July 08, 2023 4 min read 3 Comments
By Ray Glier
In the time it takes to clear your throat, Alice Tym and Bart Brannon can offer you three tips each on how to win a Pickleball national title in doubles at The National Senior Games next week.
*Have a rhythm to your game. If you bounce the ball twice before a serve, bounce the ball twice before your second serve, and your third. Your teammate will follow the consistent que and be mentally prepared.
*Consider Pickleball in the same breath as Geometry. Control angles and you control the game.
*Forget about the other team. “The mistake people make is they think the game is about them, it’s not,” Alice said. “It’s about how I counter the other team when they play to their strengths.”
Tym, 80, and her long-time mixed doubles partner, Brannon, 78, have won multiple national championships at the National Senior Games in various age groups and have won many other national and state gold medals, including the U.S. Open.
So, go ahead, feel free to listen to what they have to say here.
“Win position before you win the point.”
*Have a purpose for every shot.
*Get down on the ball.
*Watch the ball, whether it is coming to you or not.
In interviews with these two Pickleball masters, I learned one supreme thing:
Tym and Brannon are never in debt to each other. If one makes a bad shot, the other does not expect their partner to do better the next time. It is always on to the “next point.”
The game is always shifting—you win some, you lose some—but their allegiance remains after a misplay by one or the other, like water splashing off a rock. They are not expressionless, they are fierce competitors, but they get over lost points, which is one of the reasons they win so much.
Alice and Bart cannot team up for gold this coming week in Pittsburgh because of the age differential. Instead, Alice will play with Larry Miller and Bart will play with Dianne Keller.
What else do these masters maestros have to offer as you chase a title, whether it is 50-54 or 80-84?
Alice talks about amplifying Bart’s skill as her greatest asset to the team.
For instance, she holds her paddle up to cover her mouth and tells Bart where she is going to hit the return serve.
“And it goes there, right where she said it was going to go," Brannon said who puts the point away.
Here’s one utterance that will set off some women. Alice considers Bart the “closer” just as she considered Fred Drilling the closer when they won mixed doubles gold in the 2022 National Senior Games in Ft. Lauderdale.
“Some women will say it’s 50-50, you play your half, I play my half,” Tym said. “I don’t believe in that. I want to win so I don’t want to be picked on. My job is to set up Bart for shots.”
Alice brings more than setting up her partner for shots. She has a wicked serve that doesn't just spin, it takes right turns or left turns because of the spin. On a smooth pickleball court, you have a chance against Alice's serve. Any court with some grip, just quit and go home.
Tym wants to win because she has been a high-achiever all her life. She started the University of Florida women’s tennis program in 1960 and played No. 1 all four years. Alice played in Wimbledon five times. She started the women’s tennis program at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and won two Ivy League titles as the women’s coach at Yale.
Bart was one of the top singles players in the country until a tree accident broke his leg in four places. He has a steel rod the length of his left leg, but says, “I still move pretty good.”
Their synergy goes beyond the courts. They both own farms in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area and they both still ride tractors and do chores. They are effervescent personalities and adore the game and it shows with their bounce on the court.
But just try and get them to discuss religion or politics and they turn into gray suits, mummies, no color. Simultaneously, they hit mute when God and GOP come up. Bart’s leanings are right, Alice’s left. They stay out of the kitchen in pickleball and out of each other’s culture war. And that’s ok.
It is a bond so strong that they made a 15-hour car ride from Tennessee to Nebraska for a tournament without one or the other demanding to be let out on the side of the road for crossing the political/religious divide.
What did they talk about?
“Pickleball,” Alice said.
Tym and Brannon are so tight in Pickleball they can determine the character of the match at the same time. Speed it up? Ok. Slow it down? Ok. They can win matches when they are not on their ‘A’ game. It is as if they are connected on a string.
They are also connected by the sheer fun of still playing competitively. Alice will compete in cornhole, pickleball, and table tennis at the National Senior Games.
“It’s just fun,” said Alice.
“It’s just fun,” Bart said in a separate conversation.
And then he added, “I don’t like Alice,” Bart said. “I love her.”
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