Empty pickleball court
Pickleball court Shutterstock

Unpopular opinion: I don’t like playing mixed doubles with strangers

DALLAS, TX – As I watched the action unfold at the Vizzy Atlanta Open, I realized that mixed doubles is by far the most intimidating discipline in professional pickleball. 

Singles and gendered doubles certainly have their moments of crazy athleticism and wicked hands battles that have me praying the ball doesn’t ricochet into my eye socket while sitting courtside, but as a woman, I never want to play mixed doubles at a high level. 

As I watched third-seeded Anna Bright and James Ignatowich unleash primarily on Lucy Kovalova instead of Matt Wright during the quarterfinals, I was reminded that if you’re seen as the weakest link, you’ll definitely be targeted by your opponents on a regular basis.

James Ignatowich putting his hand out on the pickleball court in appology
James Ignatowich at the Vizzy Atlanta Open PPA Tour

You can expect this kind of behavior in the pro ranks. After all, they’re all there to win and earn cash.

But at the amateur level, it can be just as horrible. There's nothing more nerve-wracking than when I’m at the court with a friend and two people we don't know approach and say, “Wanna play doubles?”  

Then, I have to come up with a mediocre excuse as to why I don’t want to play. Or I get guilted into it, and once I start playing, I quickly regret that I wasn't firm enough in my position. 

So why don’t I want to play with strangers? Because I have no idea what kind of game I’m walking into. 

These could be hyper intense 4.0 players who think they’re turning pro with their JOOLA Gen 3 paddles that are so hot, that if the ball hits me, at best I’m walking away with one heck of a bruised ego (and probably an actual bruise, too). 

Saying "No" again and again could make you look like a bad sport. One of pickleball’s greatest attributes is the sense of community it promotes. And it can be an excellent way to make friends or even find a soulmate, but it’s a catch-22.

If you show up to a court with only two people, odds are that other players on neighboring courts are going to ask if you want to rotate in or play doubles. Which is why pickleball is such a social and welcoming sport.

But, there’s so much more to consider when you’re playing mixed with strangers. 

After only a point or two, you can gauge your opponent’s skill level. You can tell if there’s a weaker link. Now, you’re suddenly thinking about if you’re hitting it too much or not enough to the weaker player.

You don’t want to look like a jerk who’s targeting someone, but you also don’t want to look like you aren't considering it at all, and completely leaving one half of the duo out. 

It’s a delicate balance you weren’t even aware of before you started playing. Now, you aren't thinking about your strategy, backhand flick, or countering a top spin, you’re thinking about whether you’re dinking softly enough to the weaker player.

There’s also the issue of the ball hog. We’ve all encountered one of those. And I hate to generalize, but it seems to happen a bit more in mixed doubles than gendered doubles. 

Dekel Bar posted this satirical Instagram reel with his current mixed partner, Tina Pisnik, that perfectly captured the frustration of playing mixed doubles.

It’s blatantly over the top, but there’s a hint of truth to it. Bar calls “Mine” for every shot, taking the ones that were clearly in Pisnik’s range. I swear some of the strangers I’ve played with were exactly like that. And that’s not fun pickleball.  

So, there’s my hot take. Sometimes, I don’t want to play mixed doubles with seemingly good-hearted strangers. But then again, some of the best friendships start during those same moments on the court. So, I guess you have to take the risk. 

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