Grand Canyon State Games and PPA Mesa

Grand Canyon State Games And The Mesa PPA

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind and an absolute blast. I’m on a Southwest flight back to Austin right now after spending two weeks in Phoenix playing two different tournaments and practicing in between.

At the Grand Canyon State Games I setup and managed the Franklin Pickleball booth selling balls, paddles and accessories.

Having officially announced that the Franklin X-40 ball is the official ball of this year’s US Open during the same week, we had a buck-a-ball promotion so we sold out of balls really quickly.

It’s still uncertain what my exact role and relationship will be with Franklin, but they were nice enough to let me manage the booth to help recoup some tournament costs and also help them have a bigger brand presence at the Grand Canyon tourney in which they were the official ball sponsor.

It was a bit distracting and difficult to manage the booth while also playing in a couple events in addition to really long days. I’m unsure of whether I will continue to do it in the future or if I will just focus on playing.

 

Grand Canyon State Games

I played two events in this tournament. I played in the Age 35+ division with Brett (Augie) Ausburger and I played in the 5.0 19+ Age/Skill division with Shellton JeanBaptiste-Webster.

It was really interesting to play my first tournament. I didn’t feel a lot of nerves in the Age 35+ event because I didn’t have very high expectations. I was playing with Augie who is a senior player I hadn’t met, but a solid player and guy. 

We did alright together and ended up getting the bronze. 

I felt more nervous in the 5.0 19+ division because it seemed like we had more of a chance to get a good result in the tournament.

With the nerves, I felt really tight in our first match against Daniel De La Rosa and Bo Muno. We won the first game, but lost games two and three. 

The interesting thing about pickleball tournaments vs tennis tournaments is that you can lose the first round and still battle all the way back to play for the gold medal. I really like this aspect because you’re never truly out of the fight until you lose twice, so you have a little bit more margin for error. 

This was the exact scenario Shellton and I ran into. After losing the first match, we went on a tear through the opportunity bracket and made it back to the bronze medal match against Daniel and Bo.

Bronze Medal Match Between Rob Nunnery/Shellton JeanBaptiste-Webster and Bo Muno/Daniel De La Rosa

This time around we beat them handily 15-5 to make our way to the gold medal match.

For the gold, we’d have to take down the team of Joey Farias and Sean Rickard who hadn’t dropped a match all day. Joey is a top 5 player in the world and Sean is no slouch himself.

 

We were able to win the first match that was the best of three games to 11 which meant we’d play the final gold medal match in a game to 15 because that had been Joey and Sean’s first loss of the day.

We were neck and neck for most of the game to 15, but Joey and Sean were able to pull away after being tied 9-9 because we made some unforced errors.

So, after losing our first match of the day we were able to fight our way back and play for the gold in a blast of a match. I couldn’t have asked for a more fun first tournament experience.

The benefit of running the Franklin booth during this tournament was being able to meet some of the other vendors who were all great people.

Rafa and Anthony from Gearbox are two super guys with the most innovative and unique paddles on the market. Josh and Zach Grubbs from Pickleball Rocks were great guys and really good players as well. 

Steve Fraze from Mofia Pickleball did a spectacular job with the live streaming. How every tournament doesn’t bring Steve in to livestream is missing a huge piece of what makes a tournament exciting, especially to the people back at home that want to watch online. 

I can’t tell you how many matches I’ve watched from the Mofia Pickleball stream before I played my first tournament. It’s been a lot.

A great part of this tournament was the rec games after the events were finished each day. Some of the vendors and players would stick around to play which was great because you get to see new styles and shots from what you see when you play with your regular group from home.

All things considered, to medal in both events with partners I’ve never played with and to also pull out a win over Joey and Sean was a great experience. Of course there were nerves and mistakes I wish I would have done differently, but all in all a great first tournament.

 

Prep For The Mesa PPA Tourney

As the Grand Canyon tourney finished on Sunday, I wouldn’t play my first event in the PPA tournament until Friday. This meant I had a solid few days to get some training and practice with different players in the Phoenix area.

