Fresh from his exploits at the Skechers English Open, Matt Leete (Our resident equipment expert) has written a blog on his experience at the event and on how he fared. We know how hard Matt has been training and that he brings a lot of high level Table Tennis experience but… how would he do at a major international pickleball event?
My first major pickleball event was the 2023 Sketchers Pickleball English Open in Telford. I had played one pickleball event before this but not to this scale. It consisted of 40 pickleball courts and over 1000 players from 34 different countries. I had entered three events over the three days, men’s singles (4.0), men’s doubles (4.5), and mixed doubles (4.0).
Matt Leete and Elise Chapman ready to take the Open by storm...
The first event was the men’s singles on the Friday. I was in a group of six and it was a round robin to play for position. The winners of the groups proceeded straight into the semi-finals with a bye and the runners up had a quarter final match to play.
I made sure I got to the venue a couple of hours early to have a walk round and try to get on a court to get used to the conditions and the balls. I found this very difficult as the tournament organisers were very efficient and there was very little time between games to practice.
I played my first game and won quite convincingly which gave me a confidence boost for the upcoming games. For the rest of the group matches, I felt like I played some nice shots, but it also highlighted parts of my game which I can improve. I ended up finishing runner up, so I progressed to the quarter finals. I had seen my opponent play a few points in his group matches and I could see that he liked staying at the back of the court and playing more driving strokes. Because of this, I decided to start the game fast, by pushing up to the net and forcing him wide. This worked very well for the first few points, so I kept the same tactics throughout the match. I won this game 15-0 so I then progressed into the semi-finals.
This match seemed to be the longest set I had ever played. Both of us kept winning the points as the receivers so neither of us were scoring any points. About halfway through the match, I started to get cramp in my hamstrings and calves which made it very difficult to move. I tried to think of a way to adapt my game/tactics to make it as easy as possible for myself. I thought that trying to be the first one to get to the net would help to narrow the angle and hope that I wouldn’t need to move quite as much. This worked for a few points, but my opponent realised this and adapted his game and I also was finding it increasingly difficult to move forward due to the cramp. I lost the semi final match 15-9 but still had the bronze medal match to come.
I made sure between the two matches I had lots of fluids and did lots of stretching to give myself the best chance at a medal. I tried to make the most of my movement in the early stages of the match by moving forward quickly and gaining a substantial lead. The medal matches were best of three, whereas the group matches were a one set shootout. I took the first set 11-6 by being consistent and trying to be on the front foot by getting to the kitchen line first. I then won the second set 11-5 to take the bronze medal. Overall, I was happy with my performance in the singles, happy with a medal but I can take some improvements away with me for next time.
Matt on the podium with a hard earned Bronze medal!
On the second day I played in the men’s doubles with Harrison Wood, who I have played with previously and train with most weeks. For the last few weeks, we had been practicing ‘stacking’ in training. This is where the partnership prefers to be positioned on the court in a certain way. For us, it seemed to work better when I was positioned on the left and Harrison on the right. This is partly because I have a stronger backhand to hit from the left and Harrison has better movement to move from the middle to wide of the forehand side. You stack by both players starting the point in the same position, this can be on the serve or receive, then you move to your agreed position after. Stacking off the serve is much easier, due to having to wait for the ball to bounce off the receive, so you are both at the back of the court ready, compared to receiving where you have to hit the return and then switch position if you have been swapped round.
We both agreed that for the first match we would try to keep it simple and consistent. This worked for the first half of the game, our opponents were taking the risks and it wasn’t paying off for them. We had a healthy lead when we changed ends, but our opponents got better and more consistent as the game went on. We had to adapt our game and had to start to take more risks as they were coming back at us. We kept the rallies tight, until there was a clear opening for us to attack and this seemed to work well. We got off to a good start by winning 11-6.
Our second game was against the eventual runners up of the competition. From watching them in their first game, we knew that they were very good at dinking and playing third shot drops. We tried to combat this by keeping them at the back of the court and by varying the pace of the ball so they couldn’t get into a rhythm with their third shot drops. This didn’t seem to affect them too much and they were just too consistent for us. We ended up going for more attacking shots, but we were too inconsistent. We lost this game 11-3.
In our final game, we had to win to go through to the knockout stages. The game was very close to start with and could have gone either way. We got the better of our opponents to give us a lead towards the end of the game. We were 10-7 up and just needed one more point to progress, but we couldn’t convert it. They stayed consistent and we put a few balls long, they came back and won 11-10 so we got knocked out in the group stage.
Amber and Matt Mixed Doubles pairing
On the final day of the competition, I played in the mixed doubles with Amber Vanhemel who had come over from America. We made sure we had a practice in the morning as we had never played together before. This was a challenge again due to all the courts being used throughout the day. Like the men’s doubles we agreed to start consistent to try and get used to each other’s styles.
We started off really well, winning the first game 11-3. As the day went on and the more we played, it was noticeable that we were improving point by point. We were figuring out who should take what balls from the middle and what each other’s strengths and weaknesses were. We used the ‘stacking’ tactic to try and give us the best chance of winning the points and this gave us an advantage to those who wern’t stacking.
Going into the last match of the group, we were the only pairing to have won 3 lost 0. Two other pairs had won 2 lost 1 so a win would have seen us go through to the quarter finals. We made a fast start in the final game going 5-0 up, keeping it simple and letting our opponents make the mistakes. They then changed how they were playing and seemed to drive the ball more from the back of the court instead of dinking which seemed effective. They persevered with this tactic, it worked, and they won 11-6. This now meant the top three pairings in the group had won 3 lost 1 so it went to countback.
Unfortunately, we lost out on countback so ended up coming 3rd and didn’t progress into the quarter finals. We were both happy with how we played but frustrated that we lost on countback. We complimented each other’s game quite well and I’m sure with a bit more practice together we can get further next time!
Overall, the weekend was lots of fun and met lots of great people. I have taken some things away in which I can work on for next time. My main aim for the weekend was to come away with a medal which I achieved so I am happy with that, but with me being competitive, next time I want to come away with more than one!