We were thinking about the rest of the upcoming month and how this is already tournament 2 of a triple header for the month of January. Then we realized that basically every month is going to be like this. It’s going to be a lot of pickleball and we’re seeing with the APP draws that they are going to be smaller and softer without a lot of these PPA players in them. This tournament was initially hosted by Martina Kochli and Steve Deakin, but Deakin has since signed with the PPA on a multi-year exclusivity deal so he is out. The PPA has evidently done a very good job of keeping their players away from the APP’s 2021 season ending tournament as Simone Jardim is the only PPA contracted player in this draw. The APP is supposed to be providing more details about changes to the tour this weekend, but it feels like forever since their strategic partnership with MLP was announced. In this rapidly shifting environment, the APP has been astonishingly slow in taking steps to stay relevant and their very measured approach could prove to be costly in the long run.
Sideshows aside, there is still pickleball to be played this weekend. Slim had a dominating performance in fantasy last weekend, and we’ll have to see if that momentum continues. Slim won the toss but chose to pick second.
(1) Simone Jardim / Andrea Koop (Gritty)
(2) Jorja Johnson (Slim)
(3) Vivienne David / Dekel Bar (Slim)
(4) Dekel Bar / Adam Stone (Gritty)
(5) JW Johnson (Gritty)
Gritty – This might have been the most difficult fantasy draft to date that I can recall. It felt like neither of us had any confidence in a lot of our picks. I’m banking on Simone’s health this weekend because, if she is healthy, this is far and away the #1 women’s team with Andrea Koop. I had to go back to the well with Dekel/Adam this week as one bad week should not make me shy away from them as the clear best men’s team on paper. In spite of Zane’s trip to the finals, John Cincola’s upset and JW’s bronze, I have JW as the first singles player off the board. I’m not sold on Zane’s serve and JW has had Zane’s number recently. I’m buying all the JW stock and not letting a couple of losses to a hot Cincola turn me away.
Slim – I had Jorja Johnson as my number one women’s singles player, and given the overall lack of depth in the women’s singles field I take her at number two overall. With the third pick I go with Vivienne David and Dekel Bar who are coming off a strong second place showing in Mesa. Vivienne continues to show herself to be one the better right side female players in the game and this pick, is as much a bet on her as anything even if it goes against the no Dekel in mixed until he proves it theory.
(6) Zane Navratil (Slim)
(7) Andrea Koop (Slim)
(8) Andrea Koop / Zane Navratil (Gritty)
(9) Dylan Frazier / Rob Cassidy (Gritty)
(10) Lee Whitwell / JW Johnson (Slim)
(11) JW Johnson / Wes Gabrielsen (Slim)
Gritty – Slim did a smart thing scooping up the two almost guaranteed gold and silver medalists in women’s singles. I was not sure where to go in mixed and I’m not loving Zane’s serve suddenly not being nearly the weapon it was, but Koop is the second best mixed player in this field. Something feels wrong about going with Frazier/Cassidy as my second men’s team, but this is the strongest pairing of two individual players that I see outside Bar/Stone. The question is whether leaving the best player on the board in JW Johnson was a bad move even though I had him quite far down on my draft board because of the Wes Gabrielsen partnership.
Slim – Zane might have let the gold medal slip away last week, but he was still right there and I wonder if Gritty overreacted a little dropping him from the top spot, though I am a JW believer, I don’t know if that was a mistake. Still Zane, is solid value with gold medal potential. Andrea Koop does not play a lot of singles but her results are pretty strong when she does, so I scoop her up here as insurance for my Jorja pick. The tenth and eleventh picks, are all about JW Johnson, I think he is clearly the best player in the tournament so I think it is good enough value here, and I believe Lee and Wes are steady enough partners that they will do their part and let him go to work.
(12) Corrine Carr / Vivienne David (Gritty)
(13) John Cincola (Gritty)
(14) Michelle Esquivel / Sarah Ansboury (Slim)
(15) Yu-chieh Hsieh (Slim)
(16) Eden Lica / Andrei Daescu (Gritty)
(17) Jackie Kawamoto / Jade Kawamoto (Gritty)
Gritty – Again, nothing feels good about this draft. I think Carr/David is the right pick, but Carr continues to trend downwards in the pro pickleball world. David’s game is not suited for taking over so Carr is going to have to step up if this team is going to podium. It will be a lot of pickleball for the 40 plus year old Cincola over these two weeks, but his play was more spread out with Medal Match Sunday format the APP is now employing for tier 1 events. Eden/Andrei are another team I don’t feel great about. Lica has stagnated as a player it appears, and leaving a team like Zane/Altaf on the board is questionable. I like Andrei Daescu too much though. I am quite happy to get the Kawamoto sisters at this spot in their first tournament of the year. I had them ahead of Esquivel/Ansboury on my board. They are rock solid together with my only question long term being how all-in on pickleball are they?
