We’re almost done with APPs this year and, overall, you would have to say it has been a pretty successful year. Things looked grim at the beginning of the year when the PPA took away a bunch of players. While the numbers on the YouTube stream may not have grown as well as they would have hoped, there are ardent supporters out there for what they have brought to the table as a legitimate rival tour to the PPA. The APP is upping the ante once again next year, but it will be interesting to see where the tour that tries to “play by the rules” fits into the grand scheme of pro pickleball. One thing is for certain, the quality of their draws has not been an issue for the most part so as long as they can put out a solid product, they should remain relevant.
1. Jorja Johnson’s Streak (Slim) – It appears that Jorja Johnson may be taking her double’s game to another level. This weekend was Jorja’s third straight gold medal performance in women’s doubles. She took gold in Alabama a few weeks ago with Bobbi Oshiro, taking down Lauren Stratman and Maggie Remynse in the gold medal match. Then last week, she and Vivienne David took first in a field that featured the teams of Anna Bright and Parris Todd and Simone Jardim and Andrea Koop. Finally, this week, Jorja partnered with Andrea Koop to take down Simone Jardim and Anna Bright in the gold medal match. It’s interesting because, heading into each of the weekends, you could have argued that Jorja was not favored to win gold in any of these tournaments yet she and her partner won each of the tournaments in pretty dominant fashion – noting the gold match at Hilton Head was very close.
It is very apparent that Jorja is becoming a dominant left side force in the women’s doubles game. She has as much power, if not more, than any other woman in the world, and has the hand speed to pair with that power, which makes her extremely dangerous in hand battles. Also, not coming from a big tennis background, some of her shots and style are not what you would call conventional, in particular her wristy two hand backhand. However, the somewhat unconventional nautre of her game seems to add deception to her shots, as players struggle to get a good read on them. When you pair her with a strong, consistent right side player, she is clearly a favorite to win pretty much any APP tournament at this point. Which is also an impressive statement, as that was the not the case earlier this year, so it also speaks to her continued development.
She still has some inconsistency issues, and probably misses a few more shots than you would want an elite player to, which is why at this point, her having a consistent partner to offset that, is so important. If she can clean up thay consistency side though, and continue to work on the mental game, it would seem that at this point that the sky is pretty much the limit for Jorja Johnson.
2. Vivienne David and Thomas Wilson. Where Partnerships Matter. (Gritty) – We already made Vivienne David a takeaway after last weekend, but we couldn’t help ourselves again. Vivienne and Thomas Wilson went undefeated in mixed doubles and took gold for the second weekend in a row in a draw that featured Jorja Johnson/Dylan Frazier, Simone Jardim/JW Johnson and Andrea Koop/Zane Navratil.
We have been pretty kind to Vivienne David throughout the year as it has been clear to us that her partnerships have been a significant reason for overall lack of success. With Thomas Wilson, we have not been as kind. While we still think Wilson’s partnership with AJ Koller has underperformed relative to our high expectations, Wilson is making serious waves on the mixed side of the game. In addition to his back-to-back APP mixed gold medals with David, it’s easy to forget that Wilson came away with bronze in his partnership with Yana Grechkina at the PPA Cincinnati event. It is not often we see teams outside of the usual stable of PPA players find medals at PPA events.
The talent is undoubtedly there for Wilson and David, but the results haven’t been, which has been partly due to finding the right partnerships. Wilson and David are very good friends, and that vibe has carried onto the courts. They have parlayed that into some recent success. It sounds like they have plans to partner together in the future, but you know after these two tournaments they will certainly want to see more of where this partnership can take them into 2023.
Not to harp on the Dekel Bar is not good at mixed train too much, but Vivienne’s results the past two weekends are more cause for concern with Dekel’s mixed game. The two of them had some good wins as a pair but stringing together consistent stretches was a real problem. The Dekel Bar partnership may not be right for any of the top women in mixed until he figures out the balance of how much court to cover, but there’s no question that Bar was not the right mixed partner to bring out the most in Vivienne’s game.
What matters most after this weekend is that the Wilson/David partnership has been a gigantic success. I’m not saying anything you didn’t know already but, clearly, partnerships matter.
