Riley Newman and Anna Bright Partnership Finished
The Riley Newman and Anna Bright partnership is done. The much hyped duo, who came away with 1 gold, 1 bronze and 1 4th place finish in 3 tournaments, are no longer partnering for the rest of the year. We have now heard from multiple sources that Anna Bright was the one that initiated the breakup and the pair are not playing for the PPA Florida Open event coming up this week. Bright will be partnered with Ignatowich for that Florida event and it sounds like she is planning to play the rest of the year with James Ignatowich, who is coming off the best weekend of his pro career with 2 gold medals at the PPA Minnesota.
This is a shocking development as Newman/Bright teamed up to be able to take down Ben Johns/Anna Leigh Waters, and we didn’t even get to see that matchup once. We were quite skeptical when some people in our comments were concerned about the body language between Bright and Newman. Our lack of skepticism came as a result of Riley Newman being like that with all of his partners, including his sister. Going into a partnership, it should be well known that Riley Newman is not Mr. Communication or Positivity on the court during matches and in timeouts.*
Is it possible the sub-par early results could have contributed to the change? It would seem rash to pull the plug on a partnership so early in the year when there’s so much potential for growth. Riley Newman is the 1st or 2nd best mixed player in the world, and Anna Bright has become arguably the #2 women’s player in the world – although where she ranks as a mixed female is more up for debate.
The other factor to this that has to be discussed is the personal relationship between Anna Bright and James Ignatowich. They are dating. They have had a number of battles against each other in mixed with Bright coming out on the better end of those, except for the most recent of those in Minnesota where Ignatowich won 12-10 in the third.
This is the second time from an optics standpoint that the personal relationship between Bright and Ignatowich has had a significant impact in the pro pickleball world. The first time was when Ignatowich was picked up by the Ranchers after the first MLP event in 2022 and the Ranchers went onto win the title in Newport. Ranchers owner, Tim Klitch, took full responsibility publicly for the Ignatowich pickup but we can’t believe their personal relationship didn’t impact the decision. This time, Bright/Ignatowich will team up together in tournaments.
We have alluded to it many times, including in our last set of takeaways about Stratman/Arnold, but it is a dangerous move to put your professional eggs in the basket of your personal life partner. Some are able to do it, but most are not. It is always possible that this is the best thing for their relationship, but these are two people in their early 20s intermingling their personal and professional lives.
Of course, we are only speculating on factors that are out there for anyone in the public to speculate on. We don’t know which factors or how much any of these factors contributed to the partnership change for Anna Bright. Only Bright and Ignatowich will be able to say for sure what led to the change. We have to be careful speculating on the mindset of pros when it comes to personal decisions like this, but that is also what we’re here to do.
It will definitely be interesting to monitor what Newman does with his mixed partnerships. His decisions will shape many of the partnerships that we see on the pro tour and those Sunday spots are going to be more up for grabs than ever as a result of this shake up. He has Parris Todd for this upcoming Florida PPA but what he decides to do/who he can get to partner with him will be one of the more intriguing storylines to monitor.
We also have to mention the aspect of breaking up a partnership so early in the year. This is the first instance of this for Bright and we know lots of this kind of stuff goes on behind the scenes, but we would be setting a double standard to go after Parenteau for her history of partnership decisions without pointing out that this instance is not much different in a vacuum – the history of poor partner treatment is a big factor the Parenteau-Jones situation too.
In any event, Bright’s decision has ripple effects beyond Riley Newman and the partners of James Ignatowich, as it will leave many players scrambling for partners when they otherwise thought they were secure. At the end of the day, should that matter in pro pickleball and is this kind of stuff going to happen more as higher stakes come into the sport? Reasonable minds can differ on this, but we have made our position quite clear in the past if this kind of stuff becomes a pattern.
On the whole, we can’t help but see this as an impulsive, emotional decision in response to a less than ideal start to the year. This is obviously a personal decision and what each person values as important is going to be very different. Nevertheless, whether the decision was made on a personal or professional basis, or some combination of the two, we can’t help but question the logic that went into the final choice.