Slim – Michelle Esquivel and Sarah Ansboury have more power then most of the women’s teams in this field, and I feel like if Esquivel can find enough consistency this weekend, they will pose a real problem to most of the teams in the field. Taking a player who has never played a pro event before, and just played her first pickleball tournament last weekend, with the 15th overall has to be a fantasy first but I actually feel good about getting Yu-chieh Hsieh here. Hsieh has a very elite tennis background, boasting a WTA 125 doubles title and eight doubles titles on the ITF circuit. At only 28, she is still in her athletic prime, and she was very dominant in winning the women’s 5.0 singles last week in Mesa.
(18) Jade Kawamoto / Dylan Frazier (Slim)
(19) Jack Foster (Slim)
(20) Ryan Sherry (Gritty)
(21) Simone Jardim / Wes Gabirelsen (Gritty)
(22) Zane Navratil / Altaf Merchant (Slim)
(23) Lee Whitwell / Jorja Johnson (Slim)
Gritty – I was sad and a bit surprised to see Jade Kawamoto/Frazier get picked by Slim so I have to settle for Jardim/Gabrielsen, which is not the worst consolation prize at this point in the draft. It’s a tough world for Simone who is settling for a Wes Gabrielsen mixed partnership. Gabrielsen is not a strong mixed player, but Jardim is the best female mixed player in this field when healthy. That could lead to a podium in this field. Also, does this mean we have to be getting a Simone/Kyle Yates reunion at some point? I’m going back to another well in Ryan Sherry. Sher Bear let me down with a weird retirement that does not appear to be injury related as he has been playing quite a bit of pickleball since that retirement last Thursday. After some quality mental training over the weekend in Scottsdale, let’s hope that last week’s retirement was a minor setback leading to a major comeback. Smaller draws are favorable for Sherry.
Slim – I really like the Dylan Frazier and Jade Kawamoto pairing, and would not be surprised at all to see them on the podium this weekend. Jack Foster is one of the streakier singles players out there, I like the upside in the field, at this point in the draft. Zane and Altaf slipping to 22 in this draft, feels like a steal. They are one of the better known commodities in this tournament. Jorja Johnson, continues to improve every weekend, and she has her rock steady partner in Lee Whitwell, who is helping her grow, is this the weekend they make a podium?
(24) Michelle Esquivel / Kyle Yates (Gritty)
(25) Laura Bryan (Gritty)
(26) Dylan Frazier (Slim)
(27) Austin Gridley / Kyle Yates (Slim)
(28) Megan Fudge (Gritty)
(29) Amanda Hendry (Gritty)
(30) Rebecca Ryan / Martina Kochli (Slim)
Gritty – Slim said he did not have Esquivel/Yates on his big board, but I’ll take them as the #6 mixed team. They played well at the APP World Pickleball Open in December and Yates’ game seems to have taken a step up in recent months. My final 3 picks are all women’s singles players. Laura Bryan has not played a tournament before but she appears to have had a fairly decorated tennis career at Michigan. Megan Fudge, wife of Ryler DeHeart (a former pro tennis guy to maybe watch out for), had a very decorated tennis career herself at Illinois. I had Bryan ahead of Fudge due to age, but Fudge has more pickleball experience along with being probably a better singles player in college. Amanda Hendry gets the final nod as she has some singles experience in these pro fields and it’s not crazy to think she has as good of a chance at finding her way to a bronze as any of these women.
Slim – Dylan Frazier has not had great singles results of late, but he has shown he can get some results. Austin Gridley is coming off of his impressive gold medal performance with JW last weekend. In theory, he has a different role to play this weekend, and it will be interesting to see how he and Kyle Yates do. Rebecca Ryan is coming off an impressive gold performance at the World Pickleball Open with Michelle Esquivel, I will be very intrigued to see how she and Martina Kochli do this weekend.
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