As the Florida sun dipped below the horizon and the sky turned grey late Sunday at last weekend’s PPA Orlando Cup, Ben Johns hoisted the Cup, twice. First, for his men’s doubles win alongside Matt Wright, and second for his men’s singles win over Tyson McGuffin. (If you want to read the full Championship Sunday recap, click here).
Nothing new for Johns. Other than a stumble at the Tournament of Champions a month ago, he’s been absolutely dominant in men’s singles for the better part of two years. But what was different this time was what he did after hoisting the cup: he bit it. Hmmm, where have we seen that before?
It was a cool moment that highlighted the ever present similarities between tennis and pickleball, and the undeniable influence the former has had on the latter. Many of the top pros are former tennis players – some still play to this day. Johns is one of the few who didn’t pursue a professional, or even collegiate tennis career. McGuffin is the same, for that matter. But even the pickleball pros who didn’t pursue tennis are paying tribute to the sport. Why? Because the parallels and influence are/is undeniable.
In fact, Dave Weinbach, one of the most decorated pros in the game who now focuses on the senior pro tour, made some interesting comments highlighting just that recently. And what’s more, he expects that influence to become even greater.
If you were watching the matches in Orlando you likely heard Weinbach, commentating on a number of them. During one of the broadcasts, he had an interesting conversation with his co-commentator. The topic: Ben Johns’ dominance. The question: he’s basically unbeatable, will anyone come along that can actually compete with him?
Weinbach gave a unique answer (Ok, ready for me to tie it all together?). He believes that as more $$ comes into pickleball, we’re going to see an influx of former pro tennis players. And THAT will be the future of pickleball. They’ll take over.
Think about it – a bunch of men and women who have dedicated their entire lives to training and chasing a dream (pro tennis), only to realize that they won’t make it after all. What do they have to show for it? Wicked racquet skills. Impression time: “But wait, there’s this sister sport to tennis, still in its infancy, that’s known as ‘the next big thing’? AND there’s a talent shortage? I’m in.”
I mean, it’s already happening now. Look at Dekel Bar and Collin Johns (Ben’s brother). They actually know each other through competing on the pro tennis circuit together. When they finally realized the tour wasn’t their calling, they converted to pickleball. And now, it’s their careers. This narrative is not unique to these two, and soon it won’t be unique at all!
If Weinbach’s prediction comes true, the influx of talent will solve many of pickleball’s current problems. I for one, hope he’s right.
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