*This post has been edited to clarify that reference to Riley’s communication “on and off the court” was not intended to refer to Riley as a person outside of pickleball. It was merely intended as a reference to his lack of communication during timeouts, between games etc. during the course of a match.
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67 thoughts on “Riley Newman and Anna Bright Partnership Finished”
It doesnt look like AB enjoys losing to iggy. knew something might be up because this actually marks 2 straight wins for ignatowich in mixed, and AB didn’t look particularly happy after either of those. (iggy and Lea’s comeback at MLP being the second most recent)
“but we would be setting a double standard to go after Parenteau for her history of partnership decisions without pointing out that this instance is not much different in a vacuum”
I’m glad you mentioned this. Not only would you be setting a double standard, but IIRC, I’m pretty sure Bright herself was ripping CP on Instagram during Allycegate for dropping a partner with not much notice.
Also someone on twitter said Riley is partnering with Parris Todd this weekend. This could be Parris’ best shot at fully entering the PPA tourney season, as she obviously wasn’t going to settle for a third-tier mixed pro just to get booted in the 1st round. Now she gets an elite partner without any drama around “stealing” him.
We had noted this in the post that Riley is pairing up with Parris this weekend. That may be the case to a degree going forward but it likely won’t be exclusive. We’ll have to wait and see. It works out very well for Parris just as Jessie/Catherine splitting up worked very well last year for Anna.
You may be correct on that with Anna. A lot of pros went after CP and we couldn’t recall nor did we go back to check whether Anna had done so herself.
Potentially mutually breaking up a partnership is not at all the same as what Catherine did to Jones. She cancelled the day before the tournament after Jones had already traveled to the venue. Catherine also was the common denominated in at least 3 out of nowhere partnership breakups. I don’t think you have to worry about this being a double standard
Agreed. What agreement did she even have with Riley? Maybe it was open for either to say goodbye within a timeframe
It doesn’t appear this was mutual at all.
Potentially mutually breaking up a partnership is not at all the same as what Catherine did to Jones. She cancelled the day before the tournament after Jones had already traveled to the venue. Catherine also was the common denominated in at least 3 out of nowhere partnership breakups. I don’t think they have to worry about this being a double standard
Totally agree Just a guy. Two completely different circumstances. I don’t know why people think it is the same.
Interesting to see that the high school-style mixed and same-sex doubles partner dramas many of us have faced in the amateur ranks also happen among the pros.
Tipitina: Staksrud actually mentioned that in a post-match interview. How pro tour was like being back in high-school with the popular kids clique vs the “others’.
It appears that “Gooney Bird” Riley is a difficult guy to play with on, or like off, the court. AB doesn’t have to put up with his on court antics.
I don’t find Riley difficult to like at all. Very friendly at tournaments. And I’ve watched people come up to him while he’s still in the thick of the draw to ask questions about their play – trying to get free coaching tips. He’s handled it very patiently though you know he probably didn’t want that kind of distraction while in the thick of the draw.
We don’t find Riley difficult to like but he seems like he’d be difficult to play with for anyone that likes to communicate a lot.
We are all humans!
I’m really disappointed to hear this. I thought AB was Riley’s best chance to beat AL/Ben enough times to make it a rivalry. Parris is not nearly as good as AB IMHO. And I don’t think Parris wants to have a heavy tournament schedule. Thus, it seems unlikely she will be his partner for the entire year. Would Jessie be an option for some tournaments.
Lots to speculate on for sure. Does AB really think James is better than Riley? According to one of the podcasts, she had asked Riley to be her partner and he turned her down. Then changed his mind after Newport Beach. But until then she was set to play all or a lot with James for 2023 in PPA (and Dylan for APP before that went bust). She had a very grumpy look at end of their match in Minnesota – almost stomping off. Of course, she had to wait through that big hug James gave to CP and lifting CP off the floor! That’d make any GF grumpy.
