With all the MLP stuff recently and more tournaments coming up, there is a lot going on this week. We’re doing our takeaways first because it is a Monday and then we’ll have our complete thoughts on the MLP Shuffle Draft selections on Tuesday.
As we head into another bigger APP event this weekend in Chicago and talk more about MLP, we are starting to wonder if the PPA is getting slightly lost in the shuffle of all that is happening. We haven’t been shy about expressing that we felt the APP scheduled too many tournaments at just over 30 for the reason that adding the 20 plus tournaments the PPA to that number could lead to burnout for fans and players. The burnout is still a real concern, but all the new talent coming in was not factored in by us in this discussion. The new talent influx in combination with the PPA summer break and extra MLP events has removed the PPA from the front of some people’s minds. This is only a soft working theory at this point, and we’ll have to see if this holds at all once we get more regular PPA events going, but visibility is such an important thing with any public entertainment sphere. It’ll be interesting to see what the tours do for scheduling next year, particularly with the expectation of more MLP events, and whether the PPA contracted players feel they are being left out of the mix, even if that feeling is more perception than reality.
1. DJ Gonna DJ (Gritty) –
DJ Gonna DJ is a phrase that we feel perfectly encapsulates what DJ Young is as a pickleball player. Sometimes he looks all worldly whereas other times he can look disengaged and simply average. DJ is going to do what DJ Young does. Like a box of chocolates, you just never know what DJ you’re going not get. Is that starting to change though?
While it’s no secret that social media often provides a skewed and carefully curated version of an individual, it can also give us a small, realistic window into someone’s life. After DJ Young’s relationship with ProKennex and the Dawson’s soured, we read that as DJ gonna DJ. Young was in a very good situation to improve his game but did not want someone else giving him direction on how to grind (all purely speculative on our part). The image we used for this set of takeaways is a screenshot from Megan Charity’s Instagram story on the Sunday morning after DJ’s double gold weekend in Philadelphia. From my perspective, it captures a new version of DJ who is trying to break free from his past.
Guys like DJ are always alluring, like a siren’s song. A ton of talent with the between the ears part being the obstacle to possible greatness. In team sports, GMs take chances on guys like DJ in the hopes that the light turns on at some point. In a lot of cases, the light never turns on. In some cases, for whatever reason, the light switch gets flipped. I’m not quite sure where DJ is at in the light switching process, but it appears pretty clear that DJ is doing his damn best to keep that light on at all times.
In the past month, DJ has won MLP as the lead male on the Ranchers, found a mixed bronze medal with Corrine Carr and, this past weekend, won double gold with Mario Barrientos and Vivienne David. There have only been 3 tournaments since MLP and it has not all been smooth for DJ, but what is crucial is that he looks like he is putting in the work. For someone like DJ, when you start seeing your hard work paying dividends, it can motivate you to work even harder. You saw how much winning meant to him with two loud screams after pulling out the winners bracket final over Daescu/Lica. Not that he was probably even working out a couple of years ago, but you can surely bet that DJ wasn’t going to grind out a workout the morning after winning two gold medals. Heck, how many guys out there currently are going grind city after two gold medals in a weekend?
It may sound silly to say but the post-gold medal workout may be more encouraging than the two gold medals. It was not a particularly deep field in Philadelphia so we can’t take this to mean that DJ is going to start winning everything going forward. Consistency is what has always eluded DJ. That doesn’t fix itself overnight. The man is still only 22 years old and has lots of room to grow the mental and physical parts of his pickleball game.
In watching DJ Young more in the last few months, the big question I have on the physical side of his game is how his hand speed stacks up against the truly elite players in the game. DJ is an elite shot maker, but there are times when we see higher end teams looking quite comfortable attacking him – there’s some footage of DJ playing with Pat Smith at the PPA Orange County event against Collin Johns/AJ Koller where it’s evident there is not fear of DJ from his fellow Dreamland compatriots. Of the higher end men in pro pickleball, Andrei Daescu may be the only guy out there with longer swings than DJ in hand battles.
Nevertheless, some of the stuff DJ can do out there is different than most anyone on tour. We’ll say it again and again that the talent level is elite. If DJ is truly putting in the work like it appears he is finally doing, there is real hope that he can be more than just a show up when I’m feeling like it professional player à la Nick Kyrgios.
It may take some more time but, at some point in the not too distant future, there could be a whole new meaning to DJ Gonna DJ.
2. Pablo Tellez Stock Up (Slim) – It was a huge weekend for Pablo Tellez as he podiumed in all three events this, picking up a couple of silver medals in men’s doubles and men’s singles, and a bronze medal in mixed doubles.
It was particularly impressive because he did it in doubles with partners, in Milan Rane and Brendon Long, who while solid players, aren’t exactly podium regulars.
