With the last tournaments of 2022 complete, we wanted to use the introduction of our final takeaways of the year to say a big thank you to everyone. We are incredibly grateful to every single person who has come to this space over the past year. This is a passion project for us, and it’s been immensely gratifying that there are even a handful of people who care enough to read what we write, comment on the blog and across social platforms, and sometimes even share our content with others. Whether you like what we have to say or not, we truly are thankful to everyone who has taken the time out of their day to read and interact with our stuff. We are simply writing about what piques our interest and the fact that anyone cares the slightest bit what we have to say is weird to think about when we take a step back from all of this.
We also want to thank Pickleball Jan, aka Waggish, for stepping in to help with some of the live blogging towards the end of the year along with providing medal counts. Jan will continue to help with the blog going forward. As always, make sure you follow us across social media (@nmlpickleball) and you can email us at email@example.com. We’re always interested in hearing your thoughts on pro pickleball, feedback about the blog itself as well as any content you may want to see here in the future. We don’t plan on stopping anytime soon and can’t wait to see what the next chapter of this pickleball saga holds. We have been intending to get a consistent newsletter out with our posts and possibly some additional thoughts sprinkled in so keep an eye out for that in the coming weeks. Enough with the pleasantries though, we have pickleball from the weekend to talk about.
1. Simone Jardim Not Done Yet (Slim) – It was a golden finish to the year for Simone Jardim, as she went double gold with Jorja Johnson and Dylan Frazier at the APP in Mesa. Just a little less than a year ago, Simone had announced that she would be retiring at the end of this year, but that is now not the case, and she will be playing tournaments next year. While she may not be the dominant force that she was even just a year and a half ago in pickleball, Simone has demonstrated that she can still be one of the top right side players in women’s doubles or mixed when you put her with a strong left side player.
So it is easy to see why she is not ready to call it a career yet, as she has shown she can still compete and win at the highest level of the game. She is really the perfect compliment to young emerging players, like her partners this weekend Jorja and Dylan, as her steadiness and court experience are invaluable and when partnered with a player who can take some extra court, she is still extremely tough to beat.
Last year it seemed like the grind of the pro tour and life had worn Simone down, both physically and mentally. She was dealing with multiple injuries and did not appear to be having fun out there when she was playing. This year, she appears to have to taken a slightly different approach. Although still a serious competitor, she seems to have focused on having fun a little more as well as taking on more of a mentorship role in many of her partnerships. She has also played a few less tournaments, and more tournaments close to home and family. This approach has been a success from my perspective as she is looks to be re-energized and should be continuing with her career.
It will be interesting to see what Simone ends up doing next year in terms of tournaments. Even if she is not retiring, she has figured out that she can only play so many tournaments with her body. So for somebody like herself that can likely only play a limited schedule, MLP may not be her best option. Also, if Anna Leigh is still looking for partners next year, Simone could be the perfect compliment to her for a few tournament as a fill-in.
2. Jackie Kawamoto’s Strong Showing (Gritty) – The Kawamoto twins, Jackie and Jade, continue to feel underrated and disrespected to a certain degree as pro players. There are probably a multitude of reasons for this – their steady not flashy games, calm demeanors, limited social media and/or abbreviated pro schedule (Orlando was only Jackie’s 7th non-MLP tournament of 2022). As can happen for so many identical twins, the Kawamotos often get lumped together as a package deal, which can make it difficult to create their own identity. If it weren’t for the fact that Jackie is a righty and Jade is a lefty, it would be more of a problem to tell them apart on the court. To highlight their under the radar-ness, less than a month ago The Kitchen put together a fun “Build Your Ultimate Women’s PB Team” with dollar values attached and had the Kawamoto’s as $1 players:
Beginning with the steal of her by the Ranchers prior to the Newport MLP event, Jackie has been carving out an identity of her own in 2022. The Ranchers trade for Jackie led to an MLP title and an MVP award for Jackie, who went undefeated in that MLP event. Looping it back to this weekend, Jackie played with Lea Jansen in women’s doubles and James Ignatowich, her Ranchers teammate, in mixed doubles. She was able to bring home a silver in women’s and secure 4th place in mixed. Both very quality results, outside of her typical partnership with Jade.
