Over the history of sports, the handshake has been visible on the court, in the arena, and on other playing fields. It is a symbol of respect and good sportsmanship, and has been a physical action to congratulate winners and console losers. The handshake is more meaningful than a simple gesture. It is an acknowledgment of respect and appreciation, regardless of the outcome. Through the years, this embrace—that unites two foes—has evolved beyond the simple handshake. Now, it could be a high-five, low-five, hand slap, dab, fist bump, elaborate secret handshake, and now, with the rise of pickleball, a paddle tap.
The sport of pickleball has even taken the gesture of the handshake—which is the paddle tap—a step further, as it is customary to paddle tap after the completion of each game (although multiple games may make up a match). In some circles, it is even customary to paddle tap prior to the first game of match. The possibility of these multiple paddle taps (for instance, three paddle taps in a best of 3-game match) varies from other sports where you may only have a handshake at the beginning of the match and the end of the match.
Since these handshakes or paddle taps symbolize such respect and appreciation, a non-handshake or non-paddle-tap can in turn symbolize a snub (and even worse is a fake handshake or paddle tap—Psych!).
This is exactly what seemed to take place at the first pro pickleball tournament on the 2023 calendar year in a women’s singles match between Catherine Parenteau and Lea Jansen. After losing game 1 in a best of 3 game match (11-7), Jansen turned her back after losing the final point and walked to her towel. This was a break from tradition, as typically players first walk toward the net to exchange a paddle tap. With Jansen walking away from the net, Parenteau was left at the net with no one to paddle tap. So, Parenteau waved her paddle across the net—an “air paddle tap”—to Jansen with her back turned, and carried on her bench to take a break and regroup between games.
Although game 2 yielded a different result—as Jansen took game 2 with a score of 11-8 over Parenteau, to even the match—a similar scene played out at the end of game 2, as the two pro players waved their paddles at each other from across the court. The “air paddle tap” was in full effect again, although Jansen at least reciprocated the “air paddle tap” instead of turning and walking away from the net. At the end of game 3, which Jansen won 11-3 to take the match, both pro players finally came to the net for a simple, quick paddle tap.
This on-court scene begs the question as to whether the “air paddle tap” was a handshake snub, or whether the sport is altering its view on paddle taps, at least at the professional level. On one hand, the two pro players—Jansen and Parenteau—have clear history, as the two were partners for much of the 2022 season and Jansen had vocalized some disappointment with the breakdown of the partnership via social media after the dramatic airing of Parenteau’s late change of partners at the 2022 USA Pickleball National Championships across social media. Could it be possible that the history between the two was enough for a “paddle tap snub” in the first pro pickleball event of 2023? If so, will we see more of these snubs from pro players—particularly, as Hannah Johns noted “emotions are running high and stakes are getting even higher as the sport progresses”? Or, is the sport simply evolving away from the additional signs of sportsmanship, respect, and appreciation?
I, for one, hope that the paddle tap is here to stay after each and every game, as it is an outward symbol of the core culture of the sport of pickleball and one that makes it unique amongst the rest.