Rob Nunnery called the APP Tour “the little engine that could” on the latest episode of the ‘It Feels Right’ podcast where he and Adam Stone also discussed the possibility of MLP cancelling their final scheduled event of the year in San Clemente. It is not known to us whether the APP is a legitimately profitable endeavour right now, but Nunnery described the APP as “financially responsible” on the podcast.
You can take issue with their lack of streaming, the sometimes weird choices for camera angles and that they are apparently switching to rally scoring with no back draw for 2024, but you cannot deny their ability to stay afloat amidst all the pro pickleball chaos in 2023. Some of the MLP signed players also have it written in their contracts to specifically allow them to play APP’s in 2024. Who knows where the APP fits into the 2024 pro pickleball landscape, but that’s juts par for the course when it comes to the general future of pro pickleball.
1. Emerging Talent – Whether it was intended by them or not, the APP has become the stomping ground for up and coming pros to cut their teeth. Despite all the money being thrown around the pickleball landscape, the amount of new talent coming into the game is what will keep the APP viable as a combined pro and amateur event. There are a small handful of well-known pros that have more or less dominated the medal stand at APPs in 2023 – Andrei Daescu, Susannah Barr, Rob Nunnery, Parris Todd, Simone Jardim and Megan Fudge. However, outside of the top heavy results on the APP, it is a western scramble omelette to figuring out who the next tier of players are.
The Houston Open was one of the deeper APP events in the past few months in terms of how many teams had a legitimate shot of hitting a podium. In singles, things are always a crapshoot and we saw Quang Duong and Ronan Camron make their way to Championship Sunday. In doubles, there are a plethora of players entering the sport and getting better at a rapid pace as we continue to see players in the spotlight that we didn’t have on our radar at the beginning of the year.
Those relative newcomers were all over the place in Houston. Tammy Emmrich/John Cincola reached their first Championship Sunday together as Emmrich was also able to capture a podium in women’s doubles with Mari Humberg. Jack Munro/Megan Fudge were heartbreakingly close to Championship Sunday in two separate matches, but still ended up with a mixed bronze medal. Kyle Yates/Jaume Martinez Vich ran through the backdraw to secure a bronze medal. Austin Gridley/Allison Harris ended up in 4th place in mixed and Genie Erokhina/Riley Bohnert got 4th place in women’s. Heck, even a more “veteran” team, Rachel Rettger/Christa Gecheva, to use the term loosely, had a solid run with good wins, including over Fudge/Barr.
Of note, Rob Nunnery/Andrei Daescu keep trucking along as did Barr/Daescu, Barr/Fudge and Glozman/Truong, but the margins are so small outside of those top teams on the APP. Even Vivian Glozman/Alix Truong are a new team that was formed with Glozman being very new to the pro pickleball scene.
On the flip side, there were a bunch of quality players that didn’t come close to sniffing a medal this weekend. Andre Mick/Jason McNulty have multiple podiums in 2023 and they went 0-2. Scarpa/Dow lost in round 1. Jack Foster/Martin Emmrich have a recent medal in men’s doubles as a pair and they went an ordinary 2-2. The MLP Challenger MVP, CJ Klinger, did not medal in men’s or mixed nor did his MLP teammate, Ewa Radzikowska. The Johnson twins did not podium together in men’s nor did either of them reach the podium in singles.
This is going to keep happening so long as pro pickleball is a viable career option for talented racquet sport players. The next tier of players may be more of a schmozzle than ever.
2. The Class of the APP – Parris Todd and Simone Jardim have been just about as dominant as a team can get on the pro tour, but it is clear that Andrei Daescu/Rob Nunnery are the class of the APP in 2023. Even though there has been dominance, it has been hard to determine what being dominant on the APP Tour really means in the grand scheme of things. Look at the Atlanta Bouncers MLP team that went 0-3 at the first event in Atlanta. While Parris/Simone did not look out of place, they went 1-2 and did not appear to be an above average women’s team after being picked in rounds 1 and 2.
Much like Simone/Parris, Rob Nunnery and Andrei Daescu have had limited opportunities to test their mettle against the best players in pro pickleball. They had a great run at the Beer City Open where they beat Pablo Tellez/Federico Staksrud, who Collin Johns dubbed the #3 PPA men’s doubles team this year. Earlier in the week prior to the Houston event, Nunnery/Daescu got another opportunity to see how they stacked up against some non-APP competition at a moneyball pro player showcase for the opening of a new country club in Florida. The top prize for the winners in each gender division was $25,000.
To what was likely a lot of people’s surprise, Nunnery/Daescu pushed JW Johnson/Dylan Frazier to the brink of a loss in the gold medal match. They had multiple match point opportunities up 10-6 and 10-8 in the third. Although they eventually lost to the #2 men’s team in pro pickleball, that is consecutive non-APP events where Nunnery/Daescu have proven they belong in the conversation of top men’s doubles teams in pro pickleball. We have said it before, but the ability to exhibit dominance at any level of pro pickleball is no small feat. Being utterly dominant, which is what Nunnery/Daescu were once again in Houston, is a different conversation than simply winning some tournaments here and there.
Andrei Daescu is an MLP champion and has proven to doubters that his APP dominance in men’s and mixed is not meaningless. Rob Nunnery, who just might be optimized as a right side men’s player, has demonstrated he can be an elite men’s doubles player. It isn’t known if Nunnery/Daescu will continue playing together in 2024, but it is fun to see two guys balling out for everyone to see away from the tour that is sometimes mocked as being irrelevant.
3. Tournament Fatigue? – This is a speculative takeaway but, as we come to a close on the 2023 season, a couple of the double dips over the weekend can be a reminder that tournament fatigue is real. Susannah Barr had to double dip in mixed (with Andrei Daescu) and women’s (with Megan Fudge) to come away with another double gold weekend. As easy as it may sometimes seem on the outside for these top players to dominate at APPs, you still have to win every tournament weekend. How difficult it is to stay mentally focused even when you are better than literally every team in the field is so difficult. That’s what makes what Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters do on a weekly basis so incredibly special.
Barr/Daescu lost to Allison Harris/Austin Gridley 13-11 in the third in the main draw and barely clawed their way back to gold before regrouping and steamrolling Cincola/Emmrich on Sunday. Fudge/Barr lost to Christa Gecheva/Rachel Rettger in the main draw on Saturday and also had to scratch and claw for their bronze and gold medal match wins. The wins are a testament to the resilience of Barr, Fudge and Daescu while also serving as a reminder of the difficulty of needing to perform at a high enough level to win every single match you play, even if we are 10 months into the calendar year.
Fantasy Update: It is a 14-10 win for Gritty this week, buoyed by the 8-2 score in the singles matchups this weekend. It didn’t help Slim that Megan Fudge was so frustrated with Salome Devidze’s horrible line calling that she withdrew after losing the winner’s bracket final. We missed 6 total points on our selections, which included Ronan Camron’s silver, Mari Humberg/Tammy Emmrich’s bronze, Jaume Martinez Vich/Kyle Yates’s bronze, and Tammy Emmrich/John Cincola’s silver in mixed. We are all tied up for the year once again with only a couple of tournaments remaining on the schedule.
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