There was an interesting turn of events at the pro men’s doubles pickleball final match at the APP Tour’s Pacific Northwest Classic in Bend, Oregon, which featured a matchup between JW Johnson and Jay Devilliers, on one side of the court, and Erik Lange and Wes Gabrielson, on the other side of the court.
Game one of the pickleball match started a little rocky for Johnson and Devilliers, as they missed serves, missed returns of serve (resulting in easy points for Lange and Gabrielson), missed put away shots, and were generally going for a bit too much, as they would attempt to speed up the point too quickly. This play, coupled with solid performances from Lange and Gabrielson, led to a quick 10-1 lead for Lange and Gabrielson and what looked like a pretty boring pro men’s doubles final. This is especially true as Lange and Gabrielson beat Johnson and Devilliers earlier in the day to send them to the loser’s bracket, so Johnson and Devilliers would have to beat Lange and Gabrielson once in the best 2-out-of-3 games to 11 points, plus again in the game to 15, in order to win the gold medal.
However, like the true professionals they are, Johnson and Devilliers never gave up. In fact, quite the opposite.
After getting the serve back, down 1-10, Johnson and Devilliers served the pickleball and won a point. What happened on that point must have sparked something in Johnson and Devilliers, as, prior to serving the pickleball at 2-10, Devilliers leaned over to Johnson to whisper some quick thoughts. These whispers were centered on strategy – instead of speeding up the point, Johnson and Devilliers committed to slowing the point down, allowing Lange and Gabrielson to be the first ones to speed the point up, dinking to the sidelines (which were the backhand sides of Lange and Gabrielson (Gabrielson is a left-handed player)), keeping the pickleball out of the middle of the pickleball court (which would be to the favored forehands of Lange and Gabrielson), and generally staying in the point for longer rallies.
At that point, Johnson and Devilliers went on a 9-point run to tie the game at 10-10. This is despite the fact that Lange and Gabrielson did everything they could to stop Johnson’s and Devilliers’ momentum, which included taking two timeouts during this 9-point run (to note, this was smart play by Lange and Gabrielson, who took time outs at 4-10 and 8-10 – see more on this below!). Johnson and Devilliers built some kind of momentum to withstand two timeouts, as typically it is difficult to keep momentum after a time out. This momentum carried Johnson and Devilliers to an eventual 12-10 victory.
Talk about the BIG M-O!
The Big Mo is an unquantifiable and intangible, but powerful, force on the pickleball court. Oftentimes, you cannot explain why you have the momentum, but you better use it while you have it because once you lose the momentum, it can be extremely difficult to get back. For instance, as described above, down 10-1, Johnson and Devilliers rallied back to win 12-10. Johnson and Devilliers also went on to win the entire match, as well as the “double dip” game to 15, which earned them the gold medal. Momentum helped swing them to a victory.
If you are just starting a pickleball game, your goal is to steal the momentum. If you have lost the momentum during a pickleball game, your goal is to dig yourself out and grab the momentum back from your opponents. One of the easiest ways to break or change the momentum of a pickleball game—although not foolproof as Lange and Gabrielson learned in game 1—is to use a timeout. A good rule of thumb is to call a timeout if your opponents have scored three points in a row. A timeout will help break any momentum and give you and your partner the opportunity to think and refocus.
Again, pickleball generally is a game of momentum… and momentum swings. Sometimes, you cannot make a shot and, sometimes, you cannot miss a shot. With the threat of momentum on the pickleball court, never feel complacent or comfortable on the pickleball court. Whether you are up 10-1 or down 1-10, momentum can help propel you to a victory or spiral you to a loss. With that said, remain confident and always believe in yourself. When asked whether Johnson thought he would win being down 1-10 in the men’s pro doubles final, he matter-of-factly stated, “Yes, I did.” He must have felt the Big M-O coming…