One more tournament in the books that officially closes off the first 6 months of the calendar year in pro pickleball. The APP tournaments generally have more varying results, but this weekend we had one of the more across the board set of unexpected results for the entire year. The schedule sets up for a very long break of one weekend before the MLP draft scheduled for July 12th and then we get right into the PPA Denver event. No rest for the weary, especially some of those APP players trying to double dip in these PPA and APP events. Nobody said playing a professional sport was supposed to be easy.
1. Parris Todd’s Statement (Gritty) – It was a statement weekend for Parris Todd at the APP Newport Beach Open. With the news of Todd returning to the MLP player pool, the question turns to Parris’ place in the MLP Premier division. If anyone has a question as to whether Parris is a Premier player, it is a silly one. However, her limited number of events playing on the PPA Tour makes it difficult to sort out where she fits in for MLP.
Parris went 3 for 3 in gold medals this past weekend, taking the singles crown, women’s doubles with Simone Jardim and mixed with Hunter Johnson. In her last chance to show out before the MLP draft, Parris gave the owners one weekend of dominance on pro pickleball’s 2nd tier tour.
It has been an up and down year for Parris. It looked like it was going to be cruise control to gold medals at the beginning of the year but that has only been the case in women’s doubles. She and Hunter Johnson have not had a dominant run in mixed, but this weekend they were able to find their way to a gold medal again, with their tightest match being the semi-finals against twin brother Yates Johnson and Simone Jardim.
It was a somewhat statement for Hunter Johnson as well, considering he is right on the cusp of being a Premier player but hasn’t had the top end results on the APP Tour consistently in mixed or men’s. Hunter failed to medal once again with twin brother Yates this past weekend making that 1 podium in their last 4 attempts together, but the gold in mixed was a promising sign for a player with a ton of talent.
Parris/Simone took gold once again as they are undefeated in women’s doubles this year. Although, Todd made possibly the worst line call we have ever seen on a stream in an important moment for pro pickleball in the winners bracket final against Fudge/Barr. Down 8-10-1 in the third game, Todd called a Barr overhead out that was so clearly in. Thankfully, Fudge/Barr called a timeout and color commentator and husband of Simone Jardim, Chad Edwards, let Simone know how bad the call was so Simone overturned it. Megan Fudge still felt they lost momentum and they ended up getting beat 14-12 in the third.
The consistency Parris/Simone have shown on the APP was expected, but it cannot be overlooked how difficult it is to go undefeated in every tournament. They were inches away from losing this weekend and it is unlikely they will go the entire year without a loss together. Nevertheless, winning with this level of consistency should be applauded.
Parris also took the singles crown where she was pushed hard in her first match by Dominique Schaefer and then to 3 games in the final by Megan Fudge. It is clear that Todd’s singles game hasn’t progressed to the level many thought it might get to after she beat Anna Leigh last summer, but she still hits some of the cleanest groundstrokes in the female game.
Todd will be one of the most fascinating evaluations for MLP. The Twitter speculation has her anywhere from a first to third round draft pick in Premier. You can’t forget that she was able to make Championship Sunday with Riley Newman in mixed, and that’s no small feat considering the talent on the PPA. It isn’t just that Parris is only playing on the APP Tour. It’s also that she doesn’t profile as the type of female that is able to lead a team. We have seen this issue with the Vivienne David’s of the world and how an early draft slot on a right-side female can be problematic.
In any event, it couldn’t have gone too much better for Parris this weekend. She is back in MLP and how much noise she will make there is going to be one of the bigger storylines of season 2’s first event.
2. Getting Ahead or Falling Behind (Slim) – There were a lot of new faces on the podium this weekend in Newport. The results included Guang Duong’s silver and Dominique Schaefer’s bronze in singles, Spencer Lanier and Richard Livornese Jr.’s silver in men’s doubles, and Andre Mick/Allison Harris’ silver in mixed doubles. Only Andre Mick in that group had ever made a pro podium before, a bronze earlier this year in men’s doubles. Also in women’s doubles, Genie Erokhina and Rianna Valdes made their second podium of the year together, making a Championship Sunday appearance enroute to silver.
