Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Thrills of Ever-Changing Pickleball World on Display in 5th U.S. Open in East Naples


Photos by Scott H. Shook | Simone Jardim makes a winning shot.


 

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of absolutes in the fast-changing world of pickleball, except for Simone Jardim’s effervescent personality and toothy smile on championship court.

Riley Newman connects at the net.

Jardim, of Naples, returned to the championship court twice this year, winning once. But Ben Johns was the absolute talk of this year’s U.S. Open, held April 17 to 24 at East Naples Community Park.

Everyone seems to agree that Johns is a transcendent pickleball talent. Whispers around the Zing Zang Championship Court have young Johns, just a college senior, being mentioned in the same breath as golf’s Tiger Woods and basketball’s Michael Jordan. Johns did little to dispel such grandiose talk.

The pickleball looks different flying off Johns’ paddle as he effortlessly flicks winners at the net. Johns made believers of viewers at the U.S. Pickleball Open Saturday, wrapping up a week of pickleball nirvana with the men’s and women’s pro matches being televised to a live national audience on CBS Sports – a first for the sport of pickleball.

Johns breezed to the U.S. Open’s Triple Crown this week, winning the Pro Singles, the Pro Mixed with Simone Jardim and the Pro Men’s with older brother Collin Johns. Jardim is the only other triple crown winner in the pro division. Scott Moore and Jennifer Dawson have turned the trick in the Senior Pro division.

 



 

Anna Leigh Waters, 14, competes in Women’s Pro Doubles.

In the three championship events, Johns outscored his opponents 71-34, winning the singles title in three games, the doubles title in three games and the mixed title in two games. In the mixed doubles final, Johns and Jardim gave up just three points.

But there was an upset at this year’s U.S. Open. In Women’s Pro Doubles, the team of Catherine Parenteau and Callie Smith took down the Simone Jardim and Lucy Kovalova duo 12-10, 11-8.

The match-up of arguably the top four women in pickleball featured two Naples residents in Parenteau and Jardim. Interestingly, Jardim was Parenteau’s tennis coach at Michigan State prior to the onset of pickleball. Jardim won the U.S. Open Triple Crown in 2017 and 2018.

Things are changing so quickly among the professionals that the only pros to repeat as winners from the last U.S. Open in 2019 (there was no U.S. Open in 2020 due to COVID restrictions) are Jardim in Mixed Pro Doubles and Ben Johns in Men’s Pro Doubles. 

But the U.S. Open is not just about the pro division. There were scores of champions crowned in senior pro, age, wheelchair, junior, and skill/age categories. The sixty courts at the East Naples facility were alive with competition all week long.

 



 

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