It was such an odd weekend. It was basically either the predictable outcome or the most unexpected results imaginable. On the pro side, we had 3 divisions where the top 3 teams (at least in our eyes) went gold, silver, bronze, except for Jorja Johnson/Dylan Frazier. Dayne Gingrich/Dave Weinbach, Dave Weinbach/Jennifer Dawson and Mattias Johansson all won gold medals too on the senior pro side – Beth Bellamy and Nathalie Bagby had a minor upset of Dawson/MacGregor. From the pro divisions, Friday and Saturday were days without any real surprises breaking into the top 3. Of course, there have to be some takeaways to come from all of that.
Singles Craziness (Gritty) – Unquestionably the weirdest pro singles day of 2022. I didn’t do the research on this, but someone mentioned to us this may have even been the craziest singles day of all time. It was nuts.. Checking the results early in the morning, I was not expecting a Hunter Johnson win over JW Johnson, particularly after losing game 1, 13-11. Hunter has fine results but nothing spectacular – a recent win over Pablo Tellez is about all that is notable with mostly losses to top players. There was nothing to indicate he was ready to have upset wins over JW Johnson, Gabriel Joseph, Dylan Frazier and James Ignatowich all in one day en route to a silver medal. Frankly, when I see Hunter and his twin brother Yates Johnson in those singles draws, and I don’t really know the difference usually.
The deep talent pool in singles is one of the more frequently discussed topics across pro pickleball right now but I don’t think anyone was ready for a day like this. It would have been weird to see Hunter Johnson on the medal stand in itself, but then we had Kyle Lewis rolling Gabriel Joseph 11-5, 11-5 after sneaking by Hunter Johnson in 3 games. Kyle Lewis, seemingly just another guy as well, found his way to a bronze medal. He does have recent wins over Alex Neumann and Hayden Patriquin, and played Zane Navratil to 3 tight games in NYC. But again, nothing to indicate a podium was on the horizon.
With all the craziness on the men’s side, we somehow had a portion of the loser’s bracket that would only allow one of JW Johnson, Ignatowich or Gabe Joseph to go through to a 4th place match! JW Johnson going out so early almost became a footnote to all the surprises on the day. It’s not as if this wasn’t a strong singles draw either. Other names in the draw that we would have had ahead of Johnson and Lewis included Rafa Hewett, Ryan Sherry, Gabriel Tardio, Alex Neumann and Hayden Patriquin.
It speaks to the singles depth along with what Frank Anthony Davis noted on Twitter, which is how impressive Ben John’s consecutive match winning streak in singles was. Now, Ben didn’t have to face the level of competition during the streak that we see now but consistency playing at the highest level is the most difficult thing in all of sports. With another gold medal, Federico Staksrud has been as consistent as anyone over the past couple of months but we should expect to see more unexpected podiums as we go along in 2022.
A bunch of words without even getting into the women’s weirdness. After another Lauren Stratman singles withdrawal in a shallow women’s field, it appeared there was a clear top 3 in some order of Anna Bright, Jorja Johnson and Mary Brascia. Brascia has been playing some pro pickleball but has limited recent singles results. She beat Lauren Stratman then took a game off Anna Leigh Waters last weekend, but lost to Anna Bright, 15-10. Notably, she played Jillian Braverman very tough at Nationals back in December and beat Jorja Johnson at Next Gen in November.
After a fairly close two gamer against Lacy Schneemann, Brascia took down Anna Bright twice and looked like the better player in doing it. It was an impressive performance that highlighted another strange podium, which included Christa Gecheva taking bronze. There may be other reasons than play as Slim outlines below, but Jorja Johnson had her worst singles outing in a while on the weekend. Although it was a shallow women’s field, we keep seeing more women coming into pickleball that have the ability to hang at that higher level.
The unpredictability of the singles draws may soon become what is most predictable in pickleball. For now, though, it is 100% worthy of a major takeaway.
Johnson Fatigue? (Slim) – Both JW Johnson and Jorja Johnson had, by their standards, what has to count as disappointing singles results on Sunday. They both lost their first round match-ups, and JW ended up with a 2-2 day, and Jorja 1-2. It was the first time in recent memory that JW has had that fast of an exit, and a person can’t help but wonder if fatigue is catching up with them both a bit.
