It was a double dip weekend for pickleball and there was double up on the TV coverage too. The PPA did an interesting thing with Tennis Channel, which was not having the matches exclusively on TV. If there is some kind of long-term desire from Tennis Channel to bring pickleball to the forefront, it seems smarter to allow for the matches to be streamed online to maximize the eyeballs. We are clearly don’t agree when the tours put their product on TV channels a good chunk of people don’t have access to but, if the networks have any desire to have more consistent eyeballs to pickleball, they should also think twice about requiring exclusivity when airing the product. A lot of the APP was on ESPN+ exclusively this weekend and it makes more sense to do what the PPA did this weekend with Tennis Channel. Remember, most people worldwide are not able to access Tennis Channel, ESPN+ and CBS Sports Network, but anyone can access a YouTube stream. In any event, there was a heck of a lot of pickleball this weekend and we have some stuff to talk about.
1. Jessie Irvine’s Breakthrough (Gritty) – It’s been almost half a year since Catherine Parenteau decided a change was needed in her women’s doubles partnership with Jessie Irvine, and opted to go with Lea Jansen. We’re unclear if this was a complete shock to Jessie, but I imagine it had to be a surprise to a certain degree as their partnership was one that was generally pretty successful as they had wins towards the end of 2021 at the PPA Championships in Vegas and the PPA Masters. Although Jessie and Catherine couldn’t get any golds together in 2022, they made it to Championship Sunday at 3 events before the cord was cut on the partnership after losing to Jorja Johnson/Andrea Koop in the bronze medal match at the Austin PPA.
Fortunately for Irvine, the partnership ended at a time where she was able to lock down Anna Bright for a bunch of PPA events as Bright was pretty fresh off her initial splash on the scene in February. They hadn’t had any big wins together until Cincinnati over the weekend but it did really feel like it was only a matter of time before Bright/Irvine broke through together. Impressively, they took down the Waters in the semi-finals, who have been on a tear in the past few months together. There was a 3-rally moment starting on match point at 10-7-1 where you thought they might not get it done. Bright put in two very high third shot drops and then missed a dink at 7-10-1 to give up a point to the Waters, but the pair shut it down after that to win 11-8 in the third.
Irvine’s consistency combined with Bright’s dynamic play is a very good combination together. That’s not to say Irvine doesn’t bring the power because, yes, she brings the heat. However, Irvine’s game is predicated on being the player that never misses. I’ll be curious to see the stats after they come out, but it appears Irvine is driving a few more thirds than she was earlier in the year. Her rock-solid play with Catherine Parenteau, who is also a rock in her own way, may have led Parenteau to believe the ultimate ceiling was limited for the two of them as a pair. Neither Parenteau nor Irvine’s games are predicated around creating offence. Hence, why Parenteau may have opted for Jansen who is a much more offensive-minded, albeit less consistent player than Jessie.
You see how well the rock-solid nature of Jessie’s game fits for mixed doubles, where she pulled in another silver medal with Jay Devilliers in Ohio. Her results with Jay have been spectacular this year despite the lack of gold medals and there is an argument that Irivine is the best female mixed player out there (at least, Rob Nunnery said so on Twitter on Saturday). So long as Jessie has someone who can be more offensive on that left side for her, she is clearly a force in women’s doubles as well. You know this gold meant something extra special for Irvine too. Who doesn’t want to show their ex-partner they might have made a big mistake? In the whether the break-up was premature discussion, we can’t forget that Jansen/Parenteau have two golds together at the US Open and North Carolina along with beating Lucy/Callie in two games over the weekend for the right to play in a Championship Sunday.
I’m not sure this is necessarily the start of some kind of streak for Jessie and Anna. Nevertheless, their convincing, straight games win over Parenteau/Jansen on Sunday left no doubt that Bright/Irvine are going to be right in the mix the rest of the year. Remember, early in the mixed day on Friday, Bright/Irvine handled business against a very strong Kawamoto team. So, it is now official that the women’s doubles bracket on the PPA Tour is a 4-horse race.
You can thank Jessie Irvine for that.
