There might not be as many higher end pros at these APPs anymore but that does not mean their tournaments are not interesting. It also looked like they were a good number of pro players in the YouTube live stream chats who simply cannot get enough pickleball and were interacting like anyone else on the weekend. There may have been some debates as to the quality of the men’s doubles play on Saturday, but that is besides the point. The APP Tour is giving opportunities for lesser-known players to shine on a bigger stage and that is exactly what happened this weekend in Mesa.
1. Andrei the Giant (Gritty) – Andrei Daescu is not a lesser-known player. He was the only men’s player at the APP Mesa tournament that is currently on the roster of a Premier division MLP team. However, we don’t see a ton of Andrei Daescu at the bigger tournaments. He has played primarily APP events and, while he played close to a full tour schedule in 2022, his choice to forego the bigger events often keeps him out of the spotlight. The big Romanian isn’t a flashy player, but he just gets the job done.
Daescu came away with two gold medals in the doubles events this weekend and played the singles bracket. Both gold medals were takeaway worthy for different reasons. Starting with his men’s doubles win, Daescu was supposed to play with Andreas Siljestrom, who had to withdraw from the tournament due to an injury. Pesa Teoni, a local Arizona player whose partner also had to pull out due to injury, got a big opportunity to link up with Daescu in a fairly soft men’s doubles draw.
The men’s doubles fill-in went much better than the MLP Challenger opportunity Teoni fell into two weekends ago even though Teoni/Daescu had to work to get that W. They were close to losing to DeHeart/Nunnery in the winners semi-finals, won in 3 in the winners bracket final against Sobek/Keenum and then avoided the double dip against the Johnson’s in the gold, winning 15-2 to close it out.
Despite the soft men’s field, Daescu showed he was clearly the best men’s player in this field and took a guy who hasn’t seen those high-pressure pro reps to a gold medal – people do not realize this is Teoni’s 4th year of playing pro brackets. Daescu is large but he doesn’t play like Dekel Bar or Jay Devilliers. He’s more of a steady Eddy left-side player that can put pressure on teams with his length. Teoni played his role very well considering the stakes involved and added pop to Daescu’s right, which is something he can miss in some of his past partnerships with say, an Eden Lica.
The mixed win with Susannah Barr may have been more impressive for Daescu and Barr. Andrei is not the best mixed player around but he’s so solid that he can get results with the right partner. Daescu/Jardim have been bested twice by Parris Todd and Hunter Johnson this year by scores of 11-8, 11-4 and 11-7, 11-5. The script was flipped this weekend with Barr as they beat Todd/Johnson twice, first in the winners bracket final and then in the game to 15 after losing 9 and 10 in 2 straight games. Outside of the Todd/Johnson matches, Barr/Daescu did not give up more than 5 points in a single game.
I had not realized that Susannah Barr had not won an APP gold medal in about a year and a half before this won with Daescu. I also had not realized Daescu had been handily beat by Todd/Johnson with a player in Simone Jardim that probably every single person would consider to be a better overall player than Susannah Barr. Barr played steady all weekend in mixed along some savvy aggressiveness that helped propel them to a big-time gold medal.
The double gold medals this weekend really speak to Daescu’s ability to mesh and elevate the play of different partners. It is what a big, left-sided guy should be doing. Yes, it is only a smaller APP event, but there aren’t a lot of players in pickleball you could put in Daescu’s situation this weekend and get two gold medals out of it.
2. Pesa Pays Off (Slim) – Pesa Teoni is a player who has flashed high level potential for a few years now, but hasn’t seemed to be able to put it together for full tournaments. Going back to Teoni and Daniel De La Rosa’s run at the 2021 Red Rock Open, he has displayed a great deal of potential which was something we noted in our 2021 Under the Radar players piece. For whatever reason, Pesa has not progressed past being a player that might upset a better player’s day, into a true podium threat.
He also has not had a lot, if any, partnership opportunities with a player of Andrei Daescu’s caliber, so this weekend was a massive opportunity for him after Andreas Siljestrom had to pull out with an injury. Teoni definitely capitalized by capturing gold with Andrei. His best partner prior to Andrei has probably been De La Rosa, but despite every pro player loving De La Rosa’s potential, Daniel has not shown that he is a player capable of reaching the podium in pro events, so this weekend was a significant step up for Pesa.
Pesa certainly had an advantage playing with the best male player in the field in Andrei but he played his role well, and you have to imagine that he was also feeling some pressure knowing that he was playing with the best player, something that he is not used to. Pesa, however, showed excellent fortitude rebounding from a very poor third game in the gold medal match, to play excellent in the game to 15 as he and Andrei dominated that game to take gold.
Pesa is also one of the better players on the pro scene these days that does not come from a high level tennis or racquet sport background which makes his success more impressive, it also makes you wonder if his development curve might be a little longer, and if he might not have a few more levels to go.
Teoni got an opportunity to play in the Challenger division at MLP Mesa, filling in for Siljestrom the first time, but it did not go that well for him. It will be interesting to see if his success this weekend with Andrei opens the door to some new partnership opportunities for Pesa. Once players show that they can get the job done, other players tend to come calling, so this weekend may have opened some new doors for Pesa. As a lefty who plays the right side, Pesa could potentially be an intriguing partner for a quite a few male players. Between his win this weekend, and getting pickled up by Arizona in the MLP Challenger League, the next few months will really provide Pesa with a great opportunity to take his pickleball career to the next level.
3. Parris Questions (Slim) – Parris Todd, has made some interesting decisions this year. She elected not to play MLP this year, and has chosen to skip all but one of the PPA stops so far as well. The rumor is that these decisions are largely centered around appearance fees or lack thereof for her. She has instead decided to play primarily APP Tour events this year, where she likely figured she could dominate and win some triple crowns. Her year started off on this track as she won the triple crown at the APP’s first stop of the year in Punta Gorda, followed that up at the next stop with two golds, and a silver in mixed at the second stop in Daytona.