Or she can’t have liked being attacked by James so maybe thinks it is better to be on the same side of the net as him.
It’s really different to play with your significant other but they did well at MLP. I think she likes conferring with James about the game (as seen at MLP). She probably didn’t get that from Riley much. Though I was re-watching some matches and did see Riley attempt to be positive and encouraging to her.
My take is that the decision has more a personal basis than a professional basis. Because, as you say, Riley is #1 or #2 in MXD. But James has tremendous ceiling and at year end it may look like Anna had a crystal ball.
Jessie is an option most likely. This makes a lot of things fair game as James’ partners will also be available and there could be a lot of people breaking off partnerships, which is what we mean by ripple effects. Parris is a good player but she’s not AB yet. Can she get to that level in mixed? It is not out of the question at all.
We often talk about how hard it is to play your partner but we don’t get many opportunities to discuss how hard it is to lose to your life partner or beat your life partner. That would have to be one of the hardest things to deal with for the winner and loser, depending on personality. AB had been on the winning end of these before Minnesota. Clearly she prefers playing with her partner rather than playing against, if we are to infer anything on this decision.
You may very well be right about personal. It may be that long-term she doesn’t see that much difference in ceiling with James’ talent and she sees him every day. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how they do.
I think Parris might be the perfect match for Riley. Her footwork and defense is TOP Drawer. That way Riley can be the Big Man on Campus for their team. I thin AB wants a bit more of a 50/50 team. Not 20/80 with Riley. And I do think AB/Iggy will be on a lot of podiums this year.
It should be a good partnership and adds another team that could win on any day to the mixed field if they continue to play together at all.
It won’t be 50/50, but l could envision 30/70. I think AB and Riley will not podium as much without each other. One reason is that the competition is getter better – the Johnsons are say don’t forget about us. I believe in James but I don’t think he is Riley – yet?!? I do believe AB is the second best. It will be fun to find out.
If you see the MXD draw at ppatour, you definitely can’t forget about the Johnsons. We could get a QF with Todd/Newman vs Johnsons. I don’t think Parris is any match for them so it’ll come down to how much Newman can insert himself.
Riley is so dominant that we think that would likely be a good match, but that would be fun for sure.
Catherine dropped her partner the night before because Leigh Waters tore her ACL and ALW was suddenly a free agent. Hardly comparable to Anna Bright choosing to play with her boyfriend and giving Riley plenty of notice so that he can find a replacement.
It is not the same situation but it is breaking off a commitment you made to another player. Context is important but it is going back on a commitment that was made at the end of the day. That cannot be denied by anyone involved.
Sometimes a pairing just doesn’t gel on court no matter how good it looks on paper. This happens at every level of play. Looking forward to seeing how Parris plays in PPA. Maybe Anna and James will wear matching hats!
This can be true for sure
I think she has every right to change partners and I’m sure he had some advance notice. Her comments I believe was when a partner found out two days before.
She plays much better when her partner is charged up and communicating with her. Riley didn’t even look at her at the last event. Why be miserable with a partner for a whole season!
She has every right to change partners. There is nothing that says a player does not have the freedom to do as they want. But those choices have ramifications in the future and if it becomes a pattern then it is more problematic, which is why we compared it to CP only in a vacuum as CP has a long history of breaking off partnerships.
Great article. Thanks for putting those Like/Dislike buttons. SWEET!
Thanks Greg on both!
Riley seems like a great guy off court but not a great dude to play/partner with. His body language toward all of his partners isn’t super supportive and paired with a very naturally aggressive AB (who is at her best when she is hunting winners and attacking) it kinda negates what AB does well when Riley is taking 70-75% of the court.
Riley and Parris can make noise and for a partner like Riley it probably enables him to be a bit more of a risk taker b/c as pointed out above Parris does play excellent defense and she’s very quick and can get to a lot that others can’t. Even if she has been playing AAA ball all year so far I’d not be surprised to see her and Riley make a semis run this weekend.
