It is more expected that we will see results that aren’t as expected at these APPs. While there are top players relative to the rest in the draw, it is very difficult to be consistently better than players you are supposed to be better than. That ability to be better than your peers consistently is what differentiates top players in any sport and it makes what the top players do at the PPAs so impressive. This past weekend was evidence of it not being easy. We saw Parris Todd/Hunter Johnson were unable to go back-to-back and Andrei Daescu/Kyle Yates had to run through a backdraw to double dip for another gold. The top teams mostly reigned supreme this weekend in Daytona, but it wasn’t without a fight from their counterparts. Let’s take a look at the biggest storylines for us from another Florida APP weekend.
1. Brendon Long Getting His Shine (Slim) – Brendon Long has probably been the player, most frequently mentioned by other players, when they are asked who they are surprised was not drafted to MLP. He has had some big wins over the past year and did find a couple of podiums in men’s doubles last year, but he had not had a true breakout performance to date, which may have played a role in teams overlooking him in the Challenger MLP draft. He finally had that breakthrough performance this weekend though, as he and Bobbi Oshiro took gold in mixed doubles. Their run to gold included beating Hunter Johnson and Parris Todd (twice) and defeating Andrei Dasecu and Simone Jardim. Long also picked up a bronze medal in men’s doubles playing with Stefan Auvergne, to cap off his big weekend.
It will be beyond surprising if Brendon is not picked up in the upcoming shuffle draft for the MLP, assuming a couple of teams make moves to drop a male. He was already trending in that direction, but this weekend, makes him the likely first pick among the men’s options for teams. There should be more than a couple of teams looking to shuffle things up at the Challenger level. For the majority of the Challenger teams, he would be an upgrade at the second men’s slot and provide them with what would likely be a strong men’s doubles team and a big upgrade to their second mixed team.
His being overlooked for MLP, could just be attributed to some teams, making what we will call questionable selections, but it should also serve as a reminder to teams, that legacy players with legacy results are not ‘safe’ selections with how fast the game is evolving, and teams at the Challenger level in particular need to be identifying players on the rise. You don’t want to feel like those people who got into crypto after their friend from high school finally convinced them to make the plunge.
It has also been a big couple of weeks for Oshiro, who we highlighted last week, after she pulled off a couple of huge upsets playing along side Sarah Ansboury at the PPA. She followed it up this weekend with the gold in mixed, and a bronze in women’s doubles with Lee Whitwell. She will be another player that MLP teams will be monitoring closely, as she is moving herself into the conversation for one of those last female Premier spots, in the second draft. One of the big questions around Oshiro, seemed to be her mixed ability and this weekend could go a long ways to convincing teams, that she can more than hold up in mixed doubles.
2. Streaming Conundrum (Gritty) – We’re writing about streaming as a second consecutive APP takeaway but that’s because it has to be one of the biggest talking points of the tournament. It is abundantly clear that there is some demand for APP tournament streaming and the APP’s decision to only stream half the tournament continues to baffle me. On just about every single post where the APP advertises its tournament and/or streaming for the tournament, there is at least one person asking about a YouTube stream.
This past weekend in Daytona was even worse than Punta Gorda as the APP only had their streaming available for those subscribed on ESPN+. For all the hoopla about the APP’s broadcast deal, I can’t help but think that the APP has made a major error in both choosing not to stream Thursday and Friday, but also to cut-off a good chunk of their audience with the requirement of a paid subscription service. The PPA has listened to its fans by ensuring that their content broadcast on the Tennis Channel is also available on YouTube. All of MLP’s content, including the semi-finals and finals, was streamed on YouTube. The APP has done the opposite in its quest to secure a broadcast deal for a tour that no longer can said to feature first rate talent.
The APP is choosing to zig when the PPA and MLP are zagging in terms of streaming and, in my opinion, this is to their detriment as well as its players. On Friday, there were a number of fascinating matches that we missed being able to see. Parris Todd/Hunter Johnson almost lost to Riley Bohnert/William Sobek and then lost to Bobbi Oshiro/Brendon Long in the semi-finals. Rob Nunnery/Susannah Barr were beaten by Ewa Radzikowska/Marshall Brown. These are all players who surely want to play in MLP next year or move up to the Premier division. The lack of coverage and ability for owners to watch them is a unquestionably a disserve to their players, and it could result in players being less inclined to choose the APP in the future.