2. Tyson McGuffin’s Golden Weekend (Slim) – Tyson McGuffin, is a true professional. You can always count on him to show up, put out his maximum effort and put a show on for the fans. People can, rightfully, complain about some of the soft singles draws he has gotten this year in the PPA events, but the reality is that he then goes out there and consistently beats the players he should beat.
He has been making a lot of singles finals this year, but has been struggling to close them out. That was not the case on Sunday though as he took care of business against rising star Hunter Johnson, who he had lost to the last time they faced off against one another.
His doubles game is also, at this point, probably overlooked. He does not have the flashiest doubles game by a long shot, but he brings a consistency and grind level that few players can match and has shown he can still get results in both mixed and men’s doubles. You add his experience and confidence advantage over most of his opponents, and the man is still showing he is relevant.
Tyson and Jay Devilliers are two players whose games are not a great fit, as we’ve highlighted in the past on this blog, but they both bring a consistently high level of effort and this weekend they were rewarded with a silver medal for their efforts. It was the first time we had seen the duo in a Championship Sunday together. This is more of what I figured we would see before the year started.
This weekend was a great reminder that Tyson is still a force in professional pickleball and is not going anywhere yet, despite an ever expanding talent pool.
3. Pickleball’s Other Tiers (Gritty) – Yana Grechkina, or should we say Yana Newell, and Thomas Wilson picked up a bronze medal on Friday in a standard fare, top heavy PPA mixed draw. This one was really out of nowhere for a team that was not even on our radar as a potential podium team. Both Yana and Thomas have had what we would call disappointing years, at least relative to expectations (for Wilson particularly). Wilson’s results have generally plateaued despite his sky high stock at the end of 2021. He made the decision not to sign the 3-year deal with the PPA and it is hard to fathom things have panned out quite as well as he would have hoped, even if he rightfully is happy he is not locked down for 3-years. While Yana’s 2022 has not been poor, she has not had much in the way of notable results outside of a good win here and there. Yana has gotten lost of the shuffle of the top-heavy brackets the PPA features where she gets some wins but not many extended days. Until this weekend.
Grechkina and Wilson were able to win their first match easily over Jansen/Loong, 11-4 and 11-4, which is a surprise in itself that it came so easily. They were taken down about as you would expect by Callie/AJ in two games before going down in the backdraw to get a close one over Irina/Pat Smith, smoking Matt/Lucy and avenging their earlier loss over Callie/AJ to win bronze.
It’s one of those results that was out of left field, and it is a reminder that improvement is not always linear. Wilson is uber talented but his results have stagnated to a degree in men’s and mixed. The talent suggests Wilson will figure it out and sometimes it is simply a matter of time, especially when things come relatively easily at first. It’s like a hitter who comes up to the big leagues and has success, the pitchers make an adjustment, and it’s on the hitter to make next adjustment. That second adjustment is often what is the most difficult for players, and the same could be true in pickleball for a guy like Wilson. I was reminded by my blogging partner in crime that Wilson is still working a non-pickleball full-time job. It should be noted Wilson along with cousin, AJ Koller, took a game off the Johns brothers before a let down loss to Travis Rettenmaier/Patrick Smith.
For Yana, it’s a reminder that we can’t completely forget about these 2nd and 3rd tier PPA women. An inability to get results against the very top players in the game does not mean there isn’t improvement happening, and potentially significant improvement at that. When I first watched Yana last year (hat tip to the now PPA-employed Matt Mayfield), she was a player who stood out for how much power she is able to generate. The difficulty for the Yana’s of the PPA world is that they are forgettable because they don’t often get the opportunity to shine on a bigger stage. They are not good enough to beat the best nor do they typically have partners who can propel them that next level. Look how hard it has been for Anna Bright to find podiums with Jessie Irvine.
It makes it hard to evaluate your Yana’s, Allyce Jones’ and Meghan Sheehan-Dizon’s. Allyce and Meghan have had a couple of good runs this year, but where they all fit across both tours is a real question mark. We saw thethe Kawamoto’s make pretty easy work of Sheehan/Dizon and Jones, winning 11-2 and 11-5, in the bronze medal match on Saturday. It’s tough to say where I would slot them in if they found their way into the MLP player pool next year. The Kawamoto’s were drafted just inside the top 12 women so I’d have to think these 2nd/3rd tier PPA women would have to strongly be considered after that.