The Kawamoto twins already showed this year that they belong at the top level with their bronze at the PPA Cincinnati tournament in September, which is the last time either of them played a tournament. In Orlando, Jackie cemented that she more than belongs with the big dogs. En route to Championship Sunday, she and Lea were able to beat Lucy and Callie, 11-6 and 11-7, in the semi-finals before losing out on Sunday in 4 games to Anna Leigh Waters and Catherine Parenteau. It was a very interesting result to see as I thought going into the event their partnership had a wide range of possible outcomes. We have speculated before that each of the Kawamoto twins may need a more powerful women’s doubles partner to unlock each of their true potential, and Lea Jansen may have proved that to be true this weekend (the Anna Bright MLP partnership was a cheat code for that format so I could only take so much from their two events together).
Jansen noted in their post-game interview how easy it was playing with Jackie who never misses a ball. While that may be hyperbole, it’s a testament to Jackie’s rock-solid game that fits so well with a player like Jansen, who has real weapons but can go be up and down from a consistency standpoint. The consensus opinion on Parenteau is that she the stronger player over Jackie Kawamoto, but Jansen appeared to be playing with more freedom than we had seen in recent months when she was partnered with Catherine. Jackie, by all accounts, appears to be as easy to play with as anyone on tour, at least from an outsider’s perspective.
In mixed, Kawamoto/Ignatowich suffered a heartbreaking loss, 13-11 in the third, at the hands of Lea Jansen and Thomas Wilson in the quarterfinals. They proceeded to beat Allyce Jones/Spencer Smith, Parris Todd/Tyson McGuffin and Irvine/Devilliers before losing to Bright/Loong in 3 games in the bronze. Once again, Jackie’s steady as all hell game fit nicely with the dynamic and evolving mixed prowess of Ignatowich, who appears to be in direct competition with Callie Smith for most fast feet steps that can be taken on a pickleball court in a single day.
That is a strong set of results from one weekend for Jackie. Fairly or unfairly, some fortunate circumstances and quality partnerships outside of Jade have allowed Jackie to separate herself from her twin. Although I still don’t see any glaring difference between Jackie and Jade, it is plausible that Jackie could go quite a few spots higher than Jade as an MLP draft selection, assuming they both submit their names to the MLP draft. In any event, it is evident that Jackie (and Jade) should be considered in high regard in the pro pickleball world. Not that there should have been any doubt of that before this weekend anyway.
3. Callie Smith’s Struggles (Slim) – Callie Smith has been a player we have always been pretty high on at NML, but her results over the second half of the year have given us pause to wonder if we have overrated her a bit, or if other players are passing her by. While she and Lucy Kovalova did manage to pull out a bronze in women’s doubles this weekend, it was only her fourth podium appearance in the last eight tournaments, and they were not very close in the semi-final, losing to Lea Jansen and Jackie Kawamoto 11-6, 11-7.
In the last eight tournaments of the season, Callie only made one Championship Sunday appearance, when she and Lucy Kovalova took gold at the PPA’s Washington DC stop. This is after she and Callie started the year like a house on fire winning the first three PPA tournaments in 2022 and looking like they would be the dominant women’s team this year. It was also interesting that, when her regular mixed partner this year, AJ Koller, partnered with Andrea Koop at the previous stop, Takeya, they took gold in that tournament. Callie and AJ have not found a podium since taking silver at the Tournament of Champions in August, and have had limited success all year.
Callie’s power, fast hands and length, combined with her ultra fiery competitiveness make her a tantalizing player, but it seems like something has just been missing over the last half of the year. The question is, is Callie’s stagnation something that is correctible or have we maybe just overrated her talent a bit, and she is getting passed by as more talent enters the game?
Three areas where I think we have not seen improvement from Callie, which is causing her to fall a little behind, is her overall consistency, lack of varied or deceptive attacks and lack of a backhand. In terms of consistency Callie just seems to miss a few more dinks and balls then a lot of the other top women. In terms of attacks, Callie definitely has some of the best hands in the female game, but she has not really added any varied or deceptive attacks to her game to help her initiate hands battles and gain the upper hand from the start. Callie also still has not developed much of a backhand. Her forehand is one of the fiercest on the female side, but she has struggled to add any sort of a consistent backhand attack, which leaves her particularly vulnerable playing that left side in women’s doubles.