If you include MLP as a tournament, the Johnson siblings, by my count, have each played 17 tournaments this year (only JW played the PPA Foot Solutions, and only Jorja played PPA Austin). Last weekend, was only the 24th weekend of the year, so they have only had 7 weeks off of tournaments so far this year. There is a physical toll that comes with playing this much, but there is also a significant mental toll as well. It is really hard to get your self consistently up for these events, and to bring your best level every time out. Add in the general fatigue that comes with travelling and living on the road and it becomes a lot. Not to mention the siblings played in a pro moneyball event a couple of days before the SoCal event started ($750 went to JW for winning).
For Jorja I also wonder if the mental and physical toll of the specific weekend had also caught up to her to a certain extent. She had had a very impressive weekend, leading into Sunday, with dominant gold medal performances in both mixed doubles and women’s doubles, so she was actually going for her first ever triple crown on Sunday. Unlike JW, she is not used to playing into the gold medal rounds in all three events in the same weekend. We’re so used to seeing the same players in multiple finals and we take for granted the physical and mental fatigue those previous days are for players, especially one as young as Jorja. It may be that the physical and mental fatigue of those wins caught up to her.
With JW, I have to think that on some level, the cumulative grind is catching up to him. Nobody is playing more tournaments than this guy and nobody is consistently going deep, in every event than him. I have not actually run the data, but I have to believe that JW has played more pro matches than any other player this year and by fairly large margin. He is in the medals at almost every event at pretty much every pro tournament. At some point that has to wear a person down.
With there basically being a month off from pro tournaments after the Los Angeles Open this weekend, and the Beer City open at the end of July, the time off may serve the Johnson siblings well and give them time to rejuvenate, and probably comes at a good time, but it will also be interesting to see how they fare this weekend in Los Angeles.
Cierra Gaytan-Leach (Gritty) – I have apparently been spelling Gaytan-Leach’s name wrong for all this time unbeknownst to me (Gaytan not Gayten). That may be indicative of the level of respect Gaytan-Leach has in the pickleball world. For a weird weekend, this is a weird takeaway to have. No podiums for Gaytan-Leach on the weekend. A 3-2 day in women’s doubles and 2-2 day in mixed. Nothing to write home about, really.
However, there were some good wins sprinkled in there for Cierra. Playing with Genie Erokhina in women’s, the pair took Franco/Esquivel to the brink after going up game 1 and losing game 2, 14-12. In the loser’s bracket, they found a win over the Brascia sisters. Playing mixed with Chuck Taylor, Gaytan-Leach and Chuck had a 2 game win over Mary Brascia/Rob Cassidy, 13-11 and 11-2. Although she lost to Gecheva/Craig Johnson in mixed, the matches from the weekend were something to take notice of. Why, you ask?
Rob Cassidy, Mary Brascia, Maggie Brascia, Regina Franco and Michelle Esquivel are all people who played at MLP two weeks ago. In fact, Brascia, Franco and Esquivel were all women drafted in the top 15 – Maggie was the 20th female picked. Both of us had Gaytan-Leach in our top 24 and I had her 18th– she was the first notable undrafted feamle mention in our draft grades post. It does not appear she is all-in on pickleball as some others are and her play style is somewhat awkward despite her clear talent. Nevertheless, Gaytan-Leach should be a name to watch going into the next MLP stop in Newport in early August.
It is still unclear how exactly the MLP supplemental draft will operate, but what is evident is there are teams that want to make changes. With 12 teams and 24 women drafted, there is not a deep pool of women remaining for teams looking for an upgrade, unless we find ourselves with some more PPA defectors. In a thin supplemental draft women’s pool, in my view, Gaytan-Leach is an under the radar upgrade that teams wanting to swap out their 2nd female team should strongly consider. She has had other notable results prior to this weekend, including almost knocking out Lucy/Callie with Parris Todd back at the Austin PPA.
It’s really fun to think about team building in the context of a mostly individual/partner sport for MLP. There’s more female talent out there by the day, but that doubles prowess takes longer to master. It’ll be fascinating to see what these teams do with one MLP event under their belt, which is arguably too small a sample size to determine if any drastic changes are needed. Regardless, Cierra Gaytan-Leach is out there showing that she does belong somewhere in that top 24.
As a side note, Etta Wright out of Utah is another one who may not quite be ready but could be in the next few months for MLP. She was not in the player pool last time around.
Fantasy Update: 17 to 10 in fantasy this week for Slim. The mixed doubles sweep along with Gritty allowing Staksrud to fall to Slim in the draft were the main reasons for the big win. We’re back to 6 up on the year for Slim with Gritty unable to gain any real traction to make up some ground.
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