Another APP tournament in the books. The PPA is back this upcoming weekend with its first tournament of 2022. It’s possible we may be coming around to having all the medal matches on Sunday, but it does just create a really long weekend with these bronze matches on Sunday too. There were some extended matches out there for both bronze and gold yet again, and that’s probably always going to be the case a lot of times. We continue to think the PPA’s Sunday format is superior, even if it does have flaws on its own in terms of fairness due to seeding. It should be noted this Medal Match Sunday format is only going to be present at tier 1 APP tournaments. In case you missed it, the APP announced updated tiering for their tournaments along with their partnership with Intersport. But with all those matches came another set of topics for us to discuss from the weekend.
1. Difficulty to Dominate (Slim) – Until recently, one dominant player could really carry a partnership a long ways, at the pro level. Obviously the other player in the partnership, needed to be very competent but if you had the best player on the court, you generally had a pretty good chance of winning the match. Ben Johns for example could go play the Simi Valley triple crown event, and win with three different partners. Not that Ben still couldn’t win with multiple partners, but it was not thay long ago you could pair Ben with just about anyone who had good consistency on thirds and dinks and be in contention. That is no longer the case. JW Johnson, is also an example of this. Two weekends ago, he and Austin Gridley took gold in Mesa whereas this weekend JW playing with Wes Gabrielsen missed the podium entirely. I think a couple years a go, a JW and Wes partnership, almost certainly would have been on the podium but now Wes’s hands at the very highest level are a little suspect, which can make him vulnerable.
I think what has lead to this shift, is players hands. If one player’s hands are significantly weaker than the other players on the court, that player’s team is at a very significant disadvantage. Players’ attacks and strategy are just so much more advanced now that it makes it very difficult to hide a pair of weaker hands. No longer, can a player kind of hide on the right side of the court and dink cross court and hope not to get attacked.
The silver medal teams, in men’s doubles, at the last two tournaments have, I believe shown the advantage of having two players with elite hands. Last weekend in Mesa, in particular, neither Spencer Smith or Callan Dawson, have elite weapons but they both have excellent hands, which makes them very difficult for opponents to go after. This weekend, Eden Lica and Andrei Daescu took silver, and despite neither player, playing a ton of tournaments, they are always a very tough out for top teams and that is because both players possess top end hands. Now, it’s also not a coincidence that the gold medal the last two weekends have gone to Dekel Bar and JW Johnson, who I think indisputably are the two most dominant male players in these tournaments. You still usually need a dominant player to reach the pinnacle, but unless their partner has elite hands, they are going to have a very hard time getting there these days.
2. What’s up with Women’s Singles? (Gritty) – This is a topic we have touched on in the past. In fact, we have written about it a fair bit. Nevertheless, the ongoing theme of the absence of some of the better players in these small women’s singles brackets will not stop. The APP has a female participation problem in pro women’s singles despite the fact that the APP pays out very well for singles brackets – there are not full payouts unless 8 women register though. Vivienne David is the first person that comes to mind as she has singles chops but has basically been out of singles for the past little while. Without the PPA contracted players, she very well could be winning these brackets.
You can understand why someone like Dekel may not want to grind those big men’s singles brackets. However, the concerns of wear and tear doesn’t apply to the same degreey when we’re talking about such small women’s singles brackets. Andrea Koop got a silver this past weekend after pulling out of the gold match after game 1 due to a leg issue. Koop was healthy enough to win the women’s doubles gold later that day with Simone Jardim. So it can’t be said that wear and tear doesn’t exist at all.
In my view, the cost/benefit analysis on playing singles for some of these players like Vivienne David would seem to weigh strongly in favor of playing. But we are not seeing it. The Kawamoto’s have full-time jobs, but they are players in this bracket who easily could have been playing in the bronze match. There have to be more women out there who can come in as singles specialists and make some noise in these APP tour women’s brackets. Jorja Johnson won freakin’ $2,500 in Boca!!! We’re not seeing it yet but as long as some of the better doubles players ignore the closest thing you’ll find to a free lunch in pickleball, I have to think this will happen.
3. Johnson Triple Crown (Gritty) – Despite young JW’s skepticism of his mom, Julie Johnson, the eldest Johnson was able to complete the Johnson family singles triple crown on Sunday. Jorja, JW and Julie all came away with gold in their respective pro divisions. Although Jorja Johnson was the beneficiary of a retirement from Andrea Koop, the Johnson’s have created a true force across the senior, men’s and women’s brackets in pickleball. Julie Johnson has had strong performances across all three brackets in the senior division since the beginning of 2021 as there are very few senior pros, or really pros in general, that compete at a high level in gender, mixed and singles.