3. Senior Pro Mixed Remix (Gritty) – As is the case in the pro divisions, these bigger senior pro mixed brackets are very deep. It creates quite a bit of parity out there, especially when there are new partnerships happening. Beth Bellamy and Rick Witsken have had a very successful year, but only came away with bronze this past weekend in Hilton Head. Partnerships that didn’t medal include Anna Shirley/Mattias Johansson, Linda Thompson/John Sperling, Helen Wilhelm/Scott Crandall, Nathalie Bagby/Paul Olin and Julie Johnson/Mircea Morariu. Other than Bellamy/Witsken and Johnson/Morariu, it was not a bracket filled with more common partnerships, which lead to some interesting results.
Angela Simon and the lefty Dan Granot ended up with gold while Mary Helen Atkins and Scott Moore came away with silver. That’s a big silver for Atkins, who is not someone that we see on the podium a ton at these senior events. For Scott Moore, he somehow avoids the perils of father time in a game that is rapidly evolving with more talent. Another cheers for parity and some fun with partnership shake-ups, even in the senior pro divisions.
4. Singles Intrigue (Gritty) – This weekend featured another example of the parity we are seeing in the men’s singles brackets across the board. In a field that was really only missing the top PPA guys, we saw Julian Arnold come away with a gold, Hunter Johnson in silver and JW Johnson pulling up the rear with a bronze. Hunter Johnson beat Rafa Hewett, JW Johnson twice and James Ignatowich before losing to Julian Arnold twice. Impressively, Julian Arnold took down Federico Staksrud and Dylan Frazier prior to matching up twice with Hunter. It’s easy to sleep a little on Julian Arnold as his results can have some variance, but his ceiling is high end.
I mean, how are we supposed to figure out what is supposed to happen in these brackets? You need some top guns as regular stapes at the top to ensure there is someone to gun for, but it’s a lot of fun watching when we just don’t know what’s going to happen.
On the women’s side, Devidze came away with gold after she was pushed twice by Anna Bright. It’s noteworthy that Ewa Radzikowska played Devidze to a 12-10, 11-9 loss in their first round match. Radzikowska has some game even in her early forties so it really is just a matter of time before we find these brand new players who are going to make the women’s singles field a different ball game. For the time being, Devidze has formed a singles game that is very formidable against some of the best out there even if this wasn’t as deep a singles field as we hoped for with late withdrawals from Parris Todd and Megan Fudge.
5. It’s a Vibe Continued (Slim) – We wrote an article this weekend about the PPA’s newest venture, the Vibe Pickleball League, which you can read here. At this point, we still have many more questions, than answers. Perhaps, we will get some at the PPA’s announcement this week on November 3rd. We also know that almost all of the PPA contracted players have submitted their names for the Vibe league draft, and no other players have been announced – Lea Jansen, Matt Wright and Lindsey Newman being the outliers in their slow burn reveal.
The one thing we do know with this, is that it means that the tour wars are almost a certainty to continue, and I remain convinced that it is too early in the development of pickleball to have this level of fighting. It is also quite likely to result in the top players being split up among the organizations, which will lead to the top pickleball product not being showcased anywhere, which at this critical juncture where pickleball is just entering the mainstream, seems far from ideal.
With regards to the upcoming announcement on Thursday, I am mainly interested in getting a gauge of what the PPA’s actual interest is in having a pickleball league, as a product. Are they actually interested in creating a league with invested owners, and teams full of the top players, outside of those players they already have under contract? Or are they simply looking to create events, to keep their contracted players too busy to play the MLP events, and bring in some ‘celebrity owners’ to hopefully reduce any envy that the contracted players may have had, about opportunities MLP could be creating?
This year, at least, it has been clear that the PPA’s team events were solely created to keep their contracted players busy and paid, during MLP events, but they did not offer a great product, especially because the drop from the contracted players to the rest of the field was so stark. If the PPA is only doing this Vibe thing to keep their players away from the MLP, which the seemingly rushed nature of this would suggest, it could create a mediocre product and more dissatisfaction from pickleball fans.
Fantasy Update: 21-8 for Gritty this week. It was a spanking buoyed by the singles dominance, getting 11 of a possible 12 points. It’s now back to 5 up on the year for Slim. There’s pretty much no coming back this year for Gritty so it’s about saving face at this point from total dominance of Slim.
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