tell a male partner to give you more room on the court…have you ever had to say to an overconfident teammate, ”don’t poach me”.

SA – I probably have. However, I do want my male partner to poach so I feel I have probably told them to poach more than not. I’m ok with someone coming into my court if they are doing it in a way to set us up for a better position as well as not running off the court.

* Thanks Sarah for taking the time to giving us your feedback on the TOC and your travel adventures. As an attendee to her clinic in Kelowna, I can tell you her instruction has changed the way I play the game. You should ”go see Sarah” when her Super Caravan comes to your pb town… For info go to sarahansboury.com   or   sarahansboury.proliteproud.com

* There is also more about Sarah in the July 5th and 20th editions of my blog…



 

Video Links

* This match is the singles final at the US Open between Lucy Kovalova and Simone Jardim…    https://youtu.be/RLMf3Q36BoM

* Simone Jardim’s interview after her US Open gold in singles… https://youtu.be/f9qaY2JENWQ

* Simone with her MSU colleague, Tyler Faulkner… https://youtu.be/XeBbiPhh4PM

* The singles final at the TOC between Lucy and Simone… https://youtu.be/c9sDa0TkWsY

* Christine McGrath’s Paddletek interview….  https://youtu.be/QnA1AUVW5X4

* Christine and Sarah’s WD gold at the US Open…  https://youtu.be/CzWXtcXTng4

* Corrine, Simone vs Christine, Sarah at the TOC… https://youtu.be/rGcZQlwME1I

* Rafael, Simone vs Wes, Sarah 15 pointer at the TOC…  https://youtu.be/H0OQOKOuvSc

* If you go to the usa pickleball association Facebook page there is the TOC MX finals complete with entertaining commentary by Mellisa McCurley and Dave Weinbach.



 

*It will be fun for me to get comments from some of the top TOC guys in my next post…For me the next best thing to being there is hearing the stories of matches from the players perspectives. So far I am getting a positive response from the pros I have interviewed. All in all, I would say that the top pb players are humble folks who like to talk about the game but are modest about their talents. They know that pickleball is a very democratic sport – we are all great players when we give it our best and enjoy the company of our teammates… Anyway, I hope you are having fun and perhaps challenging yourself to learn a few new tricks on your pb court…Until next edition…

Thanks for the game,

DJ Baker.

 

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