One big APP and one small PPA led to some very interesting fields and podium finishers this weekend. The results were unexpected overall as seen in the wide discrepancy of results from our fantasy drafts. While there were a wide range of notable results, another result from this whole Crbn paddle controversy that was evident on the weekend was the number of Crbn players using a JOOLA paddle. The JOOLA paddles must play quite similarly to the Crbn. We already know the grit level is, at a minimum, right on the borderline of high as we saw with the unofficial field testing from USA Pickleball Director of Equipment Compliance, Donn Paben, and the Instagram videos from President of JOOLA, Richard Lee (in the first video the paddle is actually slightly over the allotment but within the allowable 5% margin of error range – they did the math wrong). Regardless, a lot of the Crbn players clearly like the JOOLA too.
It may have been two tournaments, but we still have our usual five takeaways from both events. Let’s get to it.
1. Parenteau and Jansen Reach the Summit (Slim) – All the paddle drama of late, makes it feel like ages ago, but it was not that long ago, that all of the drama in the pro pickleball world centered around Catherine Parenteau dropping Jessie Irvine as a partner, to go with Lea Jansen for the rest of the season. The early dividends of this move have been quite good for Parenteau, after a disappointing start to the partnership in Red Rock where the Jansen and Parenteau partnership failed to make the podium, they have taken gold in their last two tournaments together, at the US Open and this weekend at the PPA North Carolina. In her five tournaments with Irvine this year, Catherine failed to win gold in any of those appearances, but did pick up three silvers, so one has to presume it was these gold medal finishes that Parenteau was after. It is still unclear, whether Parenteau made the move simply because she felt like Jansen was a stronger player than Irvine, or if it was more personality, relationship based. Regardless of why the move was made, it is working so far.
We still need to see how Catherine and Lea fare against the Waters, who have not been in the last two tournaments, and did beat Catherine and Lea in their first tournament together in Red Rock. We will also need to see how the partnership plays out over the long run as we have seen this year sometimes partnerships peak early. For example, Lucy Kovolova and Callie Smith started the season looking they were going to be a dominant team in the women’s doubles winning the first three events of the season, but teams seem to have figured them out, and they have failed to win a tournament since.
The partnership shake up does create of fair amount of interest for the women’s field, as the next PPA stop in Georgia provides us an opportunity to potentially see the Waters on a three tournament winning streak matched up against Catherine and Lea, who on their own two tournament winning streak. It also offers the potential of Catherine and Lea, facing Jessie Irvine, who will be partnered with rising star Anna Bright. Also in the mix, will be Callie Smith and Lucy Kovalova, who will be looking to regain their early season form.
The women’s division which had seemed way too predictable, is now suddenly anything but that.
2. Kawamoto and Koop Rolling (Gritty) – Jade Kawamoto played the first of what will be consecutive weekends without her sister, Jackie, by her side in St. Louis. In a first-time partnership with Andrea Koop, Jade and Andrea powered their way through the field in dominate fashion, including two wins against the team we had #1 going into the weekend, Jorja Johnson and Anna Bright. Koop/Kawamoto took down Johnson/Bright in convincing fashion in 4 straight games over two matches.
Slim is always very high on Andrea Koop as a talent and we have both really liked what we have seen from the Kawamoto’s, but we still underrated them slightly going into the weekend. The thing is, the Kawamoto’s as a pair are very similar players. Although it is quite possible the sister duo would have taken gold together, the pairing with Koop was interesting from a stylistic perspective because of the different dynamic that Koop provides Jade. In that partnership, Koop becomes more offensive and takes more court than we see her doing in some other partnerships, and I think this is quite beneficial for the less-offensively minded Jade Kawamoto. Suddenly, you’re pairing Jade’s strong hands, quick counters and rolling backhand dinks with a bit of a more offensively-minded player. It arguably creates a more dangerous dynamic.
It was apparent that Bright/Johnson’s relentlessly attacking style can only work up to a certain point. They are both still raw as players, but there is more nuance to be added to their games when they face higher end competition, especially for Bright. You can’t only have one mode of playing against more elite competition.
We are also curious to see if Jade is going more all-in on pickleball than her sister Jackie. Jade is playing this upcoming weekend in Cincinnati with Michelle Esquivel. I have been very intrigued to see how the Kawamoto’s do against higher end competition, but it may be that we end up seeing Jade separately with new partners in those matchups. It’s possible a separation creates a higher ceiling for both the Kawamoto twins, but it is really quite hard to say as we have not seen a large enough sample size of them playing together. One place where we will almost certainly see them apart again is at MLP, where the draft has already taken place for the event the first weekend of June.
In any event, Jade Kawamoto and Andrea Koop rolled through the competition this weekend and both players continue to show they are forces to be reckoned with.
