At the halfway mark of the 2012-13 season, there have been quite a few interesting developing stories. I did not take a look at the current rankings before writing this because I did not want that to influence my opinion(s). Below you have my rankings after the first half of the season:
- Johan duRandt/Mark Parsons
Labeled “America’s sweetheart team” once the partnership was announced, Parson & du could not possibly live up to the hype. Or could they!? Their first tourney of the season was also the second strongest event on the calendar – the Chicago Charities. This was du’s first Charities appearance ever and guess what!? That’s right, he and Parson won it dropping only two sets along the way! They cruised to the quarters looking unbeatable but that’s where Ben McKnight and Pete Rose almost derailed the train. du and Parson did not play well in that match and were lucky to win it – they both know it (and, if there is enough alcohol ingested, they might even admit it…). They were down 4-5 in the third with Rose serving and, after they broke him, at 5-all they were down 0-30 on Parson’s serve. They did not lose another point for the rest of the match and from that moment on they did look unbeatable, having won the Charities and an (almost) equally strong Sound Shore tournament two weeks later. The set they lost to Arraya/Jonason was the last one they have dropped so far this season – that’s pretty impressive. At this point, if you are betting against them to win the Nationals in March you are out of your fuckin’ mind. Then again, I said at this point, a lot of weird things can happen between now and then…
- Drew Broderick/Chris Gambino
The defending national champions are every bit as good as they have been throughout last year. Their problem is that duRandt and Parsons are (currently) better, at least in the confidence department, which goes a long way in sports. I did not see the Charities final but I was nevertheless surprised by the final score and cannot say whether it ‘s just a bad match-up. Maybe their three-hour semi-final match earlier that morning against Scott Bondurant and Mark Johnson took a lot out them although I doubt it. Those guys are warriors and can be out there all day long – both actually get better the longer the match goes. I do expect them to give du and Parson a better match next time they meet.
- J-P Arraya/Lennart Jonason
Juan and Len started the season as the hottest team in paddle. They won the Patterson Open (not exactly an established event, not yet anyway, but strong nevertheless) and then the loaded Atlantic Classic, defeating Broderick/Gambino along the way. They followed that great result with a semifinal at the Charities (lost to du & Parson in three sets) and then were finalists at Sound Shore (again lost to du & Parson, this time in straight sets). The crazy Argentinean is compiling quite a Charities resume for himself: won in 2010, semi in 2011, semi again this year – not too bad at all! This is a very dangerous team for a lot of different reasons: Juan’s all-around talent, athleticism, and shot-making ability, Len’s potent off the deck drives from either side, etc. I do think however that for this team everything hinges on Juan’s emotions: if he’s happy and relaxed (within), they will be great (Len is always even keel). If Juan goes nuts and/or tries to do too much however (sometimes too much talent is counterproductive) then they will be vulnerable. A serious contender in March.
- Drew Eberly/Brian Uihlein
My ranking of this team at #4 might surprise some people but I could not care less. Here’s my bold prediction (you heard it here first): of all the teams that I will mention in this article, I think this one has the best chance of beating duRandt and Parsons. I will tell you why I think that:
a) Parson has never played the U. The U owns players who have not seen him before – he can and most likely will make you look retarded – I have seen it over and over again.
b) Drew and the U are probably the only team out there that has as much offense and shot-making ability as du and Parson have.
c) Drew is ready to win the Nationals and very hungry to do so. Who better as your partner than the U, who has won two Nationals already!?
d) The U still has another National title in him and when on and well rested, he’s still one of the top 3 players in the game. Eberly is not far behind.
- Mike Marino/Dane Schmidgall
Without a doubt an elite team (they have won at least one tournament a year since they started playing together) but two losses that they have incurred during this first half of the season are particularly worrisome: a 2 &1 slaughter vs. Bondurant/Johnson at the Charities and (even more so) the recent loss to Greg O’Neill and Jeronie Barnes at Hinsdale. I do not think a loss to Bondurant/Johnson is embarrassing but this team should never lose 2 &1 to them or to any other team for that matter. Additionally, their loss to Barnes/O’Neill came after beating them 0 &1 the last two times they met. Elite teams should only lose to other elite teams and Greg and Jeronie, while without a doubt talented and getting better are far from an elite team at this point. The second half of the season will tell if this was just an anomaly. I expect them to keep a top 5 ranking going into the Nationals.
