PPA Tour Hertz Gold Cup – 5 Takeaways – Expectedly Unexpected

📸 @lacyschneemann.pb

This was the last standard PPA tournament of the year. The PPA finals thing will be at the end of the month in San Clemente, but we are officially done with full blown draws for 2023. So much and so little changes in some ways over the course of an entire year. Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters continue as the undisputed best players in the world while we had Championship Sunday featuring a whole bunch of tour staples like Catherine Parenteau, JW Johnson, Dylan Frazier, Callie Smith, Lucy Kovalova and Tyson McGuffin. 2024 is going to feel very different from 2024 but it may not be as different as it may feel sometimes with how fast the game is changing.

1. Expectedly Unexpected (Gritty) – As we noted in the introduction, there were a good number of familiar faces on Championship Sunday, but that didn’t mean we didn’t get the somewhat predictable upsets that were to be expected with the 3rd consecutive tournament of an intense stretch for the players. Most notably, the Johns brothers suffered a shocking loss, 12-10 in the third game, to Jaume Martinez Vich and Wyatt Stone. Stone/Martinez Vich had just grinded through a 3-game match they barely pulled out in round 1 against Andreas Siljestrom/Daniel De La Rosa, and there was no reason to expect an upset would be coming.  

It is not quite as shocking as Locklear/Newell taking down the Johns bros earlier this year because it was a loss that was so predictably Ben and Collin. Sleep walking through a 2nd round match in the last tournament of the year usually doesn’t result in a loss for those two, but it did this weekend. Frankly, I might have expected a few more of these type of hiccups from Ben and Collin throughout 2023 with the level of competition improving by the week. Of course, Martinez Vich/Stone proceeded to lose their next match to Tyler Loong/DJ Young. 

Federico Staksrud suffered an early round loss against Gabe Tardio. The singles losses are generally less surprising, but Staksrud has been about as consistent as they come this year. Tardio, who can be dangerous in singles, is not always as consistent as they come. Staksrud ends the year as the closest competition for that #1 men’s singles spot. However, that gap between Staksrud and whoever the #3 player is much closer than Ben Johns with Federico Staksrud. Ben was able to secure another singles title following his Nationals indoor loss to the Gearbox fueled Christopher Haworth. 

It wasn’t a weekend full of major upsets, but there were results that we did not expect to happen on paper, which is the case at most tournaments. Matt Wright/Lucy Kovalova lost handily to Callan Dawson/Rachel Rohrbacher. Pablo Tellez/Irina Tereschenko lost to Cass Hoag/Anderson Scarpa as did Lacy Schneemann/Zane Navratil. Salome Devidze won gold over Lacy Schneemann in women’s singles following an Anna Leigh Waters withdrawal. 

If there’s any theme that will carry over for 2024, it is a theme that is applicable across pretty much all pro sports and is the reason why we keep tuning in to watch adults play a game. Expect the unexpected. 

2. Another Paddle Fiasco to Account For – The Hertz Gold Cup started off with a surprising post from Las Vegas Night Owls GM and part-owner, Kaitlyn Kerr, who received an email from the PPA Tour prior to her participation in the pro mixed doubles qualifier. The email advised players that Pickle Pro Labs (PPL), the independent company that has been conducting MLP’s paddle testing in 2023, would be handling all on-site paddle testing at the Hertz Gold Cup tournament.

We have been critical of the PPA’s handling of the paddle controversies that have come their way in 2023. Jillian Braverman eviscerated the PPA’s top brass in a recent podcast, which included lengthy excerpts from a phone call with Connor Ogden and Don Stanley regarding the paddle challenge of Irina Tereschenko. On the heels of an MLP Dallas event that featured an ungodly number of failed paddles, it was an unexpected positive to see that the PPA would be conducting better on-site testing through an independent entity.

We have no insight as to why the PPA implemented PPL testing for its final tournament of the calendar year. Our educated speculation led us to believe that the PPA was strong armed into making the change following their handling of the Irina challenge highlighted by Braverman and the impending merge that is being finalized. 

Regardless of the reason why the PPL testing was put in place before this event, the implementation of independent testing at a PPA event appeared to signal the start of more unity on better paddle testing. 

Jillian Braverman was quick to point out on social media that two of Paddletek’s marquee players embroiled in paddle controversy rumors and speculation in 2023 had interesting starts to their singles days. Anna Leigh Waters withdrew from playing singles in Daytona and Irina Tereschenko was down 11-0, 2-0 in her first-round match against an unknown contender before withdrawing. Then, on Friday, Braverman pointed out a surprising loss for Tereschenko and Pablo Tellez at the hands of Cass Hoag and Anderson Scarpa.

The withdrawal for ALW and random losses for Irina Tereschenko in the third consecutive week of events cannot be evidence in itself of previous wrongdoing, but they were certainly interesting conversation pieces considering the questions many have had as to whether those two, particularly Anna Leigh, have been using juiced paddles. It should be noted that no player has ever attempted to challenge Anna Leigh’s paddle at a PPA event. 