Pablo’s stock has been on the rise since he was picked up for the first MLP as a substitute and performed very well for the 5’s in that event. This weekend though, seemed to indicate that Pablo may be making another jump in his game. Obviously, the Philly tournament wasn’t as top heavy as most of these pro events are these days, but the the fields did have some depth, so his ability to make the podium in all three events demonstrated a high level of consistency. The ability to bring a high level consistently and beat the teams you should beat, is essential to becoming an upper tier pro player.
It will be interesting to see how Pablo does this weekend in Chicago, in a much deeper and more talented field, but playing with a couple partners who are also on the rise in Federico Staksrud and Lina Padegimaite.
3. Alix Truong’s Singles Day (Gritty) – In this weird professional sport where we have teenagers leading the pack and grinding through pro divisions the same as any other adults, Alix Truong is a name to watch. The list is becoming longer for teenagers getting regular wins in pro events – AL Waters, Jorja Johnson, Hayden Patriquin, Wyatt Stone, Gabriel Tardio, William Sobek and, on the fringe, Porter Barr. Alix Truong looks to be the next one up for teenagers finding their stride in professional pickleball.
Truong announced her presence on Sunday with a really solid bronze medal in women’s pro singles. The consistency for the middle of the pack players in singles is tough and we saw it a couple of weeks ago in New Jersey where Truong went 1-2, losing to Amanda Hendry in two games and then a tight one to Heather Nobler, 15-13. Consistency and confidence are sometimes all it takes because after a 16-14 win in her first loser’s bracket match on Sunday, the 17-year-old Truong went on to take down Milan Rane, Annica Cooper and then Rosie Johnason (15-0!) before losing to Megan Fudge in the bronze. Those are good wins for Truong.
There is undeniably improvement happening on both the singles and doubles side of the game for Truong, with the ability to truly contend in doubles at these APPs possibly being not that far off. It’s unclear to me where exactly the ceiling is at for Truong though. She is someone with a tennis background but made a relatively early switch to pickleball in her high school years. I find the development trajectory isn’t as easy to track for the teenagers who have made pickleball their primary sport at a younger age.
Wherever that ceiling is, Truong didn’t need the podium in Philadelphia to prove she belongs in the pro game. A bronze medal is simply another reminder that the kids are coming to play. In case you somehow forgot.
4. Julie Johnson Triple Crown (Gritty) – More Johnson content that we can’t ignore. This time it is Julie with a triple crown over the weekend. Julie won gold with Anna Shirley in women’s, mixed with Mircea Morariu (sneaking out an almost double dipped 15-13 in the gold over Paul Olin/Eva Welsher) and singles with wins over her partner Anna Shirley. Even if it was not the deepest senior pro field out there, the consistency that Julie Johnson brings to the senior game is pretty impressive, especially considering the number of tournaments she plays. Really, the number of tournaments that these 50 plus players can handle and handle while playing at a high level is often overlooked in the “do senior pros matter” discussion. However, that’s a discussion for another day. For now, we tip our caps to yet another triple crown performance from the number one female senior pro on the APP Tour.
5. Chicago Open Partnership Look Ahead (Slim) – It is a stacked lineup coming up this weekend in Chicago, and most of the top players who aren’t PPA signed will be in attendance. In particular, I am excited to see some new partnerships and how they play out.
In mixed doubles we have Simone Jardim partnering with Federico Staksrud. It is Federico’s highest profile doubles partner by far to date, so it will be fascinating to see how they do. Dekel Bar is also partnering with Jade Kawamoto which should be an interesting partnership as Dekel’s mixed struggles are well documented. Another first time partnership of note in mixed is Rob Nunnery playing with Susannah Barr. How healthy will Rob be playing his first pro tournament since knee surgery and the “butt issues”?
In women’s doubles, Parris Todd is scheduled to return from injury and partner with Vivienne David, which is a super intriguing partnership. I would not recommend speeding up middle against those two. They will take on the likes of Lauren Stratman and Andrea Koop, and the Kawamoto sisters.
In men’s doubles Andrei Daescu and Dylan Frazier will be partnering, in what could be a scary partnership. Expect Dylan to play the right where he is quite comfortable in all his tournaments with JW. It will be fun to watch if they end up playing Dekel and JW, who continue to work out the kinks of their partnership.
These are just a few of the partnerships of interest for this coming weekend, as teams will likely face-off in a number of interesting match ups in the early rounds for the die hard pickleball nerds.
Fantasy Update: 16-13 Gritty this week. Wait, another Gritty fantasy win? In a shocking turn of events, Gritty has turned around his fortunes and is only two down before the end of August. Getting Pablo Tellez and Megan Fudge for all 3 events paid off as there were podiums in 5 of their 6 events. That was the difference as the big boards for both of us were very similar despite a field that was not top heavy. Hooray for group think!
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