We did not get a repeat Anna Bright performance this weekend as we’ll get more into in the takeaways. In some non-Anna Bright results, there are clearly going to start being some staple podium finishers at these APP’s this year with Navratil, Frazier, the Johnson’s, Dekel Bar, Vivienne David and Lee Whitwell making up a lot of podiums this year. It feels like a different type of steadiness than the PPAs, but there inevitably has to be some consistency in results as top players assert themselves. We’ll have a PPA in Port St. Lucie, Florida next weekend to add a little bit of spice to our Florida pickleball life. Let’s get to the takeaways.
1. JW Johnson Separating from the Pack (Slim) – JW Johnson has separated himself from the field…of singles players not named Ben Johns. Going into 2022 it appeared that there was Ben Johns, then a group of Tyson McGuffin, Zane Navratil, JW and Jay Devilliers behind him. JW has pulled away from the rest of that group, into a class of his own, to start the year.
After beginning the year with a couple of losses to John Cincola, JW has only lost one match in the five tournaments since then, when he lost to Ben Johns in the semifinal of the PPA’s Arizona Grand Slam. Both this past weekend and at the PPA’s Desert Ridge Open, JW won gold without dropping a single game. His Desert Ridge gold medal, included beating Tyson McGuffin in three straight games in the gold medal match. JW has also clearly had Zane Navratil’s number this year, as he has handled him with relative ease in the last three APP gold medal matches.
It will be interesting to see how JW fairs this weekend at the PPA’s Riverland Open. Unfortunately, he will probably due to seedings have to play Ben Johns before the finals, which will rob us of an opportunity to see those two in best 3 out of 5 games.
With JW only playing a limited number of PPAs this year, and Ben strictly playing PPAs this will likely be one of the few opportunities to potentially see those two go head to head. At this point, I think JW is the only person who has the ability to truly challenge Johns, though Johns did handle JW easily in their one match up this year.
JW’s steady approach to the game is generally one his strengths, and also probably one of the reasons he has been so consistent with his results this year. However, I do wonder, if against Ben, JW might benefit from a more varied approach.
2. Not Quite as Shiny and Bright (Gritty) – Anna Bright shone last weekend, but the diamond wasn’t quite as Bright in Plantation. Although pro pickleball is small, it is still a professional sport and being consistent in any professional sport isn’t easy. Just ask Chuck Taylor, Austin Gridley or Gabe Tardio (who actually showed out pretty well this weekend). Bringing a podium level week in and week out is a serious challenge.
It was apparent going into this weekend that Bright didn’t have the same quality of partners. Amanda Hendry is still finding her way in these pro brackets as a former D1 athlete without a racket sports background. While quite solid, Shiv Krishnaswamy has not shown to be able to compete at an elite level in these APP pro brackets. It’s evident we probably didn’t give Jorja Johnson her proper dues last weekend. She was a stable force with rock solid hand speed that allowed Bright to play with the freedom that she did. The “veteran” in comparison to Bright, Jorja looks to be maintain that consistency after a gold in singles, silver in women’s and 4th in mixed performance.
Neither of us expected a podium for Bright in the doubles events going in. However, it was surprising to see her completely off the podium in a stronger singles field than Punta Gorda. It was clear for Bright in her 2-game loss to Jorja Johnson that Jorja was more comfortable in the wind and the more experienced player overall. So many of these women are uncomfortable getting to the net consistently in singles in a way that will continue to baffle me, including Jorja, but Bright was basically a stranger to the kitchen line in singles from what I saw yesterday. She allowed Jorja to take control of points at her choosing. Parris Todd could be a force to be reckoned with as well once she figures out the nuances of singles some more so it wasn’t shocking after the Jorja loss to see Bright lose 15-13 to Todd.
As quick to judgement as we were last weekend, we’re not backing off our analysis of Bright after one sub-par performance, especially Slim with his “maybe hot take”. There’s a lot of things that went into this weekend. The wind and lower level of partners, as noted above. Slim disagrees with my take on these next two points, but I think there’s something to be said about being physically and mentally ready for Bright. Physically, she’s not accustomed to playing this much pickleball. On her chat with Scott Golden, she mentioned how she tried to play some rec on Monday, which tells me she may not realize how taxing 3 consecutive pro tournament weekends can be. Mentally, I don’t think the brief media tour on top of a full-time job and trying to get ready for another tournament was the best recipe for success.
