You know how they always say there’s no offseason when it comes to pickleball? Oh wait, that’s football. Well, after a short, but hectic, offseason for pickleball, we are back at the grind in January with the APP Mesa Open. Yes, we’re actually going to talk about some people playing pickleball and not the business of pickleball. With all the PPA vs. APP schmozzle that has been going on, there are still a few PPA players sprinkled in this field with the PPA allowing their 3-year exclusive players to attend this first APP but not the 2021-year end Boca Raton tournament the following weekend. It still ends up screwing over the APP, but not completely. In any event, we have pickleball! Keep in mind the tournament starts Thursday and there is a PPA-esque championship Sunday so no football this weekend. Only pickleball (Editor’s note: this previously said Tourney ended Saturday but did not realize there was a championship Sunday.
For those of you who aren’t aware, most of our tournament previews are fantasy drafts between the two of us. We do a snake draft and each end up with a team consisting of 3 teams/players from each bracket and then we write about our picks in this post that serves as a preview. For every team/player that gets podium, points are attributed to that team and the team with the most points at the end of the week wins. We get 3 points for a gold, 2 points for a silver and 1 point for a bronze.
Pitter patter, let’s get at ‘er. Slim finished last year 4 up on Gritty but we start the new year fresh with Gritty winning the toss and electing to pick first.
(1) Dekel Bar / Adam Stone (Gritty)
(2) Irina Tereschenko (Slim)
(3) Jessie Irvine / Jay Devilliers (Slim)
(4) Zane Navratil (Gritty)
(5) Lauren Stratman / Lea Jansen (Gritty)
Gritty – There’s two ways I could have gone with this first overall pick and I choose to go with Dekel Bar and Adam Stone. After Dekel/Adam, the men’s field could go a bunch of different ways but this is as good as gold in my eyes. The only thing that could mess this up would be Jay Devilliers finding a last minute men’s partner. I’m then betting on Zane Navratil having figured out a good one-handed spin serve because if it’s anything close to his 2021 serve he’s the #1 singles player in this strong men’s field. There are 2 women’s teams that I could have gone with and I like getting the band back together in Lea Jansen/Lauren Stratman. I don’t have enough confidence in Andrea Koop to have gone with the Koop/Irvine partnership as the top women’s team.
Slim – I think Irina is the clear favorite in women’s singles and was a very easy selection. I probably would’ve taken her first overall. Then Jessie and Jay have proven themselves to be a top tier mixed team, so they were also an easy selection with the third pick.
(6) Jorja Johnson (Slim)
(7) Jessie Irvine / Andrea Koop (Slim)
(8) Jay Devilliers (Gritty)
(9) Lea Jansen / Zane Navratil (Gritty)
(10) Austin Gridley / JW Johnson (Slim)
(11) JW Johnson (Slim)
Gritty – The men’s field is a bit of a crap shoot so I want a fresh Jay Devilliers who appears to finally be working on his fitness off the court. That can only mean good things for this APP all-star who may or may not have signed a 3-year deal with the PPA. I then go mixed with Lea Jansen/Zane Navratil. Vivienne may be the stronger female mixed player, but both Lea and Zane have been able to find results in mixed more so than one Dekel Bar. I’m also betting on Zane’s serve being legit this weekend but if it isn’t then this could be a mistake.
Slim – This is by far the highest Jorja Johnson has ever come off the board, but in a very slim women’s singles field, I think she is clearly the second best player and I have been impressed with the continued improvement. I think Jessie and Andrea had a real argument to be the first women’s team selected so to get them at seven is a real steal. With the 10th and 11th picks, I am buying that JW Johnson stock. It will be interesting to see how Austin Gridley holds up this weekend. Johnson obviously represents a new level of partner for him and you have to wonder if he feels the pressure. If Austin doesn’t let the pressure get to him, I think this will be a tough team to beat.
(12) Irina Tereschenko / Vivienne David (Gritty)
(13) Dylan Frazier / Zane Navratil (Gritty)
(14) Vivienne David / Dekel Bar (Slim)
(15) Spencer Smith / Callan Dawson (Slim)
(16) Allyce Jones (Gritty)
(17) Lauren Stratman / Dylan Frazier (Gritty)
Gritty – There wasn’t much of a decision with my next choice – Irina/Vivienne David. If I could, I would bet big on the top 3 women’s teams picked being the 3 podium teams as the rest of the field is soft. Irina and Vivienne are probably not good enough to get to a gold medal match, but they’re far and away better than whoever you consider as the 4th seeded team. Slim and I disagreed big time on my next pick but I like Frazier/Navratil. They might be lacking a bit of offence, but you could say the same for the rest of the team’s remaining, including Spencer/Callan who Slim picked next. Frazier ended 2022 poorly, Navratil ended it very well. I choose to believe both players together will do well.
