The APP Sacramento Open concluded over the weekend and the results were relatively straightforward. Most of the medalists went as expected and, outside of Judit Castillo’s gold, nothing was overly surprising. There are always storylines to dig into from these weekends, especially with the Challenger Shuffle Draft coming up later this week. There are a lot of good players vying for a finite number of spots and these APP tournaments provide important opportunities for players looking to establish themselves, or vault themselves to a different level of consideration. It won’t be a heavy takeaways column this week but we’re still coming with 3 of the biggest storylines we saw from Sac Town.
1. Rated R-yler (Gritty) – This weekend represented a minor breakout for the men’s doubles pairing of Rob Nunnery and Ryler DeHeart. 2023 has represented what has had to in some ways been a moderately disappointing year for both players. DeHeart, a former tennis professional, has fully dedicated himself to the pickleball craft along with his wife, Megan Fudge, but has not been a podium staple at these APP events. Nunnery, having essentially taken a 1-year hiatus in 2022 due to health reasons, has also had trouble finding podiums despite initially being in the Premier division conversation for MLP at the time of the initial draft in December 2022.
Heading into Sacramento, DeHeart had only earned two pro medals this year, and one of them was at the unaffiliated with a pro tour event in Boca Raton, with Casey Cullen. His other medal came last weekend with Megan Fudge, at the US Open. However, this weekend, DeHeart came away with medals in both doubles events – in mixed, a bronze with Shelby Bates, and a silver in men’s with Rob Nunnery. They were both rather unexpected medals as DeHeart/Bates had a poor 2-2 showing together in Mesa and Nunnery/DeHeart had not yet medaled in any of their events together in 2023. This is a strong result for them and we’ll have to see if it propels them as a pair going forward.
Every weekend there is a reminder of how slim the margins can be in pro pickleball as Bates/DeHeart narrowly defeated Vivian Glozman/Dean Guyer earlier in the day and then went on to narrowly defeat Hunter Johnson/Parris Todd to guarantee themselves a medal. On the men’s side, Nunnery/DeHeart only lost to the gold medal winners as they got knocked down to the loser’s bracket by Teoni/Daescu and worked their way back to them with good wins over Sobek/Keenum, the Johnson twins and Stefan Auvergne/Brendon Long. While Nunnery/DeHeart eventually fell short in the game to 15 to Teoni/Daescu, the silver medal provides promise to both of them as a pair.
I have said it a bunch of times on this blog and I’m going to say it again that we have to be careful about expecting linear development from all of these players. Ryler DeHeart comes with the expectations of a former tennis pro but not all former tennis pros are cut from the same cloth. Ryler is a steady player without great natural weapons. He plays more like a veteran than a newer pickleball pro. However, he continues to work on his weapons, particularly that backhand roll, and he’s finding some better offense to his game.
I still don’t really know what Ryler DeHeart fully can bring to the table, but he may very well be one of those slow, but steady, improvers that keeps getting better with time as opposed to the fast ascension we typically associate with high ceiling players.
2. Fudge and Oshiro (Slim) – Megan Fudge and Bobbi Oshiro are two of the women fighting for those last couple of spots in the next Premier draft, and they are starting to develop some momentum on the court together as well. This weekend, they picked up their second straight women’s doubles silver medal and for the second straight week, they took the first game off Parris Todd and Simone Jardim in the gold medal match before dropping the next two games. Fudge also picked up a silver medal in women’s singles.
For Fudge, this silver medal has to be a familiar feeling, as she has taken silver in all six of the non-PPA women’s doubles events she has played this year, and has done so with 4 different partners, so it is impressive. I have had some concerns that Fudge’s doubles game was stagnating but these results would seem to suggest otherwise. I would still like to see a lot less slice and a lot more rolling in her game, especially with that backhand, but is clear that Fudge is starting to bring that consistency she has in singles, is a steadying force at this second tier level. Notably, Fudge had a good outing with Vivienne David at a PPA event earlier this year.
While Fudge is the steady force, who I would like to see add some more variety to her doubles game, Oshiro pretty much has all the shots in doubles, but at times can struggle to bring the same consistent level week in, week out. If Oshiro can show some more consistency over the next couple of months, she could be a no brainer late pick, as a right side woman. Partnering with Fudge certainly presents her with a great opportunity to demonstrate a more consistent high level as Oshiro now has 4 APP medals on the year to go along with one PPA 4th place in women’s doubles.
If these two continue to partner together, it will be interesting to see if they can start fo truly push Jardim/Todd
3. Andrei the APP Slayer (Gritty) – Andrei Daescu was our lead takeaway after the last APP event in Mesa and he was able to déjà vu his Mesa appearance in Sacramento as he won gold medals with both Susannah Barr and Pesa Teoni, once again. Anna Bright probably said it best on Twitter following Daescu’s double gold Sunday:
No one, other than maybe Andrei, reasonably expected that Andrei Daescu would become the most dominant player on the APP Tour in 2023. As Bright said, it seemed like a no-brainer that Parris Todd would be the force to be reckoned with at these second tier pro events. People can diminish Andrei’s results all they want because they are happening on the APP, but you see how hard it is for most of these players to win consistently. Brendon Long won a PPA gold medal in men’s doubles with Tyson McGuffin, but he hasn’t won an APP gold medal in doubles. Daescu is out here winning multiple championships with Pesa Teoni. Not to diminish Teoni’s role in the gold medals, but it is obvious that there is one player that can get gold medals without the other.
It would be interesting to see what Andrei could do consistently at the highest level, but it’s unlikely we will see that given the APP’s recent announcement of Daescu as their Director of the APP Academy. Part of being a really good player is consistently being better than players you are supposed to be better than. There was a funny clip I saw recently of senior pro and coach of the Orlando Squeeze, Julio Rivera, asking Wyatt Stone whether he should be in the Challenger division and Stone answering that he thought he was better than a lot of Challenger players. This is probably a common refrain you’ll hear from a lot of players who have been undrafted from MLP as well as some of the Challenger players who missed the Premier boat. It’s easy to think you’re better than someone and be better than them on a given day, but proving it at every tournament is what separates the best.
Daescu’s mixed results haven’t been as dominant in 2023. Recency bias makes it easy to forget that he wasn’t winning until he partnered with Susannah Barr. Daescu wasn’t even able to win a gold in his partnerships with Simone Jardim. However, he and Barr were unstoppable this weekend. They gave up more than 4 points in one game all weekend together, and that was in the first game of the gold medal match against Hunter Johnson/Parris Todd. Daescu continues to improve as a mixed player and his chemistry with Barr has enabled him to flourish.
He’s not quite the Ben Johns of the APP yet, but Andrei Daescu is doing his best to get there on the doubles side of the game.
Fantasy Update: 18-10 weekend for Gritty puts him back 1 up on the year. Combined, there were 2 points missed in this draft as Shelby Bates/Ryler DeHeart and Jess Warren went undrafted. Neither was a miss in hindsight as Bates/DeHeart did not fare well in Mesa and Jess Warren had never played a singles event in her life. Parris Todd can be a dangerous picks in these APPs as she is not so dominant that she is invincible in the main draw and it appears the risk/reward calculation for Todd means she doesn’t grind the backdraw for another shot at gold. A much closer back and forth fantasy season so far in 2023 for the NML boys.
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