Before the Mesa PPA, I was able to get rec play with a ton of amazing players. I had games with Ryan Trefry, David Furhman, Dave Weinbach, Steve Cole, Randy Coleman, Christine McGrath, Shellton JeanBaptiste-Webster, Simeron Gonzalez, Brent Ditzik, Belinda Zbinden, the Waters ladies, Tyson McGuffin, Catherine Parenteau, Jessie Irvine, Jeff Warnick, Adam Stone, Rob Cassidy, Rob Davidson, Andrea Koop, Callie Smith and more. It was so fun and so helpful for someone looking to improve. 

As mentioned, I feel my biggest vulnerability is lack of pro level play in tournaments and practice. I get great practice at home with my group, but I think traveling to more tournaments and getting more reps against pro level play will help me improve quickly.

This tournament was a mixed bag for me. We had a couple good wins between men’s doubles and mixed doubles and I had some good wins in singles, but I feel like results should have been better. 

It was my first time meeting and playing with AJ Koller, my men’s doubles partner. Darija (mixed partner) and I don’t play that often together (even though we both live in Austin), but we still did okay together.

In singles, I got a top 10 win, top 15 win and a top 40 win. I wasn’t even sure that I was going to play singles the night before the event because my knee was banged up after two weeks of nonstop play. 

Having only played singles a few times in practice before the tournament, I see there’s a lot of room for improvement and that I could do well if I put some focus there.

Turning 35 years old in May and wanting pickleball to be a lifelong sport for me, I don’t want to beat my body up too badly and that’s what singles can do. My main focus has to be doubles because that’s where I have the most years ahead of me to do some damage.

My fitness level felt good for the tournament. My legs held up pretty well over the three days and I didn’t feel too winded in singles. I could still be quicker, but with my knee pretty banged up, I was pleased with how I moved.

I was really happy with how focused I became once matches started. It can be hard for me to focus in practice, so I was curious if I would be focused in tournament play.

I definitely felt some nerves in my matches because I was playing against people that I usually watch on Youtube.

It’s easy to put the top players on pedestals, but I felt like my game is right there as well. My hand speed held up fine, I felt comfortable in dink rallies and my drops were pretty solid (when I actually moved my feet and had proper footwork). 

There were still some bad decisions left on the court. I need to clean that up a bit, but all in all, I felt pretty comfortable against anyone across the net from me and that’s the biggest takeaway from the tournament. 

Don’t put anyone on a pedestal and trust that my game is good enough to win at that level.

 

Difference Between Pickleball And Tennis Tourney Experience

Pickleball tourneys are FUN. It’s more laid back than tennis tournaments, games and matches go quicker which makes it more fun to watch and everyone for the most part is really kind.

After we battled Joey and Sean in the gold medal match at the Grand Canyon tourney, we all went for dinner and drinks afterwards. That wouldn’t happen in tennis unless you were best friends and even that would be a stretch.

(Most) Everyone competes hard on the court, but is also super friendly on and off the courts.

The players that stood out the most over the two tournaments in respect to sportsmanship were Joey Farias, Bo Muno, Jay Devilliers, Daniel Roditi, Vivienne David and Carter Tubbesing. I’m sure there were many others, but I had a super positive experience with each of them.

They competed really hard, but were absolute gems as people on/off the court.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were still player(s) with really dodgy line calls and attitudes. It reminded me a lot more of the junior/college tennis experience rather than the good-natured pickleball experience I mostly enjoyed at these tourneys. This attitude was definitely the exception and not the rule, however.

 

Upcoming Tourneys

So, what’s next?

I’m about to go into a really busy part of the schedule, and I couldn’t be more excited. I feel like the more I see top level play, the faster I will improve.

I’m going to the Cali Open, Mid-South Regional, Hilton Head APP, Georgia PPA, Dallas PPA, Eastern Idaho $$ tourney and then the US Open all in back to back weeks.

It will be a little chaotic, but should be an absolute blast.

From now until early March for the Cali Open, I will be resting my knee as much as possible, so that it can hold up for a lot of pickleball in March and April. If it struggles to hold up, it might mean pulling out of some singles events, but hopefully can still manage doubles.

Thanks for taking the time to read my experience and I hope it gives you some insight into my journey. I look forward to updating you just before the Cali Open!

Kindest,

Rob Nunnery





Rob Nunnery

Partner at GrowPickleball

To follow along on a daily basis, follow @pickleballrob on Instagram

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