Interestingly, the APP had a non-Center Court streaming on Saturday that had the title for senior pros, but they showed pro matches all day. Was this the APP listening to their fans or a fortunate coincidence?
I have noticed that the APP is doing more fun style social media content but that stuff won’t matter if the players are invisible on the courts. I’m still really curious what the long-term plan is for the APP as it is somewhat baffling how the streaming included as part of the budget cuts. This may sound like sour grapes from a pickleball junkie who just wants to watch more pickleball. However, I can’t comprehend how this lack of streaming helps the APP going forward and why they can’t simply do what they did with the basic stream on Saturday.
3. What is Parris Todd (Slim) – Parris Todd may be the hardest player to figure out in terms of where they rank in the game right now. If she decided to play the second MLP season, at this point, she would be one of the hardest players to slot in. So far this year, she has just played two APP events, and in those events, she has won five gold medals, and a silver. She is the top female player on the APP tour, but after all the defections to PPA tour this year, it is really difficult to discern what exactly that means in the grand scheme of things. She is certainly a Premier division level player in MLP, but I also think it is fair to wonder how she would do if she were the first female taken by a team, and whether she would be better suited as playing the role of the second female on a team, at this point in her career – for what it’s worth, she appears to be fully leaning into the role of a right-sider.
Todd is certainly one of the more talented female players in the game, and has all the tools, but I am also not sure that her game has progressed a ton, after her rapid ascension over the first half of last year. She is a right side player, who is primarily just looking to counter, which she does extremely well. Her game seems to lack attacks, which if she added would allow her to initiate hands battle, and enable her to fully utilize her elite hand speed and power. Without those attacks though, it is difficult for her really insert herself in the women’s doubles games. Also, by choosing not to play a lot of the PPAs, she is missing out on opportunities to get repetitions against the best players in the doubles games, and gain more comfort grinding points out against the top players, which seems to be an important part of any player’s development.
It sounds like Todd is planning to play some PPA events soon, and that should help give us some answers, but for now it is an interesting question to ponder, of where she ranks among the top female players.
4. Senior Pro Staples (Gritty) – Just as it is at the pro level, there is still a steady learning curve for players looking to break into the ranks of the senior pro level. For the most part, we saw familiar faces over the weekend finding their way to podiums with a few less known seniors sprinkled in. In men’s, Mircea Morariu/Paul Olin took down Jose Derisi and mainly plays in Florida senior pro, Jaime Oncins De Oliviera. Interestingly, Matthew Endarra and F.d. Wilder, two names that aren’t probably known to most, came away with a bronze.
In women’s, Jenny Klitch, Senior VP Pro Player Relations and Competition for APP, has been working her way into higher end results in senior pro and she was able to take a quality silver with Eva Welsher after being double dipped by Mary Helen Atkins and Anna Shirley. Natalie Todorovic-Shaw, who we wrote about a little while back, got a bronze with Helen Wilhelm. The mixed side featured very little in the way of fresh names, although Mary Helen Atkins had a strong weekend taking silver there with Scott Moore while Eva Welsher/Jaime Oncins came away with gold. The staple pair of Julie Johnson/Mircea Morariu took bronze.
It’s not easy to break in anywhere and, for the most part, we are still seeing the staples at the top of the APP senior pro podiums.
Fantasy Update: This is 2 consecutive weekends for Gritty, which is what those in the sports world would call a hot start to the year. Gritty is 2 up after a 17-12 win where he swept the gender doubles fields. We believe that is a first in our fantasy draft history to sweep 2 categories in a weekend for 12 total points. Despite the Brendon Long/Bobbi Oshiro gold, the women’s doubles going chalk and the Johnson’s taking a silver propelled the victory. There is a long way to go in the year though.
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