Playing with your significant can’t be easy. It’s wild how JA and LoLo seem to able to do it as well as they do. Long term so long as their off court relationship doesn’t hit the skids, Iggy is probably a better partner for AB as his ceiling is probably comparable to Riley and he’s younger.
If Parris isn’t gonna be a long term gig with Riley gotta think he’d look Jessie’s way. Koop, Lacy or the Kawomoto sisters could also be good partners for Riley but they all work full time gigs and probably aren’t able to be as available as he’d want/need.
As we noted, don’t think anyone denies Riley is not the most supportive partner. This should have been known. Maybe it is harder to understand that until you play with someone but it would be surprising still to us if this was a main factor. He plays a ton of court, which again is something that would have been known.
Riley and Parris do have the capability to make some noise and it will be good for Parris to get the high end partner. There are a number of ways Riley could go if it’s not Parris as you note.
Playing with your partner is not easy. Lauren posted that she and Arnold are using a sports psychologist to help work through their communication difficulties on the court and they are not playing exclusively together.
Yes! I saw that Lauren and Julian were doing that and think it’s fantastic. Good on them both for it.
I told you that Newman and Bright wouldn’t last. His behavior on court was not the greatest toward Bright , so you can imagine what went on behind the scenes. I don’t agree that her decision was rash or to soon, people need to feel valued and respected. It didn’t appear she was treated with either. I also don’t agree with the CP comparison, I sure she talked to Newman in a timely manner, unlike CP with her partners. Apples and oranges. Not sure playing with James is a great idea, playing rec is difficult enough with your partner. Trying to climb the pro ladder while trying to figuring out a new relationship will definitely be a challenge. Going to be interesting. Cheers guys. 🙂
You did say this and we were skeptical. It is a good point on the CP comparison as the way Anna went about it, which would 100% be speculation on our part, is part of that context. All we wanted to acknowledge is that on its face it is a similar situation, which we don’t think can be denied. We’ll have to wait and see on the decision.
I think if leaving the partnership makes her feel good about playing again it’s a personal win for her even if she wins less on court. She couldn’t have been happy, after all who ever she decides to play with she won’t be trading up. Chat later boys 🙂
For sure. We just have some questions whether long term this will be a personal win on the court and off the court. But we are skeptics at heart.
Wow! While I didn’t think their chemistry was exceptional, I didn’t expect their partnership to blow up already. I also thought I heard James and Anna, on various podcasts, throw cold water on the idea of them playing together. I really hope it works out. I’m a fan of both of them. It certainly seems like it might be more fun playing with James than Riley.
There are now two high-profile mixed partnerships that didn’t even make it to spring… Jessie/AJ and now Anna/Riley. Sometimes it just doesn’t work, for one or both partners, and the best thing to do is split and move on.
I was just thinking. Anna just watched James and Catherine play very well together in Minnesota. They had great chemistry, tapping paddles or hands after every point and generally looking like they were having a great time. After winning, James was ecstatic and gave Catherine a big embrace. Maybe Anna watched all of that and thought to herself, “I want that.”
This is very possible as well
This was unexpected on our end as well. Lots of possibilities abound!
James didn’t think much of Parris when he and AB played Parris and Dylan recently. He said he easily sped up at her and she had no defense/counter. He also says he’s #3 MXD – better than JW.
See It Feels Right latest podcast. JW and Dylan may learn about some weaknesses if the analysis is correct. No hint of playing with AB next tournament which is kinda surprising as James is usually more open.
We’ll see how some of James’ takes do over time here. We were also not the most impressed with Parris’ most recent mixed outing losing to Bobbi Oshiro/Brendon Long.
James foreshadowed this on his podcast 4 days ago when he interviewed Frederico Staksrud. He wasn’t specific,only that some partner shake-ups were coming. Willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that the vagueness there was to allow everyone to be appropriately informed.