I remain high on Callie’s game, but if she does not work on some of the above issues, I think it is fair to question where she may rank next year among the elite women in the game
4. Sher Bear’s 71 Hour Run (Gritty) – Sometimes you have to keep yourself in check. Ryan Sherry’s self-proclaimed 71, not 72, hour bender left him at rock bottom on Sunday and, clearly, feeling fresh as a daisy by the time Thursday rolled around. Sherry pulled out a silver medal in singles at the PPA Orlando after a semi-finals win over Tyson McGuffin in 2 straight games. A guy that is hard not to root for, Sherry had a classic Shear Bear interview with Hannah Johns after he punched his ticket to Championship Sunday.
Pegged by some as the John Daly of pickleball following his singles gold in North Carolina, Sherry has not been full John Daly mode post-North Carolina. Sherry looks like a different man these days, having dropped about 25 pounds, despite his party bus ways. Although the increased focus on fitness had not obviously translated to more success on the court for the 39-year-old Sherry, he always can make noise at any given tournament. Buoyed by an approximately 5-hour break between his quarter and semi-final match, Sherry showed why he can be so dangerous against Tyson McGuffin. Typically, the grueling singles tournament format is less favorable to Sherry than just about any other legitimate podium contender out there.
With all the influx of new talent into the sport of pickleball, Sherry still may possess the best overall arsenal of shots for any singles player out there in the pro game. The young fellas could learn a thing or two from Sherry, who has developed a wide array of weapons that enables him to compete with younger and more physically gifted players. Those weapons were on full display against Tyson as Sherry went full Toby Keith showing he’s as good once as he ever was.
While a fully rested Sherry is not a matchup anyone probably wants to see, Ben Johns is a particularly bad matchup for Sherry whose rolls don’t bother Ben much at all and Ben keeps points extended, which is tough for Sherry when forced to cover a lot of court for longer rallies. Furthermore, Ben Johns on the verge of a triple crown was probably motivated to ensure he did not lose to the 71-hour bender guy in his late 30s on the Tennis Channel. We have talked at length about Ben’s level of motivation, and it was clear he was motivated to crush Sherry on Sunday.
Sunday’s result aside, Sherry was one of the headliners this past weekend. Even though we will never know how many more performances like this one Sherry has left in him, we will know that the possibility is always out there.
As a side note, major credit to Ben for finishing the year as the definitive #1 player in singles. With the deeper singles talent, Ben has had some minor hiccups, but he keeps finding his way to the top of the mountain. It is not unexpected that Ben has been able to remain at the top of the singles and doubles game for another calendar year. Nevertheless, it is still an extraordinary achievement.
5. Maggie and Hayden Back Again (Slim) – Hayden Patriquin and Maggie Brascia have to be asking what more do they have to do to get some respect around here? After they won gold at the Sacramento APP, with an impressive win over DJ Young and Anna Bright, you would have thought that we would have known better than to sleep on them. But sleep on them we did, as we let them go undrafted in our fantasy draft this week. They made us pay though, picking up an impressive bronze medal in a deep mixed field. Their path to the bronze included two wins over Zane Navatril and Susannah Barr, and they really pushed the gold medallists Dylan Frazier and Simone Jardim in the winner’s bracket final 9-11,11-6,11-9.
It is very clear at this point that we have an quite dramatically underestimated Maggie Brascia as a player, in particular. This is likely because her game isn’t quite as smooth or orthodox as many of the other top pro players. Not only did Maggie pick up the bronze with Hayden this weekend, she and sister Mary, also picked up the bronze in women’s doubles, where they had a couple of impressive victories over Vivienne David and Padegimaite. The results at this point are simply too overwhelming to argue with, as Maggie clearly can get results at the pro level. At only 20 years old, and having played pickleball for just two years now, she also is likely just scratching the surface of her potential. So it will be very interesting to see if she can really build off these strong results at the end of this year, next year.
It sounds like Hayden and Maggie will be playing more tournaments together next year, so hopefully we have learned our lesson and won’t continue to underestimate them as a team, because at this point they have made it very clear that they are an extremely dangerous duo, who should not be taken lightly. They are also a very likable team, who fans want to root for. I know that if we do make the mistake again, we will be sure to hear about it.
