Madeleine Rasmusen’s Clash with Anna Leigh Waters at the Veolia Sacramento Open

Anna Leigh waters
Anna Leigh Waters PPA 2024 (Picture Kerry Pittenger)

This Round of 32 match at the 2024 Veolia Sacramento Open has a low view count. In fact, one commenter says, “Why do they even post this?” 

Good thing they did, is my reply.

Because Anna Leigh is playing a newcomer, prospective viewers anticipate an easy victory for her; nothing of substance to see, they think, therefore, no reason to watch.   Recreational players as well as up-and-coming pros would be making a mistake to ignore this video. Why? Well, AL’s opponent, Madeleine Rasmusen (age 30, rank 134, points 50), although battling the top-ranked player, shows a determination to scrap and learn, to see how her skills compare to those of a top player’s. Even if she gives up the pro tour and returns to recreational ball, her failure becomes an education, an investment in herself, a constant reminder of what she is going to endure as she pushes herself through the tour.

The Waters/Rasmusen match stirred my thoughts. Why this one and not others? Timing maybe, but no matter. Please stay with me if you can. Some recreational players seem to think they are masters of the court, always handing out unsolicited tips and advice, a chronic irritant many have come across. A number of such players play one way: spike and spin, repeat, spike and spin, repeat, spike and spin, repeat.  Even though that one-dimensional strategy is but a fraction of the larger game, again and again they use it, shuffling the same old deck, never a fresh hand. No dinking, no resets, no defense, no third-shot drops, no real shot selection, no real plan, no point construction, no fluidity with teammates. Or even in their own game!

One often wonders—I know I have wondered—why those players don’t step on a pro court and face seasoned professionals, to see if their skills are as developed and polished (and their knowledge as extensive and adaptable) as they believe it all to be. You see, a know-it-all is always relaxed and comfortable, bold and self-assured on recreational courts and among the limited abilities of recreational players who haven’t themselves participated in pro-level action. But—it takes guts, game, confidence, attitude, discipline, resilience, temperament, and consistency to enter and compete in major league tournaments and perform in front of the whole world, with cameras rolling, eyes scrutinizing, top players attacking with almost superhuman speed, power, finesse, and control, commentators analyzing, pressure mounting, mistakes in line-calling, the weather unpredictable, spectators howling and gesturing, online criticism coming from both the bright and the ignorant. If you fancy yourself a top dog, why not compete on an MLP-PPA court, at least once (in both singles and doubles), and let the overall intensity of the atmosphere envelop you and, just maybe, transform you, wisen you, guide you? 

Madeleine Rasmusen did just that!  To date she has had few pro matches, one of which, posted here, put her against Anna Leigh Waters.

How big her ego had been before Veolia, nobody knows.  How great a recreational player she had been, nobody knows. How talented a player she thinks she is now, nobody knows. The answers to those questions can remain unsaid. Rasmusen entered that tournament and showed the world what she can do; she let her talent be seen, judged, measured.  She used every play, every shot, every trick she had, none of which could put AL off balance or disrupt her flow. I couldn’t help thinking, “Good for you, kid. I respect that.” It took courage, a willingness to jump into the unknown and a rare self-awareness and humility to grapple with Waters, who countered and scored with ease. Suffice to say, this match inspired me to make a point. 

As Rasmusen hugged AL during the paddle tap, her body language oozed appreciation, gratitude, a sense of humor, but not embarrassment or humiliation.  Yes, it’s possible she released post-match frustration or anger while alone in the locker room or in her hotel or when she got home.  I’ll never know, we’ll never know. On the court, though, she carried herself upright, having tried her luck and tested her skills, having done more than talk and instruct others without having gained—and been enlightened by—the best perspectives. 

What her future holds will be revealed to her and to us before very long. Considering the circumstances of having to trade shots, strategies, and techniques in an eight-minute match against Anna Leigh Waters, her attitude, personality, sportsmanship, and grace were something to respect, appreciate, and pass along to others who have aspirations of becoming serious, respected—and respectful—athletes.

Recreational players—amateur and advanced—before you let your swagger get the best of you, before you attempt to teach from a limited foundation of experience and acumen, watch and learn from somebody who was unafraid to spar with a pickleball legend and find out that much, much learning and practice and drilling and participation in big matches must be done to achieve mastery and hand it down to others. Congratulations, Anna Leigh, on your victory and the same to Madeline Rasmusen for entering the tournament, giving your best, and finishing with dignity.  May you keep those values and principles snug to heart. 

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About David Boyle

A versatile and diversified writer, David Boyle has written three short story collections, published by independent presses. Though he earned his readership by writing reality-based fiction, Boyle has gained a reputation for literary stories, essays, articles, reviews, interviews, analyses, travel writing, reportage, and poems, a good number of which have appeared in both print and online magazines. Inspired by his wife's passion for the sport, David now loves pickleball and aims to illuminate current pickleball events and subjects with a fresh, creative perspective, offering readers something they can't find anywhere else. | My website | | My Pickleball Journal

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