In terms of the partnership, a lot of comments on the AB/RN pairing, even here, suggested that Anna needed to adjust her game significantly to be successful with Riley. Maybe partnering with James allows her to play the style of mixed she wants to play.
He says a lot of interesting things and is an open book relatively. Interesting for sure
Thank you for your time and posting. Davefusious says; “There can be no growth if there is no growth wanted”. 🙂 When they lost at Vulcan in MD, AB looked really disgusted with Newman. So… Who knows. Only time will tell. And IMO, it is ok to speculate as long as you tell people you are speculating.
We thought it was disgust at the loss but who knows could also have been disgust at RN. We’ll never know.
No one warned Anna Bright that losing WITH your partner is exponentially more difficult than losing AGAINST your partner?
If your article infers that we haven’t seen enough Doubles prowess out of Big Pappa Jimmy yet, I would agree. Riley hits podiums every weekend. whom goes deepest in MXD this weekend: AB and BPJ, Tyson and CP or Riley and Paris Todd?
Bradford: CP and Tyson could be playing AB/BPJ in QF. That would be very interesting! I think the Johnsons could go deep. MXD is once again shaping up to be a good day to watch!
Disagree about your comments regarding Riley- I personally think he s a great communicator and a positive influence on the sport and players, great guy all around! #prettypicklers
Now THIS is more of the kind of stuff that I find interesting. Great post NML. Much more entertaining than the gimmicky MLP B-League inside baseball. The A-Train has a few random thoughts.
1. This professional sports and they are playing for money…..so as long as the one getting dumped has enough time to find a partner….who freaking cares if a partnership breaks up. It’s not like Riley will have a hard time finding someone for mixed. I get the outrage over CP dumping Alyce Jones the night before Nationals (and didn’t Nationals make an exception to the rule book to allow Anne Leigh to switch partners last minute when her mom tore her ACL?). That’s a bad look all the way around. I see this breakup much different and acceptable.
2. I don’t necessarily agree that year long partnership is a set in stone commitment. In professional sports you sign people to contracts for a year or more but if you can upgrade your team, then you might cut someone and pick up a stronger player/better fit for you. Maybe partnerships should be binding legal contracts with buyout clauses if it doesn’t work? Maybe to prevent last minute chaos, the PPA should consider a rule where you can’t switch partners within 14 days of a tourney outside of injury or something like that?
3. I agree that Riley doesn’t look always look warm and encouraging on the court to his partners. I once saw him and his sister play up close and they were snipping at each other a fair amount. But on the other side of the coin, at least on TV, he seems to act similarly to Matt Wright as to his mixed partners. He’s an equal opportunity employer on that front. And he played with his previous partnerships (Tyson, CP, His Sister) for a longer period of time and that shows some loyalty and patience. I’d rather have a partner who might be a little edgy on the court during games, then someone who is “nicer” but has a quick trigger and dissolves a partnership without enough patience.
4. It seems a little premature that after just 3 tourneys together, one of which they took gold, then they break up. If you told me that in the first 2 tourneys that included Ben/ALW and Bright/Riley in the field – Bright Riley would win one of them….I’d say that partnership is off to a pretty good start considering the dominance of Ben/ALW. I realize Bright/Riley didn’t play/beat Ben/ALW….but still.
5. Perhaps Bright dumping Riley for James has less to do with Riley’s on court demeanor and Bright/James being a couple and more to do with the practical side that they live in the same area and can train and practice together against the Johnsons, ALW and others. I would think that Riley’s more chaotic, super aggressive style of mixed is not easy to get used to on short notice….it might take half a season to adjust to if they aren’t practicing together. If Bright plays with ALW and James most of the year, having those partnerships to practice with on a daily basis makes a lot of business sense as the sport becomes more competitive.
A-Train: Good thoughts. Agree that Riley can find other partners. But really strong women players are scarce. James himself admitted he didn’t realize how big a difference that made when he won MXD Gold last week-end. And Riley needs to find a partner who can fend off AL/Ben. Too bad we didn’t get to see how Riley and AB would have done against them. But on paper they had a strong chance to win. So that makes the partnership dissolution something to blog about because it could directly affect each and every Championship Sunday.
