PPA Tour Cincinnati Open and APP Tour New Jersey Open – 5 Takeaways – Ben Johns Hits Milestone

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The pickleball world is buzzing more than it ever has been and it doesn’t have to do with anything on the court. The off-court shenanigans have made it more difficult to have as much interest in what is happening on court from a results standpoint. The tournaments currently feel like they are taking a backseat until we have more clarity on the ‘Tour Wars’ situation. With two tournaments happening over the weekend, there were still a lot of matches played and interesting things happening that we tried to touch on in this week’s edition of the takeaways. 

1. Ben Johns 100 Titles (Gritty) – We have used quite a few words to express the same sentiment with respect to Ben’s dominance in pro pickleball over the recent months. Although he did not find a way to triple crown this past weekend, he hit the mark of winning his 100th title on the PPA Tour after his men’s doubles win on Sunday. The PPA and JOOLA did their best to make a big deal out of this, including JOOLA selling a special edition gold Perseus paddle for a measly $1,000. 

As great as Ben is and as much as humans love big round milestone numbers, it is hard to get all that excited over the 100 titles for Ben. It is undoubtedly an impressive feat but, when we are still in these infancy stages of pickleball, there is really nothing to compare Ben to. He is the gold standard for men’s pickleball but the fact that he has 100 titles on a pro tour that has been around for literally only a few years is just whatever for me. Every sport has to start somewhere and the standard for greatness always begins with someone. However, I have trouble getting on board with making such a big deal of basically meaningless milestones. 

I’m also getting more and more bothered by how often ‘GOAT’ (i.e. Greatest of All-Time) is used across all professional sports these days, but it’s particularly bothersome for me in the sport of pickleball. It feels like we are unnecessarily pumping up the status of these players in a professional sport that has really only been a professional sport for less than 5 years. 

Good for Ben. 100 titles is extraordinary. Let’s move on. 

2. Kawamotos Still Underappreciated (Slim) – Nobody is consistently both called underrated, while still probably being underrated more than the Kawamoto sisters. The twins made another Championship Sunday this weekend, and reached the final in dominant fashion with an 11-8, 11-5 quarter final win over Lacy Schneeman and Lea Jansen and an 11-3, 11-6 win over Anna Bright and Meghan Dizon.

This was Jackie Kawamoto’s 5th Championship Sunday, in the last 9 events (h/t as always to Josh Gartman for the stat). More often than not, when Jackie is playing, she is making the finals in women’s doubles. Jade, who is seen as a lesser player than her sister, is also an elite player and was coming off a Kansas City Tournament where she picked up two bronze medals, which included beating her sister Jackie in the bronze medal match.

The Kawamotos success is in large part due to their consistency, and we know a big part of pickleball is making less errors than the other team. What is impressive with the Kawamotos though, is that despite neither sister having what one would consider to be elite power, they seem to be able to find ways to generate offense consistently. It is necessary that players continue to evolve in this ever changing game and it appears that both sisters have worked on improving ways to find offense.

You would think that in both heir quarterfinal and semi-final match-ups this weekend that they might lack the firepower to compete with those teams, but in both matchups they found ways to keep their opponents off balance, and to dictate a good portion of the play.

It is more than past time to start asking if everyone still has the Kawamoto sisters rated too low. Some people easily forget that the Kawamotos are not full-time players in 2023. I think Jackie has a legitimate argument to be a top 4 women’s doubles player, and if she was playing with Anna Leigh Waters, would we be considering her a top 2 women’s doubles player? 

3. Allison Harris’ Wally Pip Weekend (Gritty) – Allisson Harris has been making waves for the past three months, mostly on the APP Tour. She has been getting quality wins and reaching the podium in both mixed and women’s. Right before the MLP draft, Harris and Andre Mick went on an epic run at the APP Newport event, making their first Championship Sunday and securing a silver medal. In hindsight, it was a clear mistake for her to go undrafted in the season 2 MLP draft.

This past weekend, Harris got an opportunity to step-in for Parris Todd, who withdrew from singles following a close 3-game win over Chao Yi Wang. We actually didn’t hear what exaclty Todd, but Harris filled in for Todd in mixed with Hunter Johnson and women’s with Simone Jardim. Impressively, Harris was able to get a silver medal with Hunter Johnson and a gold with Simone Jardim. 

The mixed silver was especially notable for Harris as Parris and Hunter have had an up and down year together. Although Harris/Hunter were double dipped in the gold medal match by Daescu/Barr, they were able to beat Barr/Daescu in the winners bracket final. Hunter/Parris have not had much success against Barr/Daescu in 2023 and it’s a real question mark on Parris Todd’s game that Harris could step into her regular partnership roles on the APP to have similar, if not better results in some capacity than her. It makes me wonder if Parris Todd is the most overrated player in pro pickleball. 

The Wally Pip reference is obviously in jest as Harris is not going to be supplanting the well established 2023 partnerships that she subbed in for in New Jersey. Regardless, it was a big opportunity for Harris and she took full advantage of the situation. Assuming MLP operates in season 2 as it did in season 1, Harris will have to be at the top of the list for any teams looking to make a switch after the first event or who might need a substitute for whatever reason for event #1. 

4. More PPA Chalk (Slim) – The PPA was extra chalky this weekend as the finals all featured the top two seeds, except for the sixth seeded, non-full time playing, Kawamoto sisters making the women’s doubles finals. Outside of Federico Staksrud beating Ben Johns in a very impressive and entertaining men’s singles final, the top seeds won all the Championship Sunday Matches. 

