We really tried our best but after MLP last weekend we couldn’t muster up nearly the same level of excitement for this weekend. The whites, a celeb pro-am that did go ahead and this being the final PPA of the year wasn’t enough to create that same special aura for conesecutive weeks. It will be even harder next year as week after week of tournaments is almost certainly going to create some sense of Groundhog Day deja vu. There were still some fun matches (hello, mixed final) and interesting storylines from the weekend though. It’s time for the takeaways.
Note: you have been asking for it and we finally plan to release new player rankings starting on Thursday!
1. MLP Non-Hangover (Gritty) – We both thought the top players may have been ripe for the taking coming off the highest of highs at MLP. It’s pretty clear though that the potential hangover storyline did not come to fruition for the most part. Outside of Jay Devilliers’ rough singles day on Thursday, it was actually one of the more to script PPAs we have seen recently. Of course, Lauren Stratman and Irina Tereschenko did take silver after ousting the Waters, but they were at MLP so not a hangover thing.
As much of a let down as it may have been for the players coming off of MLP, the best players still were the best on the weekend. Ben Johns and Tyson McGuffin were in 2 of 3 finals, Riley and Tyson got silver together, Anna Leigh won singles, Jessie Irvine and Catherine Parenteau won gold, and Matt/Lucy won mixed – FYI we’re not qualifying Simone losing as an upset these days (see below for more).
There weren’t a ton of non-MLP partnerships that seemed like they could up end things either. Matt and Lucy could win gold at any event with mixed up in the air and a team like Irvine/DJ Young weren’t able to make any noise. It’s hard to beat the best and if there was anytime for it to happen it seemed like this weekend could have been chaotic. It just didn’t happen.
2. Erik Lange = Elite (Slim) – This is really just taking a moment to appreciate Erik Lange and his ability to come out and compete at the highest level, despite only playing a handful of pro events each year. With the development of pro tours and there being pro tournaments almost every weekend, ‘real pickleball pros’ have quickly multiplied and the podium in most pro events is usually filled with pickleball pros. Even if these pros have a job outside of pickleball (although those are becoming fewer as well), they are regulars on the tour and play pro events frequently. I think this development of actual professionals, has made it quite difficult for the weekend warriors type, who may try to play just a few events a year to compete at the highest level. The same can be said for new players trying to break into the professional ranks. If you aren’t regularly seeing the pace of play you get at the professional level, I think that adjustment is going to be extremely difficult. That’s what makes what Erik Lange does, so impressive.
Erik Lange is clearly very good, and when you put him with a high end partner he is going to get results in men’s doubles, which is what we saw this weekend, as he took bronze in men’s doubles, playing with Dekel Bar. He also played the PPA Championship a few weeks ago, with Collin Johns, and took 4th there.Must be tough for Lange sometimes to have to sit on the sidelines for so many of these tournaments.
Erik is definitely a large human, I had forgotten how large, until I saw him next to Dekel and he was noticeably taller than Dekel. Lange definitely puts all of that reach to good use. Erik counters probably as hard, as just about anybody, which makes him scary to attack, and if you want to try and dink with him or drop to him, that long reach does not provide a player with much room to safely do that, and if he is able to reach the ball, he is able to do a lot with it. I think an area that could probably use some work still, is the dink consistency, and his thirds. Erik has great patience and dinks well but he seems to miss a few, that at the very highest level, you probably shouldn’t. However, as I said dinking with him to try and create these potential misses, is scary for players, as there just isn’t a lot of room. I also think with more regular play at this level, that consistency would come.
I feel as though if Erik were a regular on the pro tour, he would also be a more regular podium presence in men’s doubles..
3. Simone Laboring (Slim) – Simone Jardim, is clearly not herself. She has been posting about her injuries, and treatments for quite some time now on social media, and it is obvious that the injuries are having a significant impact on her play. Watching her play, it seems apparent to me, at least, that she has lost almost all power on her counter punches, and most of her power in general. She also seems to be quite clearly laboring in her general movement on the court. We have also seen the effect it has had on her results, as she has gone from almost a given to get gold, at the start of the year, to missing the podium entirely, the last two tournaments.
Simone has not taken, any truly substantive time off since she began battling these injuries, and I would imagine that is due to a combination of not wanting to let down her partners and financial obligations. Simone’s appearance fees for playing these PPA events will not be insignificant, and I have to imagine that it is very hard to turn that money down. It would appear that Simone should have two full months, off now before her first event of the new year, and hopefully this will give her enough time to rest, heal and rehab, so she can come back at 100%. I really hope that if she needs more time than that, that she takes it, because it is tough to see her out there, far from the best version of herself.
I have said this before, but it is going to become increasingly difficult for players to balance the need to take care of there bodies, while trying to maximize their earning potential. Even though it is always hard to turn down the opportunity to make money, especially in pickleball where there is still relatively so little out there, players have to be careful that they aren’t putting their careers at risk by asking too much of their bodies.
4. Mattias Johansson’s Ascension (Gritty) – Johansson has only been playing pickleball tournaments for about a year and a half, and he’s more of a singles specialist at this point. Although, he does have a couple of recently quality men’s doubles bronze medals. But I digress.
It hasn’t always been a straight line, upward trajectory for Johansson in singles. Really, when is it ever for most players? But Johansson has capped off the year with a PPA senior men’s singles gold over Paul Olin on Thursday, who he lost twice to in Texas en route to a silver. He also lost twice to Olin at TOC where he won silver and on a few other occasions this year.
While he hasn’t asserted any true dominance, Johansson is well on his way to being the clear #1 singles player on the senior tour. He has a very weird looking style in spite of a long career of coaching tennis. Nevertheless, he drives the crap out of the ball and has good mobility for his age. It’s tough to stay at the top of the senior pro world when the newly minted 50 year olds come on board each year plus all the new talent in the game. However, look out for potential singles dominance from Johansson in 2022.
5. Last Hurrah (Gritty) – It feels like 2021 has been a long haul. Probably because it’s the first full season of actual pro tournaments in this sport. The PPA Masters was also the last that we’ll see of a number of steady partnerships.
Ben looks like he’ll be playing exclusively with Collin next year even after he figured out how to play with Matt in 2021 compared to 2022. Riley and Tyson hit another podium together but Riley is going with Matt Wright, and Tyson will be with Jay Devilliers. Lucy/Simone are no more as Kovalova will be with Callie Smith next year and it appears Jardim will be with Lea Jansen (assuming health as they were registered for one early 2022 tourney together). Devilliers and Stratman didn’t end up playing with Pat Smith at the Masters after he pulled out, but those partnerships look to be done too.
Update since posting: I wanted to add that this was also Ben and Simone’s last go together. Ben will be with Anna Leigh and Simone’s consistent partner is not fully clear. JW may be that person but Simone is also registered currently for one tourney with Dylan Frazier.
We’re going to try to put together a 2022 partnership look ahead before the end of the year and do a deeper dive on the new duos. So keep an eye out for that!
Fantasy Update: This was one of our bigger gaps in fantasy points for a week. Gritty wins 16 to 10 after getting both the men’s and mixed doubles championship teams. We both left Tereschenko/Stratman undrafted so that were 2 points left on the board and that decision looks worse after a really close gold medal match.
Slim is still up 2 up on the year with only 2 tournaments remaining. Can you feel the excitement building?
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