Morgan Evans and Kurtis Campbell are both highly decorated 5.0 Pickleball players. And yet,they have two very different styles of play. If you were to watch Morgan play, you will quickly discern his aggressive fast-paced style that seeks to put the other team on the defensive. Whereas, Kurtis comes across as patiently calculating his returns waiting for the aggressors to make a mistake that he can take advantage of. Below are questions to Morgan and Kurtis about their style's of play and where Pickleball is heading in the future.
1. Describe your style of play
Morgan Evans: Form follows function, and I never know exactly what style of play is going to be most effective in any given moment. I have attempted to develop the tools to adapt to any given requirement. I usually play aggressively, as I don't want to give my opponent a chance to dictate the style of play. However, the players that I look up to all seem to have one thing in common, consistency. With a game like Pickleball, where so many points end through unforced errors, consistency often wins the day over showtime shots. It's been difficult to develop a wide variety of shots to the point that each one is as reliable as it needs to be to win at the top level. Challenge accepted!
Kurtis Campbell: When I step out on the court, my ultimate goal is to make my opponents feel like they have nothing to attack, no weakness to exploit. Through my consistency, being ready to block every hard ball back into play, and timely choice of attacks, I look to leave them searching for solutions throughout the entire match.
2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the aggressive, offensive style of play and the controlled, defensive style of play?
Morgan Evans: I think the strength of my game lies in the element of surprise. I am constantly trying to not let my opponent know what I am going to do next. Predictability feeds into my opponents’ consistency, if I take that predictability away then I can force them to have to play outside of their comfort zone. The weakness of my game is the flip side of this. The variety of different shots I must practice on a regular basis means that it's impossible to be as consistent at each of them, as I could be with a smaller number of shots. Maintaining a box of tools isn't difficult if you only own a hammer and a screwdriver!
The more traditional, defensive player, has an advantage in a few aspects of the game. Firstly, this is a game of limiting your unforced errors even more so than tennis. Defensive players typically play low-risk shots and wait for a very clear opening before attacking. Remember, some of the time your job is trying to win, the rest of the time, however, your job is to help your opponents lose. The defensive player can pepper away for hours, trying to find the chink in the armor. Eventually, they usually find it. Their weakness is predictability, with a limited number of shots to choose from, I can get into position early, I can read their game plan more easily, and find a way to counter it. When was the last time you saw a highlight real of cross court dinks? Exactly!
Kurtis Campbell: Since I rely on consistency to get points and solid defense for an entire match, a weakness of my play style is playing offensive players that I have never seen before. I can defend against some of the best player’s attacks in pickleball because I have seen them use the shot successfully (usually even against myself) and have practiced to be able to defend it. Often times offensive players may burst onto the scene because none of the top players have seen the offensive shots they have to offer yet. A strength of my style of play is that most of the points that my team plays are high percentage points. This means that I am not producing many errors and almost always put my team in a good position to win the point.
A strength of using a drive for your third shot is that you can get a shorter and softer ball for your next shot that will be easier to drop into the non-volley zone. This can help you avoid hitting long drops to a team that might have an excellent reach. Also, you may be able to produce a few errors from the other team if the drive is good enough. The downside to this strategy is that it is more error prone, as a third shot drive is a non-trivial shot to hit in the court.
2. In 5 years, which style of play do you think will be dominant at the highest levels of play? Why?
Morgan Evans: I believe we are seeing a trend now that will continue to evolve, the more aggressive tennis players coming in and changing the face of the game. I think we will see more players electing to serve harder, with more spin, and being rewarded with shorter returns which will allow them to power the 3rd ball more often. I think that taller players will work hard to stay as low as they need to be in order to negate what has traditionally been their weakness – agility.
Kurtis Campbell: In 5 years, I expect the high levels of play will be dominated by players who have longer arms and/or are taller. Because of this, I think the third shot drop will be a very difficult shot to hit. Players’ arms will be so long that it will be almost impossible to get a drop shot from the baseline to bounce before being returned as a volley. This will force teams to use a drive shot as their third shot in order to get closer to the net before they can hit a drop shot to get all the way to the net. Also due to longer arms and taller players, there will be more cross court dinking instead of straight ahead. Going cross court gives you more space to drop the ball in the non-volley zone and away from players who have a big reach.
3. Do you prefer your partner having a similar or different style of play to your own?
Morgan Evans: I like my partner to be more of a rock. I want their game to force our opponents to think it's a better idea to take a chance with me than continue to attempt to defeat the wall next to me. Aside from this, with a more consistent and perhaps defensive partner, we can build a strategy to get them more balls when my style perhaps isn't working too well.
Kurtis Campbell: I care more about my partner’s mindset than their style of play. The best way to explain this is by comparing two of the best partners I have played with, Wesley Gabrielsen and Matt Goebel. Wesley plays a very similar style to myself, where he is very consistent and waits for the right time to attack, whereas Matt likes to find a ball he can attack as soon as he can and keep his opponents always guessing and on their toes. I have felt very comfortable and have had success with both of these players on the court, even though they both play very different styles. The most important thing for me when looking for a partner is to make sure we can both be on the same page mentally: how we want to take advantage of the other team, how and when to change strategies mid-game, and also how we refocus during timeouts.
4. Do you ever change up your style of play, if so, when?
Morgan Evans: No, I don't think so. I had to embrace the dink more than I thought I needed to, but I think that was just inevitable. As I previously mentioned, my goal is to own a number of styles and use them when necessary. I need to be as consistent as a Dawson when all else fails, but as aggressive with power and variety as my default style.
Kurtis Campbell: I often change my style of play when playing against different teams. In the first couple rounds of a tournament, I will often take more chances and hit more balls harder than I normally would in order to get warmed up and move the match along. Sometimes it is hard to play a consistent counterpunch game when you haven’t quite warmed up yet that day. I will also change my strategy based on who I am playing against. Every great player in the history of sports has multiple ways to get the job done. Against some teams you might win more points by staying extremely consistent, and against another maybe it is a good idea to occasionally hit timely lobs. Every player is different, which makes every match different. It is your job as a player to find the strategy that will best use your skills against theirs.