PPA Tour Denver Open – 5 Takeaways – ALW Sans Leigh

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It almost felt too soon for another tournament. That feeling may be the result of the simple fact that we enjoy draft stuff so much, so the MLP draft made it feel as if there hasn’t been any break. The APP Newport event was essentially a tryout for the Challenger division, outside of a few select players. The PPA will now roll from Denver to Seattle next week, but a number of these PPA players will be attending the Beer City Open this coming week in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the PPA has allowed their contracted players to participate in the non-PPA affiliated event. 

1. ALW Sans Leigh (Gritty) – It’s basically impossible not to talk about either Ben Johns or Anna Leigh Waters after a PPA event. This weekend represented Anna Leigh’s 5th straight triple crown and there are no signs of her stopping. There’s no point in attempting to use more words to describe her dominance. She is flat out good. It’s hard to believe there were ever questions about her place as the top player in all 3 events. 

Although ALW has continued to get better, she was not wining mixed events with lesser partners before teaming up with Ben Johns in 2022. Despite proving her greatness throughout 2022 in women’s doubles time and time again until her Mom, Leigh Waters, tore her ACL right before Nationals, we still never truly knew if Anna Leigh would win everything teaming up with a top female – we figured she would, but no one could prove it. In singles, she lost to Parris Todd in the middle of the year in 2022 and there were questions as to how long her singles reign could last. 

Through unfortunate circumstances, ALW has been allowed to spread her wings in 2023 and nothing is getting her way. Every possible doubt has been removed with Mom now coaching instead of playing. Most people thought ALW would be utterly dominant, but to go undefeated in women’s doubles for the entire year is a different level of extraordinary. Anna Leigh hasn’t had to face quite as many contenders coming in on the women’s side as Ben Johns has on the men’s, but that does not take away from her complete supremacy of the pickleball world. 

There’s only so much I can write about ALW and Ben Johns being the best. It is boring. However, I also think it’s important to remember that we could never be 100% sure how good ALW was until she was able to leave the nest. She is better than advertised and it is on display at literally every single tournament. 

2. Callan Dawson’s Statement (Slim) –Probably the most talked about undrafted player for MLP this season has been Callan Dawson. Even PPA commissioner Connor Pardoe took to Twitter to voice that he thought teams missed not drafting Callan.

It is as if Callan must had a chip on his shoulder this weekend, as he and Hayden Patriquin picked up a bronze medal in men’s doubles. They may not have had the most difficult draw to the semi-finals, but they played the Johns Brothers tight in the semi-finals losing 12-10, 11-9. Then, they defeated Matt Wright and Dylan Frazier 11-8, 13-11 in the bronze medal match. The bottom line is that there are few, if any, Challenger men that can get the results Dawson did this weekend in men’s doubles.

The problem for Callan is that MLP is not just a men’s doubles competition, and it is all three events. There are very real questions about how good his mixed and singles games are. The other reality is that Callan’s greatest strength in men’s doubles is his steadiness. However, the problem is that steadiness is what makes it fairly easy to isolate his partner, so it is also not like he can win a lot of men’s matches on his own either.

Callan’s mixed game is probably adequate enough to be your number two mixed guy in the Challenger league, but he doesn’t offer a lot of upside in mixed either. His biggest deficiency are the Dreambreakers as he was probably one of the weakest singles players in Challenger last season, and his unique paddle grip, seems to limit the upside on his ground strokes.

I understand the argument for Callan being a Challenger player, but I also understand why teams went away from him and other proven right side guys, such a Steve Deakin and Patrick Smith, as well, because there is limited upside in those picks. It will be fascinating to see if some teams who swung for the fences with their late picks pivot back to steadier, proven players like Callan after the first event, or if this is just the way MLP will go now.

3. Vivienne’s Versatility (Gritty) – There is not much question as to what Vivienne David is at this point in her pickleball career. She is an elite, right-side specialist who everyone appears to enjoy playing with. David looks happier than anyone else on a pickleball court. The unwavering joy, along with extreme consistency and heavy counters, make her one of the more coveted partners for left-side women.

As per Josh Gartman on Twitter, Vivienne David is the first female to make a Championship Sunday with 3 different partners in 2023 – Jorja Johnson, Meghan Dizon and Lacy Schneemann. David doesn’t have a gold medal in women’s doubles because Anna Leigh Waters has only played with Catherine Parenteau and Anna Bright this year. However, in Denver, Vivienne and Lacy Schneemann made the finals together as they had impressive wins over Lea Jansen/Lucy Kovalova and Etta Wright/Jessie Irvine, two teams that I thought had a better chance to make the gold medal match.

