Heated Debate 🔥
The armchair experts came out in droves this weekend as seemingly the entire pickleball community (including multiple pros) was and still is debating a rule and incident that unfolded in the womens singles gold medal match of the So Cal Classic between Jillian Braverman and Vivienne David.
What happened? Returning from a timeout, Braverman got into position to serve the ball and David had yet to return to the court. The ref called the score, and Braverman served into an empty court to win the point.
You can watch the full sequence here. While perfectly legal, many fans have called it unsportsmanlike. There have been some pretty scathing opinions of Jillian’s behavior (looking at you, NML) Other fans and even Don Stanley, head of the PPA referees, took the opportunity to point the finger at a recent rule change.
Referees no longer have discretion when it comes to the pace of play and timeouts. Instead, they operate on a strict 60-second timer. After the 60 seconds expires, the ref calls the score immediately and the serving player has 10 seconds to serve the ball before a fault is called.
Why so stringent? According to Stanley, the rule was implemented after an unnamed player continually abused the rules to ice his/her opponents. Now the rule has put the refs, the players and even the fans in a no-win scenario. Yikes.
Side note: the common sentiment these days is that the the governing bodies of pickleball are a little impulsive when it comes to rule changes. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen confusing new rules result in unintended consequences…
If you want more detail on the rule and its impact, watch the full interview between Scott Golden and Don Stanley here.
There’s essentially three schools of thought:
- While she didn’t do anything illegal, Braverman crossed the line and should have at least intentionally delayed play.
- The rule is a joke and Braverman’s hands were tied
- Vivienne David called the timeout while Braverman was on a roll. She should have returned from the timeout on time – she was being coached by her sister as time expired – was this gamesmanship? If so, it justifies Braverman’s decision to serve. This is a less commonly held opinion
- Some hybrid of the first three
I’m actually impressed by how many pickleball fans also moonlight as rule experts. Odd that the tours are worried about a referee shortage when we have all these analysts in Pickleball Forum…
Some things to consider:
- Jillian is a relatively new player and if there are ‘unwritten’ rules she is expected to follow, well that’s just an unfair expectation
- Only a handful of people acknowledged that David called the timeout while Jillian was on a roll. David then continued to take the full timeout and more as she was coached by her sister on the sidelines. Gamesmanship? Maybe, maybe not. But who are we to decide? If it was gamesmanship, is the serve then justified?
- A similar situation unfolded just one weekend prior at the APP LA Open: Jillian and her partner Lauren Stratman actually lost a point for not serving within the 10 seconds allotted following a timeout called by their opponents. This HAD to be fresh in Jillian’s mind…
All of that considered, there’s still the question of why she served so quickly. In her words, she did what she was trained to do: serve the ball when the ref calls the score.
There’s also the question of the emphatic “Let’s goooo!” she let out after the ensuing play. This definitely didn’t help discourage the whole ‘villain’ persona people were beginning to construct for her.
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m also an armchair expert. One of the best around if I do say so myself. But enough fan speculation – we decided to go to Jillian herself for her take on the matter.
To be honest, I was disappointed in the conversation. Why? Because I was hoping we finally had a villain in pickleball. Like my fellow fanatics in the Forum, I envisioned Jillian to be this ultra-competitive win-at-all-costs, take no prisoners player that the sport desperately needs.
(Just last week we saw Zane Navratil, Jay Devilliers and Pat Smith laughing and giggling together at the GROCERY STORE following a day of what we thought to be heated battle between them. Who knew friendship and camaraderie could be so disgusting? When will we get that Federer-Nadal style tension? We need feuds and we need villains! I digress…)
Instead, Jillian was nothing but cool, friendly and freely offered her thoughts…while she acknowledged she is certainly competitive, she also insisted that people might be taking it all a little too seriously, and not considering all the variables.
This incredible game we all love so much has intricate and often misunderstood rules that even pros-yes, pros!- still mess up.
This lesson we learned in LA (referenced above) was fresh in my mind at the So Cal Classic, when I served a ball after the score was called to an unfortunately empty court. After winning the match I never dreamed there would be such controversy or comments like “she should have kicked the ball to the net to delay play” (who would have ever known that? Is that some inherent pro tactic that I completely missed – I’ve played less than ten tournaments, so maybe. But wouldn’t that also be an act of disrespect to the rule and the referee? And if there is some secret code of pro conduct, or rules within the rules, or rules that only pros follow because they don’t agree with existing rules, should there be a published list or some rookie orientation?!)
“She could have shouted to Vivienne” (well not really. Vivienne had called for the time out and in addition to the distinct din of the crowd, she was speaking with her sister who had come down from the stands and they were tucked to the side of the media building. If shouting or signaling was an option then Vivienne would have heard the ref call the time and then the score, but she didn’t).
“Jill could have waited longer than three seconds to serve” (I agree with this. But there is no shot clock on the court and when you hear the score called you are trained to serve the ball. If there is one thing I would have done differently it’s that I would have mentally counted to eight before serving, but again— we don’t have a shot clock like tennis or basketball and I was coming off of the incident at La Habra and didn’t want to lose my serve for waiting too long.)
I love and respect this game, the players, the referees, the tours and the fans & volunteers so much. I’ve never tanked a set or a match, or as a receiver purposefully stood on the wrong side to confuse a server, nor have I ever asked a ref if they saw if a ball was in or out— only to make my call after hearing the ref’s response. I’m probably the most positive person anyone will ever see on a Pickleball court—because life is too short NOT to be positive and to laugh. As stated above, there are some interesting rules in pickleball that can definitely be used to gain an advantage over one’s competition—and I can say that I’ve never used these. (Unless Erne-ing is a rule, because I really, really love Erne-ing).
Congratulations to Vivienne on her podiums (multiple!) and to all of the players who work tirelessly to grow this crazy, amazing game we all love so much.