In a video posted to YouTube last week, professional player Kyle Yates used the word “cheat” at least twice while discussing players who put spin on a ball with their hand while serving before striking the ball with their paddle. First, he said that the use of such spin constitutes “a loophole” that is “kind of being used to cheat the system.” Referring to players who use this technique, he later said: “USAPA, look into that. Please. We saw a player doing it a couple years ago at Nationals — physically adding more spin with his hand — and now you’re just opening a Pandora’s Box, letting players coming up with all sorts of different ways to cheat and it’s not really good way to go.”
Yates also said that players who use such techniques are innovative but are “circumventing the rules.”
Although Yates didn’t refer to any player by name, it’s obvious he was referring to Zane Navratil, whose buzzed-about hand-tossed super-spin serve can be viewed in the first part of the video below.
Navratil has now taken this idea to another level with an even more innovative serve in which he imparts spin to the ball by spinning the ball off of his paddle before striking it. He has been using the serve — which some fans have dubbed “The Chainsaw” — at the World Pickleball Championship this week in Punta Gorda, Fla. Click “play” on the video below to see an example. Note that the referee standing on the sideline does not object; thus, the serve is deemed legal.
We asked Navratil to respond to insinuations that he is cheating. “I really don’t like the term cheating,” he told us at Dinkheads. “The serve is within the rules of the game, so how could it possibly be cheating? It would be like calling a curveball in baseball cheating!”
Indeed. We are reminded of high jumper Dick Fosbury, whose critics vociferously objected to the ground-breaking Fosbury Flop in the late 1960s. Fosbury not only won the Olympic gold medal, but revolutionized the sport. Today, virtually all elite high jumpers use the Fosbury Flop.
We reached out to Yates for comment. He rightly backed away from alleging “cheating” and emphasized his opposition to “loopholes” that Navratil is exploiting — loopholes which Yates says undermine the integrity of the sport:
“I don’t recall saying Zane was ‘cheating,’ but merely pointing to the fact that he found a loophole in the current rules that allows him to bypass the integrity of how the game is meant to be played. Only 1 other pro player has ever spun the ball on the serve and it was a notoriously difficult serve to return. Zane and a couple other players were also spinning their drops this weekend and have gotten huge upset wins over some top players. I have tried several maneuvers in the past that hadn’t been done before and it forces the rules committee to take a look and discuss whether or not rule changes are necessary. It takes innovators like Zane and myself to find these loopholes so that the rules committee can cover them and keep the game fair for everyone.”
There is no question that Navratil’s serve is allowed by the rules. Whether those rules should be changed is a valid question which, as Yates notes, USA Pickleball will have to decide.