This is, in part, how racquet sports operate as we saw with Djokovic winning another major title on Sunday, but it still leaves the question of how entertaining the PPA can be next year, if this talent division does end up happening? Ben and Anna Leigh already dominate the sport, but how entertaining will it be if most of their competition is gone? Catherine and Anna Leigh are already unbeatable, but if all of their main competition is in MLP next year, what will women’s doubles even look like?

Edit: Wilson and David played in the final as well as the 6 seed. The point still stands but thanks to commenter Dan for the correction

5. Staksrud On Top (Gritty) – Federico Staksrud finally broke through against Ben Johns in singles on Sunday, denying Ben another triple crown in an epic 11-9, 2-11, 11-9 gold medal win on Sunday. It has been a tough go for Staksrud in matchups against Ben this year, so it had to feel good for the tour’s 2nd most consistent player to finally get it done. 

Staksrud has had a significant rise in his stock in 2023 across all facets of his game, and his singles game has not suffered one bit. With how much volatility is out there in these singles draws, Staksrud finds a way to be in that podium mix pretty much every PPA tournament. Even if he is not making it to every Championship Sunday, the limited number of upsets that he has suffered speaks to an impressive level of consistency that is hard to come by in singles. 

Staksrud was inches away from knocking off Ben/Collin in men’s doubles with Pablo Tellez as well. The mixed results haven’t been there as much recently for Federico, but to bring this level of play to singles days despite playing at a high level in all 3 events is no small feat. Staksrud has been grinding the pro scene since the beginning of 2022 and he is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. 

BONUS: Zane Navratil Unfiltered on the NML Podcast – In case you missed it, late on Friday evening we recorded and released a new podcast episode featuring Zane Navratil. We asked Zane to come on the podcast to talk about the ‘Tour Wars’ after seeing that his PicklePod episode was not released, and he obliged. Zane was not shy to express some of the issues he has had with the PPA and he provided thoughtful responses on a number of different aspects of the ‘Tour Wars’ topic. You can listen to the podcast on YouTube, Apple, and Spotify – yes, we want you to listen to it 3 times, on each platform!

Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below or email us at nmlpickleball@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Threads and Facebook. Also, listen and subscribe to our podcast on Apple, Spotify and YouTube!

8 thoughts on “PPA Tour Cincinnati Open and APP Tour New Jersey Open – 5 Takeaways – Ben Johns Hits Milestone

  • September 12, 2023 at 5:58 am

    Everyone, including the PPA announcers seems to be forgetting this is Staksrud’s third gold in singles this year. At the AZ open earlier this year he beat Ben in the semis then went on to beat Jay for gold.

    • September 12, 2023 at 9:39 am

      Good reminder there about beating Ben in the semis. Thanks for that, Denise.

  • September 12, 2023 at 7:39 am

    1. I thought it was hypocritical of PPA to count all of Ben’s gold medals when they don’t allow mention of competition Gold medals for other pros.

    3. Good for APP allowing a sub. If it’d been PPA, no sub. I remember one PPA tournament where 2 women teams lost their partners last minute. So two very good women players – I want to say it was Jorja and Vivienne – could have teamed up but weren’t allowed.

    4. I’m definitely ready for PPA to be over. I wish they ended at Las Vegas then we would only have Nationals left and MLP events for remainder of year. Just seems anti-climatic to have 2 more PPAs afterwards. The only thing interesting about San Clemente is if it combines with MLP like it did last time. (Hilton Head is listed but I think that is only Amateurs.)

    5. Staksrud’s endurance is amazing to grind like he has done for all of his pickleball career. Tyson makes a big deal about his recovery routine. I haven’t heard Staksrud say anything about his. Staksrud is younger but still you know he must be doing a lot right. Even the younger JW has taken some time off to give his body time to recover.

    Bonus: I’ve listened on Apple and watched Youtube! I guess I need to now do Spotify to get a Blue ribbon (joking). You guys did a great job with your questions – everything we wanted to know. And unlike many pros, Zane wasn’t dodgy about answering questions other than maybe the one on what he thinks will happen with the 2 entities. I assume Zane thinks MLP will be the winner or buyer of PPA because that is who he went with. And he said this is only move 1 so lots could happen and “unhappen” over the next 2 years. Glad NML is here to analyze it all with passion.

    Side note: Franklin has new Carbon paddles approved. Will they be good enough that JW will use one? I’d be curious to see what he and Jorja could do with a hybrid shape like in the 6.0 Black Diamond line — that shape isn’t currently shown for Franklin though.

    • September 12, 2023 at 9:41 am

      Good thoughts all around on the takeaways. And thanks on the podcast. Zane was very good about answering questions as we wanted to be able to push both sides of the envelope and see what he had to say. Full respect for him as he did not ask for anything to be cut out of the podcast and was fine with us publishing it as it was recorded.

      We have been hearing about a new Franklin for a while. It is crazy to see that JW went back to the old BJ Franklin this past weekend. Hayden also still plays with the old paddle and it has to be a significant disadvantage. It is something to keep in mind for Hayden going forward.

      • September 12, 2023 at 2:55 pm

        Zane’s a real one for sure. You might not always agree with everything he says, but it’s always well thought out and coming from a place of reason/logic

  • September 12, 2023 at 8:09 pm

    Thank you for your time and posting. It was a great podcast with Zane. If other players had been more open, maybe the PPA wouldn’t be around. Instead of a tour group, the PPA could be a scouting league for tennis players. They find them and give them one-year contracts. Then, when disgusted with PPA, they transfer over (for a minimum fee of course) to MLP. And PPA starts again.

    • September 13, 2023 at 4:32 pm

      Seems unlikely here now. Thanks for the comments though!


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