The title of this takeaway is somewhat deceiving. While David demonstrates a unique ability to get wins with a number of different partners, she is also limited as a player in that she is stacking on that right no matter what. It doesn’t matter if she is playing with the lefty, Olivia McMillan, in MLP or if she is with Jorja Johnson at a PPA. She is on that right side. 

David needs a strong left-side player to win. It is partly why David as an early MLP has not been successful. For season 2, David is once again in the position of being the first female drafted to her team and will partner Vivian Glozman, who is hoping to be the left-side demon to David’s right-side steady Eddy. Regardless of how things go at MLP in season 2, David’s place on the pro tour as one of the more dependable partners will remain. 

It is undoubtedly an impressive feat to make 3 different finals with 3 different partners through 7 months of the year. David is as rock solid as it gets out there in the women’s game and I wonder if she will ever have a consistent female partner given her propensity to simply win.

4. Backdraw Elimination (Slim) – This was the first weekend that there was no backdraw in the PPA (unless a team lost in the first round). I think this is an example of the PPA trying to move too fast. Johnny Goldberg had a tweet that I thought summarized the issue well:

The Ben Johns, Anna Leigh Waters and Riley Newman’s of the world, and really any of the established pros do not need to be playing backdraws. The reality though is that the vast majority of pros, especially those coming into the sport, need those backdraw reps. The PPA is also going to be ultra reliant on the APP, or for there to be another pro tour to develop their players.

The economics for incoming pros to pay hundreds of dollars in entry fees alone to potentially play just two matches, does not make a ton of sense, and creates a major barrier to entry for new pros. As long as the APP is around and operating as a pro tour, I think this won’t create a major issue for the PPA, but I do think it is limited foresight on their part. It also may make some of their contracted players, who aren’t in the top 10, and don’t have the option to play the APP or elsewhere unhappy.

I continue to somewhat perplexed why the PPA is so concerned about catering to their top pros, when pro pickleball itself is so new and my feeling is there should be more focus on growing the sport and developing the overall level of professional pickleball.

5. What is Dylan Frazier? (Gritty) – Speaking of versatile, there are few players as versatile as Dylan Fazier is in pro pickleball. This weekend, Dylan had the opportunity to partner with Anna Bright, their first partnership since the Hyundai Masters in January, and Matt Wright, playing his first tournament since the official break-up of the 27 straight podium streak with Riley Newman.

The weekend didn’t go that well for Frazier, at least relative to expectations. He lost to Connor Garnett/Etta Wright in mixed in the round of 16 and then bowed out to Federico Staksrud/Pablo Tellez in the semi-finals of men’s doubles on Saturday. Frazier/Wright proceeded to drop the bronze medal match in two straight games to Callan Dawson and Hayden Patriquin. 

It was an underwhelming weekend from Frazier as he had a unique opportunity at a higher end men’s partnership that isn’t JW Johnson and a higher end mixed partnership in Anna Bright. The results beg the question of where Dylan Frazier fits into the pro pickleball world.  

As noted earlier, there is no question Frazier is one of the more versatile players out there, arguably the most versatile. He plays the right with JW Johnson and they have had extremely good results in 2023. As a right-side player, he is able to perform admirably in mixed despite not having top end partnerships. He’s not a typical right-side specialist in that he can take a lot of court when he plays the left or right in both doubles events, and he can create offence in some very tricky ways. 

Although I had Dylan Frazier #4 in my men’s MLP rankings prior to the season 2 draft, I have been wondering more recently whether Frazier gets more credit for his versatility than is warranted because he is primarily a right-side player. In other words, is Frazier’s value inflated because he is a because he is a really good mixed and left-side men’s player for a guy who usually plays the right? 

The cluster of men as a first-round selection for MLP could go a number of different ways and it is Frazier’s flexibility that makes him so appealing over the other guys, in my opinion. I just don’t know if his results merit the amount of love he gets and whether he is simply best suited as a right-side men’s player. There have been multiple people who have suggested that Frazier has possibly surpassed JW Johnson as a player and I think that it is a ludicrous idea. There is a tendency for us to evaluate players relative to our expectations of them. We have such high expectations for JW because his raw tools are so elite from a physical standpoint that we can lose sight of how good he still is as a player. Also, give JW an 002 and see how that goes. 