- Ben McKnight/Pete Rose
Yeah, that’s right: McKnight/Rose are that good in my opinion, I really don’t care what their current ranking is (which I suspect is not as high as number 6). I have played them and have seen them play enough times this season to be able to form an unbiased opinion. They’re a very awkward team to play against and a tough match-up for almost everyone, for a number of reasons. Early in the match, they will have some brutal misses. And I really mean BRUTAL: Pete will miss one or two overheads into the net (who the f**k misses overheads into the net!?) while defying the laws of physics (he’d be hitting down right from on top of the net yet still miss it into the net somehow). Ben can produce his own magic in that department: he will three-hop into the net (or straight into the side or back screen – take your pick) one of the worst looking forehands you’ll ever see on any racquet sports court. He will then go to the rarely seen yet equally ineffective two-handed forehand (yes, you read it right, TWO-handed FOREHAND) that makes my golf swing look as smooth as Fred Couples’. After those debacle shots however, they will not miss more than a shot every half hour for the rest of the match! They are two of the best volleyers in the game (both defensive and offensive) and close in the net as well as anyone. Rose has one of the best backhands out there and while he does not hit it as hard as Caldwell, Parsons, or The Cock, he is extremely accurate and can hit any location with it (middle, inside-out, inside-in). McKnight’s backhand is also a huge weapon (off the deck or off the screens) and despite questionable form (think a Nadal-like whip like follow through but off a two-handed backhand instead off a forehand) is extremely effective and virtually as good as his volleys. They are very smart players, great competitors, and have great hands at the net, which is particularly impressive in Ben’s case since he does not have a tennis background. The weakest part of their games is their overheads but you will need to hit good lobs in order to expose that. Additionally, they do not play nearly as many tournaments as they should so I suspect their ranking going into the Nationals will be once again much lower than what it should be. Spoiler team for sure.
- Scott Bondurant/Mark Johnson
What else can you say about a team that made four semis in their last five Charities appearances!? Additionally, they were finalists at the strong Hinsdale tournament. After beating Lubow/DeRose early at the Charities (they weren’t seeded or even placed, which by the way was the right thing to do since they have not played together last year and did not have any significant ranking with anyone else either) they pushed Broderick/Gambino to the limit in the semis. That match took so long that for many of those watching, their bathroom breaks needed bathroom breaks. I decided to actually build a bathroom and once I was done, the match was still only halfway through…
Who knows if Bondo and Johnson will play together in the second half of the year!? I think they should, their results speak pretty loud. If they do play, I do not think they will win tournaments but are a virtual lock for the quarters or even semis and can beat anyone on their way there.
- Tie: Steve DeRose/Jon Lubow & David Caldwell/Blake Cordish
Two established teams where the partners have stuck together through the inherent ups and downs of otherwise very successful careers. Those are two teams that might lose a match or two against lesser opponents but who will nevertheless always be there when it counts. They have been around for a long time and I do not expect them to go anywhere anytime soon. To this day, two of my favorite teams to watch – how can they not be!?
My two picks for best match of the season are Broderick/Gambino vs. Caldwell/Cordish (quarters of the Charities) and duRandt/Parsons vs. Arraya/Jonason (semis of the Charities)…I keep hearing how Caldwell/Cordish ain’t what they used to be but I still don’t know of anyone who actually is looking forward to playing them…Caldwell is still one of the top three players in the game and probably will always be until he retires 20 years from now…I keep hearing great things about Sebastian Bredberg and George Wilkinson but I still have not seen them play yet…will Estes/Stulac be as good as they should before the season’s over!?…shouldn’t Cosimano/LeFevre be better than they have been so far!?…John Noble is playing very well…will The Cock ever again be part of a winning team!?…will Flip Goodspeed be back in the second half!?…Many (including me) hope so but if he won’t who will Scott Mansager play with!?…I’d like to see my former partner Brad Easterbrook (still one of the smoothest players out there) back in action with a regular partner…
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!!!
By: Alex Bancila