The thing is, if Bright gets that game to 15 off of Todd, she gets another shot at Jorja after Megan Fudge’s withdrawal and who knows what happens from there. We may not be here having any of this discussion. Ultimately, this weekend might be the best thing for Bright long-term. You can say all the right things about knowing you need to put in the work after Punta Gorda, but nothing tells reminds you of the need to put in the work like some humble pie.
3. The Kawamoto’s, Still Underrated (Gritty) – We haven’t had much negative to say about the Kawamoto’s in their limited pickleball tour stops. This weekend is no different. The twins cruised to a gold medal in women’s doubles. I thought it would be a bit closer against Whitwell/Johnson, but maybe we should have seen this coming. Their last tournament was the APP in Boca Raton where they ended up with a silver after losing two very tight matches to Jardim/Koop. The Kawamoto’s are often forgotten on a weekly basis as we have new players finding their way regularly on the tournament scene like Anna Bright and Parris Todd that are fun to talk about. With full-time jobs, the Kawamoto’s aren’t going to be playing the same number of tournaments as a lot of their other pro colleagues. This is basically the same takeaway we had after Boca but we couldn’t help ourselves after this performance. We’re literally doing all we can to ensure people do not forget about the perennially underrated sister duo.
4. Rick Witsken’s 2022 Surge (Slim) – Rick Witsken is off to a very strong start to the year in Senior Men’s Doubles. He has played five tournaments so far this year and made the podium every time with three golds, a silver and bronze. This weekend he and Dan Granot took gold over Paul Olin and Barry Waddell, and John Sperling and Mirceau Morariu. He also has a pair of gold medals partnering with Scott Crandal this year. Witsken is proving to be one of the dominant forces on the Senior Tour. Gritty speculated last year that Morariu/Sperling could possibly challenge Dave/Dayne, but now I would be curious to see Witsken and Crandall play Dave Weinbach and Dayne Gingrich who have dominated the Senior Tour when they have played together. But that does not seem to be in the cards, at least any time soon.
5. Old Guard Old Tricks (Gritty) – There was a time where Joey Farias was one of the name men in pickleball. He had (still has) a sweet backhand roll before it was the norm to have one. He could do about as much as anyone off the bounce and out of their air from both wings. Again, he can still do these things. One of the true nice guys in pickleball, Joey has never struck us as a true grinder. Rather, it seems he’s more of the classic very talented former tennis player who kind of fell into pickleball and has made a career out of it. Consistency isn’t the name of Joey’s game. Nevertheless, it’s clear Farias can still compete at a high level with the right partnership. In back-to-back APPs, Farias has hit the podium with bronze medals. Last week it was with Austin Gridley in Punta Gorda and this week it was with Altaf Merchant.
The key thing in those partnerships is steadiness for Farias. There were a lot of Jeff Warnick partnerships in 2021 for Joey and that’s not a recipe for podiums. Sure, those were in PPAs and you put those two together at some of these APPs they are probably finding a couple of podiums as well. But the point stands. Warnick/Farias is a high volatility partnership. The other main partnership Farias had in 2021 was Kyle Yates in his still trying to be the alpha phase. Farias has some 4th place finishes mixed in there, but Joey’s last podium in a pro event was the 2020 Texas Open with Steve Deakin. Again, notice a trend?
Nice to see Joey Farias on the medal stand getting it done.
Fantasy Update: Gritty is back! First win of 2022 in convincing fashion 17-13. This one took a while, and we’ll have to see whether the tides are turning. It’s only one week and the fans are hoping that this flame doesn’t get blown out after only one week. Zane Navartil and the Kawamoto’s pushed Gritty’s team forward this week as Zane was able to podium in all 3 events. Slim is still 4 up on the year.
ICYMI: One last plug on the blog for the time being for our podcast appearance Lauren McLaughlin’s Pickleball After Dark.
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