Although JW just does JW things these days and we have come to expect results, Jorja has really shown that her ceiling could be quite high as a pro player. She is playing a bunch of singles and we should expect her to make some good money as a teenager playing singles at APP events this year. Her doubles game is also progressing well and I’m sure it does not hurt that she consistently gets elite play on a day-to-day basis. She is going to be playing with Lauren Stratman at this week’s PPA event and you have to expect she’ll be one of the first choices for women who need partners if she is available to be scooped up. Maybe the AJ Koller of the women’s field for 2022, let’s say.
Watch out for the Johnson family. As if you didn’t already know that.
4. Kawamoto Reminder (Gritty) – The Kawamoto’s stormed back onto the pickleball scene in a big way over the weekend. Neither sister had played a tournament since the PPA Texas Open at the end of September last year where their two losses came against powerhouse teams in Kovalova/Jardim and Irvine/Parenteau. The Kawamoto’s came away with a silver medal in Boca Raton on the weekend where their two losses were to Koop/Jardim, both in 3 games. The Kawamoto’s also had strong mixed performances, especially Jade and Dylan Frazier who took bronze. The Kawamoto’s were already a takeaway for us at one-point last year, but we had to write about them this week as they are the best women out there who aren’t consistent presences on the pickleball tour – Andrea Koop sort of fits the bill and Maggie Remynse is another name, but at this point I want the Kawamoto’s over Maggie Remynse.
As noted above, they have full-time jobs, which makes things more difficult. They only played 8 tournaments in 2021 and they apparently only have plans to play about 1 tournament a month in 2022. They are so tough as a partnership because they are very steady, play fantastic defence and, most importantly, have quick hands. Neither of them has anything that truly stands out as a weapon, but they don’t need it against most teams. I would really like to see Jackie be able to roll her backhand dinks with 2-hands and Jade use that roll even more up at the kitchen, but how much can I ask for when these two aren’t spending all their time figuring out the game? Imagine if they played as much as some of these other women on tour do.
The APP and MLP may be wise to find a way to ensure the Kawamoto’s play more of their events. They have already lost too many females to the PPA, and they should try to secure whatever new female talent is out there to as great an extent as they can.
5. Kyle Yates Tantrum (Slim) – It all started with the play below. It seems pretty obvious, to me at least, that JW is just making a pickleball play, that we literally see thousands of times, looking to try and insert himself in the play by looking for a ball to poach that is headed to Whitwell. Kyle however after the play asks the ref for a distraction call. All of which you can watch in the clip below:
Kyle’s reaction to this was, in my opinion, wild. Though I think Kyle and Michelle were already frustrated with the ref over a missed foot fault call on Lee Whitwell a few points earlier (How many times will refs miss Whitwell’s foot faults on ernes?). First off, as I stated above, what JW is doing above literally happens thousands of times, if not millions times. I was shocked that Kyle asked for a distraction and if that is a distraction, there is a distraction on a countless number of plays, particulary in mixed. Secondly, is there a player less likely to try and intentionally distract his opponent than JW? I honestly can’t comprehend thinking that JW Johnson, of all people, was trying to intentionally distract you.
It continued to spiral from there for Kyle, as he went on full tilt after this and the match ended rather quickly, but not before he wiped himself out on match point trying to poach a ball in front of Michelle. After he picked himself from his spill, he did congratulate his opponents, but then went after the referee, apparently for having called the score too quickly, all match while they were serving. I think the ref actually handled the situation very well. You can see this all in the clip below:
In the words of one infamous pickleball pro, it was “not a good look” for Mr. Yates.
(Update 7:35 pm EST: as some readers have pointed out in the comments and privately, we note this is not the first time we have seen these type of complaints from Yates at tournaments – (9:25 am EST, Jan 25: Watch this from 2019 Golden State Championships where Yates gets a ref replaced with a similar complaint about calling the score too quickly).
Fantasy Update: Tight week but Slim squeaked out another victory, 15-14. The difference came down to Koop/Navratil losing to Jade Kawamoto/Frazier to go to bronze. Gritty got zero points in the mixed and women’s singles categories while Slim only got one point combined from women’s doubles and men’s doubles.
Slim is already 2 up on the year.
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