6. The Rain Delay Maestro, Stefan Auvergne (Gritty) – The title for this takeaway is a joke, alluding to the fact that Stefan Auvergne’s two best results this year have come at tournaments where brackets were abbreviated due to rain. At the APP Atlanta Metro Open, Stefan came away with a bronze with Brendon Long after knocking off DJ Young/Adam Stone and Kyle Yates/Dylan Frazier in games to 15. In Mesa over the weekend, Stefan and Zane Navratil put together a bronze medal run of their own. The day was not quite as abbreviated, including an 11-5, 15-13 win over Hayden Patriquin and Pablo Tellez, and an extremely tight 11-8 in the third loss to Dekel/JW in the winners bracket final.
Outside of being the rain delay maestro, Stefan Auvergne is a man of mystery to me. Over the past year, he has sprinkled in some quality results, and the eye test indicates that the high-end ability is there. However, without higher end partners, it has been difficult to tell whether Stefan’s middling results are more Stefan related or partner related. Although the jury is still out on that question, this past weekend was another indicator that Auvergne can hang at that elite level when given the opportunity.
His best men’s partners have been this weekend with Zane Navratil, APP Beer City with Julian Arnold and APP Houston with Thomas Wilson. The Thomas Wilson partnership did not go so well, with a 2-2 day and losers bracket loss to Casey Cullen/Ryler DeHeart. However, with Julian Arnold, he got wins over De La Rosa/Wilson, Rettenmaier/Tardio, and Daescu/Lica. Falling short of a medal with a loss later in the day to Rettenmaier/Tardio, Auvergne/Arnold were knocked down to the loser’s bracket by JW/Dekel, who they lost respectably to at 11-9 and 11-8.
Auvergne may be a name to keep an eye on in 2023 depending on what his partner situation is. As a lefty, he’s also an intriguing option if they keep the rally scoring format for MLP (assuming, once again, he submits his name to the draft). I can’t say I’m completely sold on Auvergne, but the signs are there that a breakout of sorts could be on the horizon.
7. Senior Pro Surprises (Gritty) – We have neglected the senior pro results recently, but this weekend the results could not be ignored. There were big surprises in both the men’s and women’s doubles fields, and nothing to report in the mixed after the bracket was cancelled due to rain.
Dayne Gingrich and Dave Weinbach have been a completely dominant senior pro team in 2022. That was not the case in Mesa though, where they not only failed to win gold but they also failed to win silver. They lost in 2 games, 5 and 9, to Scott Crandall and the ageless wonder Scott Moore. In the bronze match, Dayne/Dave lost to Rick Witsken and Jose Derisi, 11-8 in the third. Crandall/Moore took the gold and I have to give another nod to Scott Moore, who is low key one of the more impressive performers in pickleball given his age. With Altaf Merchant coming into the senior pro fold for 2023, we’ll have to see what this Dayne/Dave partnership has in store and whether it will still be as dominant as it was in 2022, assuming they continue to play together. Hopefully whoever Altaf partners with does not form a similarly dominant partnership in 2023.
On the women’s side, it was a real shocker of a gold medal. Jennifer Dawson and Cammy MacGregor not only lost in the gold medal match, but they lost to Takako Tourangeau and Kara Williams, who fought all the way through the loser’s bracket after a first round loss to Julie Johnson and Anna Shirley. Tourangeau/Williams won 5 in a row, including getting the better of Shirley/Johnson later in the day, Helen Wilhelm/Eva Welsher and then double dipping one of the true OG teams of Dawson/MacGregor, 15-12 after it was all said and done. There isn’t really anything in Tourangeau’s fairly extensive pickleball history to indicate this result was in the realm of possibility and Williams is a relative newcomer to the senior pro game in her age 50 year. To be honest, I’ve never seen Kara Williams play though.. So big ups to Tourangeau and Williams for what had to be a completely shocking gold for the entire field.
Bonus Thought: We did not give Anna Leigh Waters a takeaway but, if you missed it, she won another triple crown. She’s good.
Fantasy Update: Slim dominates the double draft weekend yet again. 15-13 in both the APP and PPAs to finish 8 up on the year. Going with Stratman/Koop over Simone/Jorja was the mis-step for Gritty at the APP while Ryan Sherry’s surprise gold pushed Slim over the edge at the PPA. After Gritty went all the way through Punta Gorda without winning a fantasy draft to start the year (5 down), the 8-up finish for Slim cements another year of supremacy in this 2-person fantasy draft.
The fantasy drafts are over for 2022. People want to talk about the grind of the pro tour, but they neglect to discuss the grind of the fantasy draft previews. Talk about being gritty!
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