After Daytona, she played her first PPA at the Florida Open where she partnered with Riley Newman and Anna Bright, but failed to make the podium with either of those partners. Then this weekend in Mesa, she failed to make the podium in women’s singles, dropping out after losing her semi-final match to Megan Fudge, and she and Hunter Johnson came up short against Andrei Daescu and Susannah Barr in the mixed final. She did win another gold medal with Simone Jardim in women’s doubles. Losses happen, and it is not really fair to put too much stock into a few results, but my eye test is also telling me there has not been that much noticeable improvement in Parris’s game over the last few months.
You also can miss a lot trying to judge things off of social media, but Parris is fairly active on social media, and there hasn’t been a ton of posts or stories of her grinding out practice sessions. More recently, there seems to have been more private jets than high level play or practice – although she is travelling a lot with the Johnson twins and presumably practicing there.
It is still early, but it seems fair to start asking the question of whether or not Parris has made a mistake by skipping most of the top events, as the early results show that her play may be plateauing or even dropping off. With her pickleball career being really in it’s infancy, I can’t help but wonder if she is putting the cart before the horse. Whether she shouldn’t be grinding more and focusing on getting repetitions against the highest level of competition to allow her game to keep growing rather than on managing her brand.
4. Sobek Out of Nowhere (Gritty) – There was only one podium for William Sobek this weekend, but that does not mean he didn’t have a successful weekend. Sobek had his best results as a pro getting 5/6th in singles, 4th in mixed and a bronze in men’s doubles. The results have been solid in 2023 across the board for a kid who has played a lot of pickleball all the way back to 2016, and has never really been someone who jumps out as a player that I would consider as having a high ceiling. A William Sobek takeaway was not something I ever expected to be in the cards for 2023, but he is another example of the younger generation having more room for growth than we might expect.
William Sobek comes from the Rosti Sobek school of pickleball. Rosti is William’s father and is the Oxford dictionary definition of a banger. Rosti runs the Sobek Pickleball Academy in Key West Florida and, honestly, I have always wondered what gets taught at his academy since watching Rosti and William play in the 5.0 finals at the 2019 US Open – yes, we both watched this match at the time it happened.
William never banged quite like his father, but he sure has come a long way since that 2019 US Open. William has a unique style of play. He’s not what you would describe as quiet with his movement and his technique is not the prettiest. Sobek’s best source of offense is being very aggressive moving up through the transition area, which is usually not as effective at higher levels.
What is evident from watching William this weekend (his Dad streamed his singles and mixed stuff too) is that there has been a gradual, yet significant, improvement even in the last calendar year. He’s not a big guy but he’s covering a good chunk of court, and the unique ways he creates offence from transition is troublesome for opponents, especially at this APP level of play. Most importantly, his consistency was solid across the board and the hands held up well.
Christian Keenum played a very solid, right-side role that allowed William did his thing of towing that line of being too maniacal on the court. Sobek/Keenum beat two of the best teams in the draw, Auvergne/Long and the Johnson’s, and were almost able to beat the gold medalists Daescu/Teoni. They ran out of magic after winning game 1 over the Johnson twins, but it was the most surprising podium of the weekend.
In mixed, Sobek and Alli Phillips were able to get a 4th place finish with wins over Challenger players, Shelby Bates/Ryler DeHeart, Kyle Koszuta (not a Challenger player) and Christa Gecheva and Megan Fudge/Rob Nunnery. They lost twice to Milan Rane and Brendon Long, but they were right in both of those matches. In singles, Sobek got a couple of quality wins over Andrei Daescu and, Arizona up and comer, Nico Montoya. A lot of quality wins.
Sobek is usually around these singles draws getting decent quality wins, but now the doubles results are coming. He won the Boca Raton shootout with Christian Keenum. Beat Truong/Auvergne, Bates/Yates, Fudge/DeHeart and almost took down Todd/Johnson at the APP Daytona when partnered with Riley Bohnert. At this point, Sobek is not only competitive, but he is beating players I would expect to be beating him.
Maybe those expectations on young William need a readjustment.
5. Senior Pro Legacy Players (Slim) – We have seen a few senior pro players keep themselves at or near the top of the Senior Pro game for a number of years now, but it is starting to look like the influx of new players at that level and father/mother time may finally be catching up to them. This weekend we saw Scott Moore miss the podium in both Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles, something that almost never used to happen. He did, however, make the podium in both of those events at the Super Senior Pro level, which really serves as a reminder that it has been impressive that he been able to stay relevant at the Senior Pro level for as long as he has.
Jennifer Dawson is another player who has been dominant at the Senior Pro level for years now too, and this weekend she had to fight her way to a bronze in women’s doubles and missed the podium in mixed doubles.
One player to watch for on the Senior Pro seen is Kris Heddings. The Arizona local made his APP Senior Pro debut this weekend and took home gold in Senior Men’s Doubles with David Furman. Heddings is a player who can still pick up multiple wins in Men’s Pro Doubles draws as we saw him play on center court with Pesa earlier this year, so that is a good indicator that he should be a force at the Senior Pro Level. The power Heddings can generate with his forehand is probably not matched at the senior pro level, and his hand speed is right up there with the best of them. It would be fun to see Dayne Gingrich and Dave Weinbach try to test those hands.
Fantasy Update: A 15-11 win for Slim this weekend means that we are back to all square. A good decision on Teoni/Daescu and Barr/Daescu along with Salome being able to double dip for gold from the backdraw allowed Slim to overcome Gritty’s lead and he will look to get back to his usual front runner position come next weekend after Red Rock.
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