Everyone loves lists and we are sure there will not be any disagreement with the definitive NML Pickleball pro pickleball rankings. We plan to put these rankings out periodically and we are separating them into three parts – singles, gender doubles and mixed doubles. We will have the gender doubles and mixed rankings later this week. We may come out with our senior pro rankings at some point but, for now, you’re stuck with only the younger pros. Without further ado, please enjoy!
Top 5 Men’s Singles
- Ben Johns – The undisputed top player. The last time he didn’t top a singles podium was July 2019 at the Beer City Open versus Tyson McGuffin, so he is coming up on a 2-year winning streak. He has only once been forced to come back and play a game to 15 in the gold medal match in this undefeated tournament streak, when Tyson put up a heroic effort in the gold medal match, to take it to a game to 15, but the energy required to do that unfortunately left Tyson unable to finish the game to 15. Ben just physically and mentally wears down his opponents.
- Zane Navatril – He had a disappointing US Open, but his results this year clearly have earned him this spot in the rankings. He obviously is grinding and working on his game. We see this in his innovative serves that are clearly among the best in the game and have given him a big advantage over many of his opponents. I am curious as opponents see his serve more and more players add similar serves, whether he will be able to hold on to this spot. I think more consistency to his overall game is still needed.
- Tyson McGuffin – Tyson’s lack of continued development in his singles game has seen his standing in the singles world slip a bit. We have been mystified by his refusal to add a backhand passing shot to his singles game, especially when he has mentioned on his podcast that he has fiddled around with one. Our opinion has been that a backhand pass is his only potential avenue to close the gap with Ben, and now as more young, athletic players with the ability to pass from both sides have entered the game, we have seen it cost him that consistent podium spot. He also might want to consider changing or adding variety to serve, which is clearly no longer tops in the game. His continued elite conditioning, competitiveness and confidence keep him a consistent threat though.
- Jay Devilliers – Devilliers is a high ceiling, low-ish floor guy at this point, at least relative to the top 3 guys on the list. Prior to this past calendar year, Tyson and Ben never lost. Yes, there is a bit more competition now than there was even a couple of years ago but Devilliers shouldn’t be losing on the same day to Jack Foster and John Cincola (although Cincola did beat Tyson earlier this year at the World Pickleball Championships). It appears that Devilliers continues to improve his singles game with his backhand pass being his most improved weapon from the start of 2020. He could stand to do a lot more with his serve though, which would help make his results more consistent.
- Gabriel “Baby Kyrgios” Joseph – A great, young, explosive athlete who has elite passing shots from each side. While he is playing a decent number of events this year, one has to wonder if he might not become a consistent podium presence if he played even more with those additional tournament repetitions.
- Knocking on the Door: AJ Koller – He keeps getting close with a couple of 4th place finishes at some of this year’s bigger events, but he has yet to break through and make a podium.
- Why Don’t They Play More: Collin Johns and Dekel Bar – Dekel has only played 2 single events this year earning a silver medal at Red Rock and had to withdraw from the Florida Grand Slam. Prior to that the last event Dekel had to played was the PPA Championship where he took silver. It seems odd that he does not play more, when it seems like he could be a consistent podium presence. Collin has only played one singles tournament in 2020 and 2021, the PPA Championship where he got 4th, but on the occasions he has played he has always performed at a top level.
- The 40 Plus Crew: John Cincola and Juan Arraya – We have talked about John Cincola quite a bit and we do have similar questions about his serve as we do with Zane, but we wanted the highlight Juan Arraya as well. The 35 plus divisions are silly for doubles but when it comes to singles for the 40 plus crowd to compete with the young folk is impressive. Arraya’s first pickleball tournament was September 2020 and he’s already going pretty deep into big tournament singles fields.
