It was a soft pro field at the APP Sacramento Open this past weekend, but these are exactly the types of fields that the APP is trying to facilitate for these tournaments. We think it’s better for pro pickleball, in general, to avoid the thinner pro fields, even from the optics alone. However, from a growing the game standpoint, you can understand why the APP is happy to have these fields and allow some of the up and coming talent to shine through on the bigger stage. There were still some strong players this weekend and shine bright is exactly what all three individuals that we’re highlighting in our takeaways did this weekend. The APP will also have their NextGen series coming up this weekend before we get to one of the bigger events of the year in the PPA Championships. The PPA Vegas Championships will be going head-to-head with the APP Alabama Classic, which should, once again, give some lesser-known players an opportunity to get some big match experience. The grind doesn’t stop.
1. Maggie Brascia Shows Out (Slim) – Nobody had a bigger or better weekend than Maggie Brascia, who went double gold, taking the mixed doubles title with Hayden Patriquin and then taking women’s doubles title with her sister, Mary. That is a great weekend for anyone, but when those are your first pro gold medals ever, that is an amazing weekend.
The mixed gold had to feel particularly sweet for Brascia as not only were she and Hayden significant underdogs against Anna Bright and DJ Young, her partnership with DJ earlier this year did not seem to end on great terms. Taking the enigmatic DJ Young down as a huge upset with highly regarded Anna Bright had to feel like sweet revenge. Maggie and Hayden even double dipped them to take gold after losing a close one on the winner’s side and being down 7-1 and 12-6 in the game to 15. In women’s doubles, Mary and Maggie picked up their first pro gold medal playing together when they defeated Susannah Barr and Lina Padegimaite in straight games in the gold medal match.
We have been hard on Maggie’s game on this blog, largely because of the fact that she was traded heads up for Jackie Kawamoto in MLP, which did not strike us as an equal trade. It never seemed to us that Maggie passed the eye test the same way that Mary did. And while the inequality of the MLP trade still holds true, this weekend has certainly caused us to fully revisit Maggie’s potential long-term. Her game may not be the smoothest, but she is demonstrating an ability to hang in rallies at very high level. Maggie and Mary played very aggressively together, and were successful against two quality counter-punching players with that style in Susannah and Lina.
Maggie showed she more than belongs this weekend and, despite it being far from the deepest fields, she had to defeat very legitimate opponents, who were favored over who enroute to her golds.
2. Connor Garnett Arrives on the Scene (Gritty) – We continue to see more of these breakout weekends from new players outside of the singles sphere. Connor Garnett, another tennis transplant formerly of Santa Clara University, made some hay this weekend with silver medals in singles and men’s doubles in Sacramento. Garnett has played a handful of tournaments, but this was his first pro tour event. He played his first 5.0 event at the beginning of the month and his first recorded tournament back at the PPA OC Cup in June was actually a 4.0, 19+ bronze medal in men’s doubles.
We noted in our preview for the Sacramento event that Daniel Roditi had touted Garnett as one to watch in an Instagram post. That was on September 14th. When pros or pro adjacent people tout future players, there is usually something behind it. People don’t like to put themselves out there on behalf of someone and be wrong. It’s the same thing we were seeing with Christian Alshon that is now coming to fruition. Garnett has not had quite the hype level of Alshon, but Roditi was clearly right about the Broncos alumni being a talent to monitor.
As we know all too well, tennis translates pretty seamlessly to pickleball, which is why Garnett’s silver medal in men’s pro singles was far less surprising in a soft field than his silver medal in men’s doubles. Low seeding left Garnett with some pretty difficult earlier round matchups in both events, where he lost to Hayden Patriquin in 3 games in singles but did not lose in doubles until facing Barrientos/Young in the semi-finals.
Garnett was playing with Derek Shearer, who has ramped up his tournament play in 2022 with some pretty limited pro results. It was very notable early on in the doubles day when they got through Venkatesan/Tamanha and Nemoff/French with relative ease, both wins in two games. To follow that up with a 9 and 9 loss to Barrientos/Young in the semi-finals then working their way through the loser’s bracket to get another shot at the eventual gold medal winners was quite impressive. Garnett/Sherer ultimately bowed out in 3 competitive games in the gold medal match, but it cemented Garnett’s one to watch status.
Of course, Garnett appears to have quite a ways to go. He is naturally bouncy with his footwork, which is somewhat reminiscent of a Zane Navratil from yesteryear, if that version of Zane had downed some pre-workout and about 3 Red Bulls. Garnett’s strokes are snappy and he generates a lot of top spin as a result. It leads to some highlight reel shots as he’s not shy about pulling the trigger on the speeds-ups, especially with that two-handed backhand. However, he also pulls from some inopportune spots at times and it can get him in trouble. All that is to be expected, though. The man was playing in his first pro doubles tournament.
Barrientos and DJ Young are a legitimate pro team, who were a heavy favorite going into the weekend,. Garnett/Shearer made them work like hell. It speaks to the talent of Garnett, who was completely exhausted in the singles gold medal match against Kyle Lewis on Sunday. If it wasn’t for that California heat, it is quite possible we would have seen Garnett with a gold in singles too.
James Ignatowich. Christian Alshon. Connor Garnett. Those are some very recent names that have hit the ground running shortly after arrival on the pro scene. There’s going to be more Garnett’s coming through in no time. We already have a bunch of them trying to find their sea legs in the ever-growing competitiveness of pro pickleball.
For now, it’s Connor Garnett who is officially in the spotlight.
3. Big H Playing Big Time (Slim) – “Big H” as the pros like to call Hayden Patriquin, had a big time weekend too, as he took gold with Maggie Brascia in mixed and also picked up a bronze in men’s doubles with fellow teenager, Wyatt Stone. The gold with Maggie Brascia was his first pro gold medal after he has come away with a couple of men’s doubles medals with Julian Arnold earlier in the summer.
At this point it is very clear that Hayden isn’t just a kid playing professional pickleball, but more a professional pickleball player who happens to be a newly minted 17-year-old kid.
Hayden plays an aggressive style of pickleball and there really aren’t many players out there who can consistently do more with in-between balls in the mid court than him. He still probably needs to develop a little more consistency in his game to maximize his potential, as he still tends to go through spells where he’ll give teams a couple of free points with unforced errors, or by trying to do a bit too much.
You also do have to wonder if Hayden has a growth spurt left in him. He’s getting older but, if he does, it would seem that his potential ceiling is pretty darn high. Obviously at his current height, he is already a legitimate threat on the pro tour, but you can’t help but wonder what he could do with a few more inches of reach given the ability he already has to reach in there on those in between balls and attack them so well. Regardless of whether he grows or not, it will be fun to watch his development over the next couple of years. He is part of the youth movement in pickleball, and it will also be interesting to watch his continued development as a ‘pickleball kid’, whose background is pickleball not tennis.
Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook too!