The women’s singles selection was a crap shoot as well but there is a medal for the taking here. I take Allyce Jones with her experience. Plus, it looks like she does work on her singles game, which can’t be said for a lot of players out there. She has silver upside in this field, although that might not be giving Jorja enough credit after a really big showing at Casa Grande in December. I like the value of getting Stratman/Frazier here as the 4th mixed team – both had strong 2022s and there’s nothing certain in this mixed field after Jessie/Jay.
Slim – I continue to have questions about Dekel Bar’s mixed game, but I am also buying a lot of Vivienne David stock in the mixed game, so this pick really comes down to trusting her continued improvement. I like Spencer Smith and Callan Dawson’s consistency and hands versus this field, but I do have some concerns about their overall lack of weapons.
(18) Gabriel Joseph (Slim)
(19) Lee Whitwell / JW Johnson (Slim)
(20) Wes Gabrielsen / Erik Lange (Gritty)
(21) Angie Walker (Gritty)
(22) Susannah Barr / Allyce Jones (Slim)
(23) Sarah Ansboury / Corrine Carr (Slim)
Gritty – I have professed being out on Wes Gabrielsen not too long ago, but I’m back on the bandwagon, at least for this draft. Gabrielsen and Lange took down Wright/Bar at Nationals, albeit with the Franklin ball, and I think it is reasonable to say they could knock off any team outside Adam/Dekel. With the women’s singles field being so thin, I took Angie Walker, who had a couple of wins in Casa Grande. She’s a former D-1 tennis player who has turned to pickle (surprise!). I wouldn’t be surprised to see her hit the podium with only 6 players to compete with.
Slim – Gabe Joseph, can podium in this field so that is good value at this point in the draft. I also go all in on JW Johnson for the weekend, taking him and Lee Whitwell in mixed. JW paired with the always consistent Whitwell, definitely had podium potential and that is what you are looking for at this point in the draft. I think the top three women’s team in this field are pretty set, but if one of them falters, it will be either Susannah Barr and Allyce Jones or Sarah Ansboury and Corrine Carr taking their place on the podium, so I like the value again here.
(24) Sarah Ansboury / Rafa Hewett (Gritty)
(25) Ryan Sherry (Gritty)
(26) John Cincola / Rob Cassidy (Slim)
(27) Tatiana Ruhl (Slim)
(28) Jorja Johnson / Lee Whitwel (Gritty)
(29) Kamryn Blackwood (Gritty)
(30) John Cincola (Slim)
Gritty – I’m out on Adam/Corrine in mixed until they show me otherwise and Irina/Erik Lange have never done much together. On the other hand, Sarah Ansboury/Rafa Hewett just get results gosh darn it. It’s a bull in a China shop with Rafa out there, which pairs well with Ansboury’s steadiness. They have podium upside. The most impressive performance of 2021 should have been Ryan Sherry’s silver medal performance in the ridiculous 60 something player field in APP World Pickleball Open. That field didn’t have many names but for that man to be able to grind through that type of draw given his training program in scorching humidity is more impressive than anything else we saw in 2021. Prove me wrong! In a far stronger but smaller field, Sherry is going to be tough early. It’s just a matter of can he do it for multiple rounds. Finally, Lee Whitwell/Jorja Johnson are good enough to get an upset win somewhere so they are not a bad team with my second to last pick. Kamryn Blackwood was the default final pick with only 6 players in the field.
Slim – Rob Cassidy and John Cincola are an interesting pairing as we seldom see Cincola with a partner of Cassidy’s caliber. For the final men’s singles pick, I took Cincola, over the likes of Jack Foster and Dylan Frazier because I trusted his consistency but I wish I had of considered the serve rule changes, a little more before making the pick. Although, Cincola has a good version of the one handed spin. Also, don’t be surprised if Dekel Bar plays and wins tomorrow, because I finally stopped picking him in singles draws, after picking him and having drop out almost every tournament last year.
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