Who’s that girl? How pickleballer Lake Johnson dealt with Porter Barr’s serve… and Facebook nastiness
Scornful comments posted to Facebook were "a punch in the gut and hard to read."

September 7, 2021

Imagine you are a competitive pickleball player who has recently won two silver medals at a major USA Pickleball-sanctioned tournament, one in 5.0 women’s doubles and the other in 4.5 mixed doubles. You wake up one morning, log on to Facebook, and see a video of one of your mixed doubles games at that tournament. The video has gone viral…woo-hoo! But next you take a closer look at the comments pouring in online. Uh-oh. Here’s just a small sample of what you read:

“4.5??”

“Not a chance.”

“Are u sure they were 4.5 players”

“They sure don’t deserve a silver medal for playing like that!”

“They might want to get out of pickleball now while they still can.”

“Receiving team must have been exhausted… they didn’t look ready to play at all”

“Hard to believe these are 4.5 players!”

“The woman on the right is trying to short hop the return and would be far better off taking a step back and giving herself time to understand what the ball is going to do and hit it with confidence.”

“Why in the world was she trying to receive the serve standing two feet inside the baseline? My serve isn’t all the great, but, I’d get free points, too, if my opponents stood that far in!”

“Their inability to adjust tells me they are not 4.5 ”

“We have several chainsaw servers in our group. 2 that I’ve played with are at 4 and 4.5. Like anything it takes practice. But given 7 attempts, a 4.5 player should show some progress in gaining a serviceable return. The girl here made no progress, and was lost until the bitter end.”

“What 4.5 player would stand a foot inside the baseline to receive a serve that they will know to be deep and fast.”

“Why is this person standing so close to the baseline? 4.5 player? Must be self rated.”

“Are these players really 4.5?”

“His serve is not that good. Is this 3.5-4.0?”

“She would have a better chance if she was further behind the baseline on the return. She is in too close.”

“4.5 players don’t stand in the court on a serve return.”

“I agree the players were not good or did not play well…the servers were returnable”

“a 4.5 player would be able to read these serves after a while, and get a return in….whiffing on multiple ones is not what a 4.5 player does…..sorry. Maybe they are 4.5ers compared to the other folks in their town.”

“Looks staged to me. The players don’t look 4.5 level at all. “

“Your not a 4.5 if you can’t return this serve!”

“The girl in black Who is embarrassing herself doesn’t give herself a chance by moving back off the line. She’s clearly inexperienced”

“I expect more from a 4.5. Seriously?”

“The receiving team is truly questionable as 4.5. Why was the lady standing inside the service area receiving the serve.”

Sheesh! Welcome to the world of Lake Johnson of White Bear Lake, Minn. All those comments were directed at her on Facebook—each and every one of them posted by fellow pickleball players. Yes, Lake is the “girl in black who is embarrassing herself,” according to the Facebook peanut gallery—and we thought it was time you walked a mile in her pickleball shoes. 

As you may know, the video that elicited all the nasty and condescending comments featured the amazing chainsaw serve of 14-year old up-and-comer Porter Barr (son of pro player Susannah Barr) at the Jigsaw Health Tournament of Champions:  

But there were a few relevant facts the video didn’t show:

·       This was one of four gold medal match games. Johnson and her partner won the games that took place immediately before and after the one shown in the video. The scores of the four games were 11-8, 0-11,11-8, and 7-15.

·       There were 14 teams in the bracket. Johnson and her partner had won six games before the gold medal match.

·       The game in which Johnson and her partner were pickled took place around midnight. The tournament had been delayed due to rain.

·       Two days earlier, Johnson had won a silver medal in 5.0 women’s doubles 19+ and 35+. There were 12 teams in that bracket.

According to pickleballtournaments.com, Johnson’s doubles rating is 4.5. That may actually understate her skill level. Her silver medal performance in 5.0 women’s doubles at the Tournament of Champions—a major competition that drew talent from all over the United States—indicates that she is a 5.0 player.

Lake Johnson and her mixed doubles partner Joel Ticknor with their Tournament of Champions silver medals.

If she’s so good, why did she have so much trouble with Porter Barr’s chainsaw serve? Dinkheads reached out to Johnson and asked her.

“Porter’s serve is one that I have never seen or experienced before,” she told us via email. “It was a very quick and fast learning curve for me. It’s difficult to even describe the bounce that his serves would take without actually experiencing it first hand. I was informed by some of the other teams in our bracket on what to expect; unfortunately, I wasn’t even able to witness his serve prior to our match, as we never crossed paths throughout the bracket until that gold medal match. Even with some insight on what to expect, you don’t truly understand how great of a serve it is until you’re in it.”

Having been on the receiving end of some wicked chainsaw serves ourselves, we understand exactly where Johnson is coming from. What’s more, we suspect that Johnson is a better player than virtually all of the keyboard warriors who belittled her.

Johnson explained the reason she moved up beyond the baseline to receive Barr’s super-spinning serve:

“I personally found short hopping was the most effective way to return Porter’s serve for me. For others, that is probably not the case—some may have found it more beneficial to stay back and give themselves time to react; some may find a combo of the two to be most beneficial or some may have found something completely different to work. Just like anything else in Pickleball and many things in life, there isn’t just one way to do something effectively. It’s finding out the best way to do it for YOU to find success.”

It was challenging enough to deal with young Porter’s tricky serve, but getting served presumptuous insults on top of that wasn’t much fun. Johnson said it was painful to read the comments from Facebook’s armchair “experts”:

“I understand that people were making comments based on this one video—but even so, to quickly diminish the hard work that I have put in as a player to get to the level that I’m at, it’s a punch in the gut and hard to read. It was just unfortunate that so many in the pickleball community were so quick to judge and make their ‘expert opinions’ known on such a public forum and have little regard to how their comments may make one feel.”

After a few days of reading the scornful comments from the online sideline critics, Johnson decided to just “let it go”:

“My partner Joel and I fought hard all day through a tough bracket of amazing players, through rain-delays and hours of waiting to make it to that Gold Medal Match and we were not going to let anyone take that away from us!”

Passion and perseverance are the trademarks of a tough and worthy pickleball competitor. So is the ability to brush off the haters and doubters. Congratulations to Lake Johnson on an excellent showing at TOC and for showing us all what good sportsmanship is all about!

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