3. No Free Lunches (Slim) – At this point we probably sound a bit like a broken record, but there are truly no free lunches anymore at these professional tournaments. Gone are the days when the top guys and girls could basically just show up and collect a cheque so to speak. This weekend was a great example of that. Dekel Bar and JW Johnson had never played a tournament together and obviously first time partnerships, are always a little prone to some bumps in the road as they figure out their chemistry, but it just seemed like the talent of Dekel and JW would be too great and at the end of the day they would prevail. This, however, was not the case, as they failed to even make the podium after getting rolled in the winner’s bracket semi-final 11-5, 11-4 by Zane Navratil and DJ Young and then losing a tight one 15-13 to Dylan Frazier and Altaf Merchant in the game to go to bronze.
I am actually still fairly high on the Dekel and JW partnership, and think they will be able to figure it out, but I think it speaks more to the depth of the men’s division, that two of the top men’s doubles players in the game, playing a tournament on a weekend with the talent split between two tournaments (though APP was definitely a deeper men’s field) failed to even make the podium.
While discussing the difficulties of first-time partnerships, we would be remiss not to point out that Kyle Yates and Andrei Daescu took gold as a first time partnership (update: we have been corrected this is not a first time partnership, just the first time in about 3 years). Yates is definitely having a resurgent year, with this being his second gold in 2022 with different partnerships. When you partner Kyle with a dominant left side player, Kyle as a right side player, can definitely still compete at the highest level. We didn’t see that coming last year.
Another prime example of the depth of these fields, is AJ Koller and Thomas Wilson. One has to imagine that when these two opted to play the APP over the PPA this weekend, they definitely had visions of podium finishes in their heads with the amount of prize money at stake. Instead, neither player reached the podium, with the pair finishing 5/6th in men’s double. And neither player making the podium in mixed either, with AJ partnering with Anna Bright and Thomas partnering with Jorja Johnson.
To continue with the trend, yet another example of the increased competition is Tyson McGuffin and the men’s singles in North Carolina. With Ben John’s not playing this weekend and JW, Zane, Jay and a number of the other top single guys opting to play the APP, it would have seemed that the draw was primed for Tyson to walk to a gold medal, but that was not the case as hungry and motivated Julian Arnold knocked Tyson down to the loser’s bracket, and Julian himself was later taken down by the legendary Ryan Sherry.
Also, we should give some credit to Tyson for as always battling it out to the end and pulling out the bronze. $250 extra big ones for that bronze. No free lunches, so to speak.
4. Sherry’s Climb to the Top (Gritty) – What more can be said about Ryan Sherry? Well, apparently, we can say a lot. All professional sports need characters and Sher Bear is a character and then some. Sherry is unapologetically himself and somehow legitimately competes on the pro stage in pickleball. This past weekend, he won his first pro title. No one is going to remember that this was arguably the thinnest PPA men’s singles field we have seen next year. All that gets remembered is that Ryan Sherry won and he did it in epic fashion, beating Julian Arnold in a 5-game roller coaster that ended up going his way.
If you haven’t watched much of Sherry, you probably wonder how the heck he competes at all. He has limited mobility, he’s admittedly 30 pounds overweight and he moves almost as slowly as Parris Todd in between points. We have said it before but we’ll say it again, Sherry has the best 2-handed backhand roll in the men’s game, and it’s not even close. His forehand is nothing to scoff at either. Sherry mentioned not being drafted for the upcoming MLP event in his post-game interview but the man may need to accept he is a singles specialist. We have joked that Ryan Sherry is the best 4-rally singles player out there. He is also pretty dangerous when you give him 3 days of rest.
Julian Arnold will have his time. That has been on the horizon since he burst onto the scene at the PPA Masters playing with Lauren Stratman. This weekend felt like it was pre-ordained to go Sherry’s way once he found his way over Frank Anthony Davis in a grueling 3-game semi-final. Even if it did look like Sherry might collapse during the final timeout of the match in game 5, he found a way to win against the much younger, much more fit, but less experienced Arnold.
We’re going to enjoy it while we can because you damn well know Ryan Sherry will be.
5. Domoracki Breakout (Slim) – Christie Domoracki just started playing Senior Pro events at the end of 2021, and up until this weekend, she had not gotten a ton of results outside of a silver in mixed doubles with Scott Tingley at the World Pickleball Open in December, in a limited number of tournaments. That changed this weekend though as she put the senior pro tour on notice with silver medal in senior women’s pro doubles with Kim Kesner and a bronze medal in senior mixed doubles with Todd Robertson.
The mixed result was particularly impressive as Domoracki and Roberston defeated Rick Witsken and Beth Bellamy in two straight games, and Mattias Johansson and Helen Wilhelm in three games en route to the winner’s bracket final. It is definitely fair to say that Christie raised some eyebrows this weekend, and it will be interesting to see what partnership opportunities she gets moving forward.
On the APP broadcast, Dom Catalano was mentioning that Scott Crandall thought Christie will have no shortage of partnership opportunities going forward, and you have to feel like that will be the case.
Fantasy Update: It was a very weird weekend as both of us scored 20 points in fantasy for each event, which is abnormally high. There was a lot of variance in the results, which led to both of us having dominating results. Slim won 20-10 for the PPA fantasy draft while Gritty won 22-7 for the APP draft. Those are the widest margins we have had for any scoring this year and they happened on the same weekend.
Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below or email us at email@example.com. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook too!