Connecticut Post (Sunday)

Pickleball Slam: Roddick, Agassi, McEnroe, Chang take swings


Andy Roddick returns a shot to Italy’s Fabio Fognini in the third round at the 2012 US Open in New York.

When Andy Roddick agreed to join John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang at the Pickleball Slam, the 2003 U.S. Open champion figured he had two distinct advantages against the three other Internatio­nal Tennis Hall of Fame inductees participat­ing in the made-for-TV exhibition in Hollywood, Florida.

At age 40, Roddick is the junior member of the quartet (McEnroe is 64, Agassi 52, Chang 51). And Roddick’s serve, which topped 150 mph back in his days on the tennis tour, was the fastest among the group of retired Grand Slam title winners who signed up for something that features a $1 million purse and airs Sunday on ESPN at noon Eastern, before the March Madness women’s championsh­ip game.

“As I’m walking through the (pickleball) rules, I saw they took away my youth with (limited) movement, and they took away my serve with having to serve underhand,” Roddick said with a chuckle, “so I’m not really sure what’s left.”

He will face Chang, then McEnroe will take on Agassi, before a McEnroe-Chang vs. Agassi-Roddick doubles competitio­n at the Pickleball Slam — the latest in a series of attempts to draw eyeballs to a sport taking over courts in neighborho­ods all over while still finding its footing on television.

“Everyone likes it instantly. It’s pretty well-regarded by people that play it,” Roddick said. “But you also don’t know if it will ever translate to TV and be a very watchable product without knowing the ins and outs and nuances that, frankly, I don’t know that people have the time to learn.”

ESPN/ABC have shown pickleball in the past, there is a deal in place with one league for some of its competitio­ns, and there are ongoing discussion­s with others.

“We’re obviously not writing big checks for pickleball at this moment,” said Tim Bunnell, ESPN senior vice president of programmin­g. “The stage of developmen­t for the sport is: We’re all still figuring out how it

World’s John Isner, left, walks past his captain John McEnroe, right, during their Laver Cup match against Europe’s Dominic Thiem in Prague, Czech Republic, in 2017.

translates in the media world. We know how it translates participat­ion-wise.”

Horizon Sports & Experience­s (HS&E) is producing the Pickleball Slam in tandem with InsideOut Sports and Entertainm­ent (ISE). The idea, HS&E co-CEO David Levy explained, was for bold-faced names from one racket sport to help promote another.

“Today, right now, nobody truly knows the top pickleball players. No one can even name maybe the top 50 pickleball players,” said Levy, the former president of Turner Networks. ”(But) it’s a huge rising phenomenon in sport. And we decided to jump in, in a unique way.”

Likening the appeal of Sunday’s event to what drew fans to “The Match,” a televised golf exhibition that began under his watch at Turner with Tiger Woods playing against Phil Mickelson in 2018, Levy said: “I’ve done this magic before.”

He said he would love to get tennis stars such as the Williams sisters, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal to play pickleball in future editions.

“Keep building this incredibly rising sport,” Levy said, “with great brand names.”

LAS VEGAS — Here’s one baseball fans might not have bet on: At least one prominent oddsmaker thinks starting pitchers will go deeper into games this season.

Eric Biggio, baseball lead trader for Caesars Sportsbook, thinks Major League Baseball’s new rules — including a pitch clock and limits on infield shifts — could hedge the trend of managers going early and often to their bullpens. That goes against convention­al thinking that a clock meant to hurry pitchers would likely aid hitters.

Starters’ innings have been drasticall­y reduced in recent years in favor of a parade of hard-throwing relievers. The strategy has contribute­d to a decrease in scoring and lack of action in games, part of what prompted MLB to make the changes.

There were some indication­s in spring training that pitchers may try weaponizin­g the clock, which gives players 30 seconds to resume play between at-bats, 15 seconds between pitches with nobody on and 20 seconds with runners on base. Batters must be alert to the pitcher with 8 seconds left.

Some, including Mets ace Max Scherzer, tried turning the clock into a cat-and-mouse game during spring exhibition­s. Biggio is wagering pitchers can find an upper hand there.

Starters are “going to dictate the tempo of the game and they’re going to be able to frustrate the hitters,” Biggio said. “So I think, especially in the early part of the year, you might see starters stall a little bit longer. The pitch count will be lower. They’ll be putting more balls in play.

“On the flipside is relievers that traditiona­lly took a little more time, they might take a little to adjust.”

Biggio anticipate­s the effect to be minimal but still enough that those expecting

Mets starting pitcher Max Scherzer throws to the Marlins’ Jorge Soler during the second inning on Thursday.

more scoring may need to adjust their thinking this season, which began Thursday.

Even with infield shift limits that could boost batting averages, Hal Egeland, senior sports trader for BetMGM, is also skeptical about a rise in scoring.

He noted teams are still allowed to employ an outfield shift, such as moving a left fielder into center or even right field.

“There are people that believe that it’s more important the outfield shifting than actually the infield shifting,” Egeland said. “The outfield shifting data-wise shows a greater difference between the batting average on balls in play.”

No longer having infield shifts could affect player propositio­n bets, both operators said, and both referred to Minnesota Twins slugger Joey Gallo as a test case. The left-handed hitter will likely hit leadoff against right-handed starters, and he has always batted deeper in the order before signing with the Minnesota Twins in December.

Gallo is the poster child of the modern-day analytics player, one who ends the majority of his plate appearance­s with either a home run, strikeout or walk. He is a career .199 hitter but has a .325 on-base percentage and

has topped out at 41 homers in a season. Gallo faced the outfield shift in spring training in which left field was vacated, but its unclear how it will play out if defenses position themselves creatively against him for a full season.

Another area to watch is stolen bases, especially since baserunner­s will be able to better time pitchers, who are limited to two pickoff attempts per batter. Larger bases have also slightly shortened the distance between bags. Baserunner­s were 21 of 23 on stolen base attempts across the 15 opening day games Thursday, compared to 5 for 9 in seven games on the first day of last season.

Analytics might still win out, to where the numbers of stolen bases don’t increase as much as expected.

“That’s the one market that I think we’re going to have the most difficulty early on in decipherin­g how much of an increase,” Egeland said. “We don’t want to overadjust, where we push these overs so far out. That’s the one that’s going to be the most difficult for us early on and I think for teams as well. I think teams are still trying make sure it’s worth it to steal because some analytics suggest that stealing a base isn’t really worth it.”

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