Riley Newman announced on his Instagram on Thursday that his men’s doubles partnership with Matt Wright would be ending. It was a somewhat odd choice for a break-up announcement as he framed it up like a movie trailer tease to guess who his next partner will be. This sort of announcement will likely become more common in this style though, as players attempt to get into the ‘content game’. Although it is significant news, it is not a shocking revelation to those following the sport more closely. Wright and Newman have had a great deal of success together, including a brief run in the second half of 2022 where it looked like they were forming a true rivalry with the Johns brothers. However, the competitive rivalry was short-lived as 2023 has been a tougher go.
While Wright and Newman have had lots of success together, they have had trouble giving any real competition to the Johns brothers. In 2023 their most recent 5-game match against the Johns brothers may have been somewhat deceiving as they were steamrolled in games 4 and 5, losing 22 of the last 23 points in the match. Clearly, the result was not enough to give Riley hope to delay the partnership break-up.
Only Riley can speak to the reasons on the break-up, but we can speculate that Riley would rather not medal than keep coming in 2nd or 3rd place. Amazingly, Riley and Matt have medaled in all 27 events they have played together, but the JW Johnson/Dylan Frazier partnership has been right on their heels, if they have not surpassed them already. The consistency would favor Matt/Riley, but JW/Dylan have been getting the better of them more than they have in the past. Riley is taking a chance that he can find some magic with different partnerships and possibly banking on other players rising to the occasion that aren’t in the pro world right now.
Riley Newman and James Ignatowich played one event earlier in the year where Ignatowich struggled to deal with getting fed a majority of the balls. The article the PPA Tour put up on their website did not mention Ignatowich as a possible partnership option, and we have to think that article was written with some insider knowledge about Riley’s immediate future plans. The article names AJ Koller, Julian Arnold and Dekel Bar as potential options, but notes that Bar is a less likely option. Arnold and Koller make sense as interim partners. Julian and AJ have some versatility on what side they can play, and Koller has some history of success with Riley Newman despite their lack of success at MLP. Arguably, the two best options for Riley to team up with right now for a chance to beat the Johns brothers would be Dylan Frazier and JW Johnson, but that partnership seems to have no interest in splitting, which really limits Riley’s options.
Anna Bright broke off her partnership with Riley Newman earlier in 2023 and Riley Newman has been playing the free agent game in mixed to some pretty good non-gold success. By dropping Wright, Newman will play the free agent game in men’s doubles and can explore his options for the remainder of 2023 to see what works as we head into 2024.
The other big name option looming over this conversation is Jack Sock. On Jordan Briones’ podcast a while back, Riley Newman mentioned Jack Sock possibly coming to pro pickleball sooner than some may have thought. With the Johns brothers locked into each other for men’s doubles, if Sock were to come to pro pickleball, Riley Newman is currently the best option for Sock and Sock would give Newman the highest ceiling to finally challenge the Johns brothers. We are far from the only ones speculating about a Sock partnership.
What about Matt Wright? This is a guy in his mid-40s still competing at the top level of men’s pro doubles. He’s going to be in demand as a partner, but he has spent the better part of the last three years playing with either Riley Newman or Ben Johns. Matt Wright put together a formidable team with Andrea Daescu at MLP in their short time together. Matt Wright will be a desired partner for anyone that is not the Johns brothers, JW Johnson or Dylan Frazier.
People easily forget, or weren’t even watching pickleball, when Matt Wright was struggling to play the right-side with Ben Johns. He used to be a left-side specialist and can offer versatility in a partnership. It took some convincing to get Wright to be comfortable on the right side. There were times when Ben and Matt were either playing Matt on the left or playing straight up (no stack). Eventually, Wright gave in to sticking to the right-side and it has served him incredibly well for his pro pickleball career. At this point in time, Wright is probably optimized on the right side, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have success on the left, if needed.
The other takeaway from this year and a half long partnership ending is that it is becoming more evident that the year long commitments players have made are far from iron clad. We could make a comment about how society is all about immediate gratification in this social media, Skip the Dishes/Uber Eats era of the world, but the fact is that year-long commitments are hard when the game is changing so quickly. Humans are, by nature, impatient and it is particularly difficult to be patient when it is obvious that something isn’t working.
Tyson McGuffin is a major advocate for the year-long commitments, and he stuck in it with Jay Devilliers in 2022, but it is our expectation that the attempts at year-long partnerships will dissipate in time. We have already seen a handful of year-long partnerships not make it through the first half of the 2023 season so why would any player expect that they or their anticipated partner would stick to the alleged commitment going forward?
As much as it must suck to be the person being broken up with in a pro pickleball partnership, it is great for content and keeping things fresh. The PPA men’s doubles fields have gotten so stale and Riley Newman deciding to part ways from a top 3 partnership could create more intrigue, at least in the short-term. When there isn’t a true rivalry in place to challenge the team at the top, partnership carousels become the drama that keeps things relatively interesting for pro pickleball.
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