Dylan is a really good pickleball player but maybe the expectations should be more in line with him being one best right-side players out there who can play an above average mixed and left-side men’s doubles. 

The Texas Ranchers, Frazier’s MLP team for season 2, will be another interesting experiment. Frazier will likely be tasked with playing the #2 mixed role with Lauren Stratman while Travis Rettenmaier plays the #1 mixed role with Jorja Johnson. The team will also have to decide if Rettenmaier, another guy who is probably best suited for the right-side in the long run, is going to play the left with Frazier, which I expect is the more likely outcome. 

So, what is Dylan Frazier? I think we’re still figuring that out. 

Fantasy Update: 16-11 for Slim as he keenly picked out Matt Wright/Lucy Kovalova and Irina Tereschenko as having an opportunity to make noise in a softer field. Irina seems to show up in singles about 1 in every 10 tournaments, and this was the spot for her with a softie of all soft draws up until the semi-finals with Juidt Castillo, who may have tightened up and had a let down following her big win against Lea Jansen. We missed 4 points this week as Etta Wright/Connor Garnett, Callan Dawson/Hayden Patriquin and Jaume Martinez Vich came away with bronze medals as undrafted teams. Gritty is now 1 up on the year. 

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 too!

5 thoughts on “PPA Tour Denver Open – 5 Takeaways – ALW Sans Leigh

  • July 18, 2023 at 12:49 am

    Thank you for posting. It was impossible to not talk about Michael Jordan for a long time. Just is. I see at least one female player who may beat ALW next year. / What? You’re perplexed by a decision by the PPA? Really? PPA for the good of the sport? Really. Did you see the camera angles and video quality of the line calls? Really? Why do people say, “You know, if PPA did this or that, they could…”. Give it up about the PPA doing anything for the sport or non-contracted players. And believe it or not, I get tired of writing about how crappy PPA is. But if I don’t… Thanks again for a great write-up. At least I’m ending positively. 🙂 …Bonus. 😉 Note: I’m sure people get tired of my PPA rants, so sorry.

    • July 18, 2023 at 2:52 pm

      No need to be sorry. Your rants are a must at this point 😂 Even if they won’t do anything different, our rants also make us feel better

  • July 18, 2023 at 8:08 am

    I think MLP needs to add two more slots to the teams.

    They can be the bench, or specialists for either Doubles.

    • July 18, 2023 at 2:53 pm

      Two slots is a lot when Challenger is already so thin. That would add another 48 players. Maybe in time?

  • July 18, 2023 at 9:02 am

    #1 If Leigh is fit enough, AL plans to play with her at Nationals per her interview I believe. So that could be the first look we have of AL without a top ranked WD player.

    #3 Though stacking on right, Vivienne is quick to cover when her partner goes for the erne or otherwise goes wide. She is the reason many times they stay in the point. Her positivity is also the reason they may stay mentally tough when down in points.

    #4 Is it really new pros though who are being hurt? My impression is that a ton of 5.0’s are the ones paying up the $$$. They have to know they don’t really belong in that division so obviously don’t care about the cost. Maybe it’ll end up that they get tired of paying the $. Then only those who truly have earned their way to the pro level and have a legitimate reason to believe they can hang past that round 1 will be left. Too early to say what the outcome will be. I wonder more about the Pesa’s out there who have been grinding away for years only to discover their backdraw is full of weak 5.0’s and not giving them the same opportunity they had in 2022 to improve their level.

    #4 Originally, it was USAP who was supposed to grow the sport. They dropped the ball with that, probably starting all the way back with US Open. US Open now has new owners so maybe they’ll step up and do something. Dundon wants to grow his companies. Using the PPA to showcase Jack Sock will grow the sport. They can grow with strategic broadcasting – TV viewership, advertising $$$$. Which leads to interest in the sport and more paddles getting sold. Dundon now has PB Central “growing” with the ads for Versix paddle. There’ll always be players who want to test their “pro” mettle and enter tournaments. I know it can’t be fun to be out in 2 matches but these players may have “soft” reasons for entering. Now that PPA doesn’t have to worry about APP, they can grow the Pro version of the sport in any fashion that will get them to their own business goals. A rising tide raises all boats so I don’t think there is any worry at all about the sport growing.


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