- Best Training Program: Ryan Sherry – Sherry gets a whole separate category to himself. He has an extensive tennis background but the fact that he gets the results he does is still perplexing. He’s not in bad shape but he’s not in particularly good shape for a 38 year old either. He does not come to the net like just about all the top players do on the men’s side. He injured himself at the Delray tournament but he has wins over Tyson, AJ Koller, Frank Anthony Davis, John Cincola and Eden Lica. Sherry has played Ben Johns to three games on two occasions. So how does he do it? The biggest outlier we see from him is his mental preparation. If you follow him on Instagram, Sherry parties like no one else out there in the pickleball world, and he self-describes this as mental preparation for tournaments. This has to be the reason he can compete the way he does in singles.
Top 5 Women’s Singles
- Simone Jardim – She lost to Irina at the US Open and Catherine Parenteau has been knocking on the door of her throne as top dog in singles. Simone said on a FB live chat after the US Open that she does not know how long she is going to continue playing singles for at her age but we are be taking Simone out of our number one spot until her losses in singles become more than outliers.
- Catherine Parenteau – It was a surprise to see Parenteau off the podium altogether at the US Open but it is only more recently that she has been that true threat to take down Jardim in singles. I expect there is more consistency to be had here and the one off from the US Open is not enough for us to change our opinion of her being the #2 player in singles right now.
- Irina Tereschenko – Tereschenko won gold at the US Open and her steady play means she doesn’t typically have bad losses in singles. She has had some recent losses to Callie Smith, Michelle Esquivel and Lea Jansen, but those aren’t what we would consider to be bad losses. The US Open gold was definitely surprising but she is still always a podium threat.
- Vivienne David – Both our #4 players are the high ceiling, low floor types. David’s all around game continues to improve and the singles side of things is no exception to that. We are not sure why she did not play singles at the US Open but she has two bronze medals to her name at bigger events this year, including wins over Catherine Parenteau and Lea Jansen. The two of us are not in complete agreement with this ranking but we definitely both love the upside that she has, which is ultimately why we settled on her at this spot.
- Michelle Esquivel – Esquivel has some of the best ground strokes out there but her singles game is limited by how much she plays on the baseline. It’s a testament to her groundstrokes that she can get the results she does without coming to the net but it limits her ceiling as a player. She had an unfortunate calf strain in preparation for the US Open and things won’t get easier for her physically with this being her age 35 year. Her results were too steady for us to leave out of the top 5
Knocking on the Door: Callie Smith and Lea Jansen – Callie is a player we have always thought could do well in singles if she started playing more and the results are starting to come. Tyson actually mentioned on his podcast that he gave Callie some tips during the team event at the World Pickleball Championships in December and it seems that her results have improved since that time. The biggest thing in women’s is for players to get to the net and in what we have seen from her play she is doing that more.
Jansen is a tantalizing talent and maybe that US Open silver is the breakthrough she needed. The results have not been as consistent as they need to be but she comes to the net as much, if not more, than anyone on the tour. Her mobility on the court is elite at women’s level but for whatever reason she hasn’t been able to put it all together consistently. Not yet, at least.
Why Don’t They Play More: Kaitlyn Christian and Anna Leigh Waters – We had disagreement here on whether to put Christian in our top 5. She is still playing pro tennis so has only played one tournament in the last calendar year and she didn’t even play singles there. However, she come through the back draw to beat Tereschenko in California prior to COVID and she could be the #1 singles player in the game if she wanted to. She is able to get to the net on a regular basis to put that pressure on her opponents and, again, that’s the biggest separator for the women’s singles game at this point.
Anna Leigh benefited from some draw luck with the Esquivel injury and Jardim withdrawal at the US Open. However, she still had to beat Parenteau to come away with a bronze and that is no small feat. She hasn’t played much singles, but you know she’s got the mobility to do what is necessary in singles. It’s seems like it is simply a matter of whether she wants to put that physical toll on her body with all the pickleball and soccer that she plays already.
Best Training Program: While Callie Smith has her workout Wednesday, there is not anyone on the women’s side who shares publicly they can match the Ryan Sherry mental preparation advantage.
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