Not an MLP fan, especially Challenger haha! It’s just like anything. How much do commitments matter? We can’t always say these are about money because these are relationships you are trying to build with new partners. It’s all individual and what people will put up with depends on how good you are, as is the case in any professional sport. But there’s something unique about a partnership situation. No contract is ever truly set in stone but you can’t also be doing this on a regular basis. It can’t be a pattern or things will usually catch up to you. Although, Catherine still seems to be doing just fine.
Agree on #3 and #4. #5 is probably a pretty decent bet, although we tend to think it could be more relationship based, which is what could be very dangerous for a couple of kids in their early 20s. But that’s all speculation.
I think the bottom line here is that Ben and ALW are going to be harvesting golds for the foreseeable future.
It is tough enough for any team to beat them, but a team with no experience together in the trenches has even more of an uphill battle.
Riley is not going to be able to develop that experience with a mixed partner if no partner wants to stay with him.
On a more important note, where can I buy some NML gear to wear when I go to the Austin tournament?
This is probably the most accurate takeaway of anything.
Oh my goodness Fred! NML gear? We have not had many requests for those but maybe one day haha!
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On paper Newman and Bright are a super team but watching them play in the last few tournaments they seemed to struggle to get wins in some matches. Not sure if it was play styles, chemistry or what.
Also it seemed to me that Bright took her last mixed match particularly hard, whether that was losing to Ignatowich, feeling like she underperformed, or just let her partner down (or all three).
Wish the best of luck to each of them, they are both damn fun to watch!
It takes time for new partnerships and Anna may not be quite as far along as she wants to be in mixed. It should be fun to see them playing together going forward.
I am looking forward to Friday to see how this all plays out on the court. If you look back over the last few years, how many mixed partnerships last over a year? How many gender partnerships last over a year? As with any partnerships, both sides come together because they think they will have success and then they have to figure out how to make it work. I think Newman and Bright could have been a great team, but they both have to be committed to making it work and addressing any issues. I have no doubt that Riley will be fine in Mixed during the rest of 2023.
100%. It should be lots of fun to see. These year long commitments sometimes last. Riley has done it with Matt and Tyson. You are right they both have to be committed to it and Riley should do very well regardless.
There is a brand new podcast with Tyson Apostol and Michelle McMahon in which they interview Riley Newman. He says Anna called him on Monday, following the Minnesota tournament. She told him that, while he (Riley) is the better player, she needed to play with James for the sake of her mental health. I am guessing this was likely triggered by the tough match against James and Catherine, after which James celebrated elatedly and Anna stormed off looking very unhappy.
Riley says he has lined up a few partners for the next few months (Allyce, Lindsey, Parris, Andrea), but by summer he would like to find one partner with which to play the rest of the year.
Next week’s MLP should be a great opportunity to see a lot of play from potential candidates. Switching partners every week won’t beat Ben/AL and may not even get them to Sunday. You saw a few times Parris and Riley having problems. They both go or worse neither go thinking the other will get it.
You know we love MLP
We just listened to this yesterday. This was the first time she had lost to James so clearly it is something that has hit hard for her and she made a decision to change as a result. A very personal decision. Thanks for noting this.
Anna and James have both released new podcasts. They both made sure to say that this had nothing to do with Riley, and that he is a good guy and partner. James confirmed it was the Minnesota match that triggered the change. He acknowledged the “Big Pappa Jimmy” interview was pretty excessive and that Anna was not happy about it (nor would he be). He said they mutually agreed that it’s just not good for them to play against each other.
To be clear, we never said Riley was a bad guy. We said that he can be a difficult person to play with because he is not a good communicator in the traditional way on the court. Anna and James are being very smart about this too as they are putting it entirely on their relationship publicly. We still wonder if there is an aspect to this where Bright was not enjoying playing with Riley.