However, those are questions for another day. The fact is that Yana and Thomas Wilson reminded us of what they are capable as individuals. It’ll be interesting to see whether either of them can back this performance up anytime soon.
4. Parris Todd is Back (Slim) – We had not seen Parris Todd, since she got injured at the MLP Newport and her last actual tournament was the Beer City Open. She picked up right where she left off though, showing no rust, and giving every indication that she is on her way to becoming the dominant force in women’s pickleball. She finished the weekend with a gold medal with Simone Jardim in women’s doubles and silver medal in mixed doubles with Dekel Barr, losing the final to JW Johnson and Simone Jardim.
Speaking of JW, a partnership I would like to see is Parris Todd and JW in mixed doubles. Those two are becoming regular off-court buds and it is fun to speculate where they might rank among the top teams in the game. We are also going to get to see a fun partnership this weekend, with Parris teaming up with Dylan Frazier at the PPA in Atlanta. It will be very interesting to see how that first time partnership does this weekend.
Parris is also currently in the singles draw this weekend at the PPA event. If she stays in the draw, we can only hope to see a rematch of her and Anna Leigh again. The health looked like a non-issue in Griffin.
Parris brings a level of athleticism, smoothness and power to her game that few women can match. It is often easy to forget she isn’t even a year into her pro pickleball journey. It seems to be only a matter of time before she is tagged the pinnacle of the sport.
5. Federico Does it Again (Gritty) – What else is there to say about Federico Staksrud? He is crossing off every singles pickleball bucket list item that he could possibly have for 2022 and he is doing it as quickly as he arrived on the scene. Staksrud was basically an unknown commodity in February and now he is arguably the #2 singles player in the world. He has gone back-to-back with gold medals in Chicago and Atlanta, most impressively taking down JW Johnson in both of the gold medal matches. I didn’t go back to do the research because I am trusting what Adam Stone and Rob Nunnery said on their ‘It Feels Right’ podcast that, prior to Chicago, Staksrud was 0 for 13 in matches against JW Johnson in his career.
He lost the first 2 out of 3 to JW in Chicago to make it 0 for 14, but he has now gone 3 for 3 as he won the game to 15 in Chicago, got the winners bracket final on Friday in a very tight match, and then finished him off in 3 games on Sunday. Staksrud combines his quality ground strokes with significant pressure pushing to the net quickly when he’s scoring in singles. It’s also tough to finish balls on Fed. He seems to get a few more back than he should, and it gives him more opportunities to hit an extra passing shot or two. There is less cat and mouse these days in pro singles with players doing so much from both their backhand and forehand sides at the net. The limiting of the cat and mouse takes away one of JW’s bigger advantages on opponents.
Although 3 matches do not make him a better singles player than JW, there is a real question in my mind that Staksrud is passing JW in singles. We had given JW the fatigue excuse when he started losing in singles a little while back. That could still be true as he is still playing a ton of pickleball, but JW is losing to other players too. Staksrud, on the other hand, somehow avoids bad losses completely and beats just about everyone who is good, other than Ben Johns who beat him 11-4 and 11-9 at TOC.
Tyson McGuffin won a gold medal over the weekend, but he only had to beat one higher end singles player to get it, winning over Hunter Johnson in the finals (Staksrud lost to Hunter Johnson at TOC as well). We haven’t had a McGuffin-Federico matchup since Tyson lost to Fed at the US Open when Staksrud was playing with the quite illegal CRBN paddle. Now. Staksrud is still winning with a mostly legal, probably sometimes slightly illegal, JOOLA paddle.
I’m not sure I’m ready to give Staksrud the #2 player torch quite yet. If he keeps this up though, none of us will have any other choice.
Fantasy Update: Slim is back! The lead got cut to 2 but in the span of two weeks, Slim gets 3 in a row and is already back up to 5 on the year. It was a convincing APP 19-11 win and a narrow 15-13 PPA win, buoyed by Bright/Irvine’s gold medal over Jansen/Parenteau. All the right moves in all the right places this weekend for Slim as he swept the women’s singles bracket of the APP and found big points with the likes of Hunter Johnson in singles. What appeared to be a tight race going into the home stretch of the calendar year may have been thwarted in a matter of 2 weeks.
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