Most these new players are not only new, they are also young, in the their early twenties or even teenagers, and that is just the direction that pro pickleball is going. There are more players than ever, and they are generally younger and hungrier for success, than ever.
These results are a reminder that there is a steady influx of new talent coming into pickleball, and there really isn’t such a thing as plateauing in pro pickleball currently. You are either getting better or you are falling behind.
Players are either improving or falling behind. There doesn’t seem to be much of an in between. This is particularly true of the players at the Challenger Level in MLP and the late Premier Division draft picks. If you are in that group of players, and think you can just keep doing what you are doing and remain in the mix, you are probably going to be sadly mistaken.
3. Ding Duong (Gritty) – Quang Duong took a silver in men’s singles this past weekend. He is a complete unknown who has played 3 PPA events earlier this year and made it to the main draw once, where in his words he was slaughtered by Federico Staksrud. In his first APP event, he made it through the qualifiers and then went on a run all the way to Championship Sunday.
Despite losing to Hunter Johnson in 3 games in the winners bracket semi-final, he smoked William Sobek (15-3) and Ryler DeHeart (15-5) in the backdraw, before completing the comeback to Sunday by beating Yates Johnson, 12-10 and 11-9. He ultimately fell to Hunter, 12-10 and 11-4, in the gold medal match, but it was a big result for the man who goes by “avatar_ball_bender” and his bio is “Ultra Omega Super Warrior” on Instagram.
Duong is only 17 years old and is attempting to make a run at pro tennis, but he trains pickleball on the side. His Instagram is probably the most entertaining thing I have seen all week, and you need to give him a follow if you haven’t found him already. The captions are glorious.
Duong is not shy to share his thoughts. After getting 2nd in the PPA points draw, Duong wrote that he couldn’t believe he got “my first PPATour points before my ATP points. I have been training tennis for 10 years 4+ hrs/day and #pickleball literally 1 month 1+ hr/day after my tennis session. I see why pickleball is so popular.” What are you trying to insinuate about pickleball, Quang?
When he got slaughtered by Federico Staksrud, Duong commented on the draw changing 10 minutes before the match started and that his Dad had prepped him all morning to play against the #8 seed, not the #2 seed. The best part might be his comments on PPA draws as he also said he couldn’t “believe for a professional event the draw is taken so lightly”.
His latest post thanking the APP was even more hilarious as he said the competition is great on the PPA Tour but they care only for their contracted players “and the draw is not random”. Even Duong knows the real scoop.
We need more Duong in pro pickleball despite the fact it appears he is focused on playing professional tennis and might be very good at it. I could use without the massive grunting on every shot, but you have to take the bad with the good sometimes. Duong may be correct in his commentary that “Asian players eventually dominate the pickleball field bc of ping pong, badminton and other hands eyes coordination in school.”
Duong wrote on Instagram that this might be his last APP Tour event because his sponsor (Selkirk it appears) won’t pay for it and “of course my Dad will not”, so I’ll be sad if this is the last of Duong at an APP. My plea to Selkirk is to pony up to get Duong in whatever pro tournaments he wants. The people want more Quang Duong and his unfiltered commentary about the sport of pickleball. And if the people don’t want it, at the very least I want more Quang Duong in pro pickleball.
Fantasy Update: 15-8 win for Gritty. An unexpected results weekend means we missed a total of 7 points in our drafting – Guang Duong’s silver and Dominique Schaefer’s bronze in singles, Spencer Lanier and Richard Livornese Jr.’s silver in men’s doubles, and Andre Mick/Allison Harris’ silver in mixed doubles. Neither of us feel bad about missing on any of those podiums. Gritty is 2 up on the year.
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