97 Shots! An Inside Look at a Mesmerizing Rally on Championship Point
Pickleball fans all over are buzzing about the incredible 97-shot rally in the Men’s Doubles Final just a few weeks ago at the PPA Arizona Grand Slam in Mesa. It’s rare enough for a player to be a part of such a long rally, much less during a tournament, and even more so on championship point! What was going on during that struggle that created one minute and forty-five seconds of tension?
Ben and Collin Johns were holding a two-games-to-one lead in the fourth game against Riley Newman and Matt Wright. Nothing immediately after a time-out at 9-9 indicated that this tsunami was about to strike. Simple rallies of five, three, and four shots set up the first championship point of the match and this 97-shot rally.
Ben served to Matt at 10-9-1, then played a third shot drive and fifth shot drop to him. The Johns brothers were in their usual alignment with Ben on the left and Collin on the right. On the other side, Matt was on the left (across from Collin), and Riley was on the right (across from Ben.) A careful and calculating dinking rally ensued.
“The most patient we’ve seen Matt and Riley,”
Camryn Irwin said on the broadcast, just before the rally reached its fiftieth shot, the longest rally since the first game.
The players felt it, though, as Matt explained in an email when asked for his take on the point.
“At a certain point, I knew we were involved in a uniquely long rally, and the fact that it was match point was on my mind throughout. Without such situational awareness, a player runs the risk of making a strategic error at the most critical moment of the match.”
Collin also gave his thoughts on the rally, saying,
“Typically, a really tight scoreline (like match point) makes it more likely for an extended rally to happen, because players get more tentative during those junctures,” he said. “In other words, if you’re gonna take a risk, make sure you’re bringing your best stuff at them. Live and die by your moneymaker shots.”
Ben Johns agreed. “Everyone is playing a little more reserved as is natural when you’re tight like that though, hence the long rally.”
Matt and Riley had no margin for error since they were facing championship point.
“Points are at a premium at 10-9-1 in game four of a gold medal match, so we had to remain mindful of the score and (stay) disciplined throughout,” Matt said.
Disciplined, for sure. After that fifth shot drop, an 85-shot dink battle ensued. Ben hit 29 dinks, Matt 22, Riley 21, and Collin 13. Despite the relative inactivity, Collin knew he had to stay alert.
“During the rally itself, I’d say, other than the heightened awareness of the importance of such a point, I really tried to stay as engaged as possible even if I wasn’t the one hitting the ball.”
The rally pivoted on a decision by Matt. Of Matt’s 22 dinks, seven were forehands, hit with both of his feet out of bounds but facing the center of the court. On Matt’s seventh dink from there, he accelerated a sharply-angled cross court dink, catching Ben moving toward the middle. Then, this flurry:
Shot 91: Ben raced to his left for a backhand ATP shot.
Shot 92: Riley slid to the sideline for a match-saving forehand volley. The at-capacity crowd stirred and gasped.
Shot 93: Collin hit a backhand volley deep to Riley.
Shot 94: Riley played a safe lob, and Matt backpedaled four steps and braced near the baseline.
Shot 95: Ben hit an overhead down the middle.
Shot 96: Matt played the shot on the short hop with a forehand, hitting a short lob.
Shot 97: While Matt and Riley backed up another step and braced themselves, Ben leaned into an overhead and sprayed it just beyond the far corner.
“A marathon point, to Matt and Riley!” Irwin exclaimed.
“Unbelievable patience from all four players. That’s why you need to practice your dinks at home,” Dave Fleming said on the broadcast
The fans exploded. “Wow” flashed across the video board. Riley and Matt exchanged a fist-bump; Collin patted Ben on the shoulder. While the crowd was finishing cheering, the players took their positions, fully aware that another championship point was present at 10-9-2.
“It’s a very tricky situation because you are on an emotional high from energy and adrenaline but still down a match point, so you have to quickly gather your thoughts and get ready for the next point,” Matt said.
The Johns brothers went on to win the game with an incredible score of 14-12. The 97-shot rally was the longest in any PPA gold medal match since an 82-shot rally (which also included the Johns brothers) that took place a year ago at the National Indoor Championships. Those who saw it live, especially in person, will not soon forget it.