To provide some additional noteworthy context on Anna Leigh Waters, I think it is worth pointing out that Chris Olson at the Pickleball Studio addressed the accusations surrounding Anna Leigh potentially using a juiced paddle in his most recent newsletter in his review of her new signature paddle:

Concerningly, Braverman reported later on Friday evening that the PPA Tour instructed PPL to lower the standard they were using for deflection testing (from 50 Average Deflection Force (ADF) to 42) because too many paddles were failing. Braverman also indicated the change to the testing standard was the result of external pressure received by the PPA. So, just as the PPA may have been strong armed into implementing better testing, it also appears that they may have been strong armed into changing the rules almost immediately after they implemented testing.

With all the paddles that failed at MLP Dallas, I have heard and seen discussions about how manufacturers and players aren’t sure why so many more paddles are failing in spite of no change to PPL’s testing methods. While it may be tough for these manufacturers and players to deal with these issues in real time at tournaments, PPL has been very transparent with respect to the testing methods they are using. Players and manufacturers may not have had much time to sort out the most recent issues with paddles since MLP Dallas, but it goes without saying that it completely beats the purpose of independent testing if a direction is provided to change the testing standards to ensure paddles are passing. 

I’m not sure what else to say about the situation other than it is completely messed up. I don’t know if there is any serious long-term concern to be had from this latest handling of paddle testing by the PPA. I want to believe that this doesn’t potentially indicate there won’t alignment from the PPA top brass and MLP top brass next year on paddle testing. We should all be able to agree that having a consistent and clear standard for paddle testing is the best thing for the sport. 

It should be embarrassing that something like this has happened yet again, but it ends up being only another notch on the belt in 2023. Let’s be better in 2024. No matter what certain sponsors or players have to say about it.  

3. JW and Dylan Most Podiums in 2023 (Slim) As Josh Gartman noted on Twitter, JW and Dylan have made seven consecutive PPA finals, and nine straight finals appearances if you include a couple of non-PPA tournaments, which is a crazy level of consistency.

JW and Dylan basically never have a bad day, but the question that remains for them is whether they can catch up to the Johns brothers in men’s doubles. I continue to maintain that JW and Dylan’s steady style enables them to be so consistent with their results but they may also need to change up their patterns and become less predictable if they want to start to be able to beat the Johns brothers. They have to find more ways to initiate against the Johns brothers and try to take advantage of the overall hands edge that I believe they have.

As we head into 2024, it will be interesting to see if JW and Dylan can maintain or grow their edge over other teams in the field, or if teams will start to catch up to them. It is easy to forget at the end of 2022, we were wondering if Riley Newman might be catching Ben Johns in doubles, and now it seems as though the field has caught up to Riley, while Ben has increased his edge over the rest of the field.

4. Lacy Schneemann’s Double Podium (Gritty) – It was a double podium with a slight asterisk for Lacy Schneemann this weekend. She finished off the year with a silver in women’s singles and a bronze in women’s doubles with Jade Kawamoto. The asterisk goes on the singles result as Lacy benefitted from a late Anna Leigh Waters withdrawal. 

Lacy Schneemann is a conundrum of a player. She went from virtual unknown in 2022 to on the rise at the start of 2023 to potentially disappointing by the end of 2023. Schneemann was a mildly controversial 4th round pick by the NYC Hustlers in the season 1 MLP draft. Anna Bright took responsibility for the selection of Schneemann and the Hustlers were rewarded with a somewhat surprising first event finals appearance in Mesa. That’s where the success ended for the Hustlers, though, as they failed to make it past the quarterfinals in the next two events of season 1. 

The up and down nature of the NYC Hustlers first season of MLP somewhat mirrors Lacy Schneemann as a player. Schneemann burst onto the scene at the 2nd MLP event of 2022 in San Clemente and filled in more than admirably as a substitute for an injured Parris Todd on the BLQK squad. Since that time, we have seen flashes of brilliance with her plus athleticism and somewhat unique for a female skill set. On the other hand, there have been inconsistencies that have cast doubt on Lacy’s overall potential as a player. 

Although Ben Johns has not provided any insight on his thought process for the drafting of his teammates for season 2 of MLP, I have to think that Ben was betting on a leap from Schneemann just as he had for Etta Wright in season 1. He took a chance that Schneemann making the move from aerospace engineer to full-time pickleball pro would lead to a significant improvement in her level. 

Fast forward to the end of 2023 and it is still unclear what Lacy Schneemann is as a player. After a strong weekend for Schneemann at the Hertz Gold Cup, it may be that bigger and better things are on the horizon for her in 2024.  this a sign of bigger and better things on the horizon for Schneemann. On the flip side, it could be that this double podium is simply pat of the up and down Lacy Schneemann experience we continue to see from a talented, but error prone player.  

I don’t have any hot take on which way I think this will go for Schneemann, but I am very curious to see where things land for her in 2024.

5. Garnett and Alshon Secure Silver (Slim) – Connor Garnett and Christian Alshon picked up a silver medal this weekend in men’s doubles and it is a notable result. Connor and Christian are arguably the two biggest risers in the men’s player ranks this year, which can partly be evidenced by them being two of the four men to move up from Challenger to Premier in the latest MLP draft. It is men’s doubles, though, that usually takes men the longest to reach the top level at so it is interesting to seem them reaching a Championship Sunday playing together.

Christian has rapidly become a very solid right side player in men’s doubles, and seems to be the rare right side guy who can also go out and play elite level mixed doubles on the left side. Connor is a left side guy, who is showing he can get results in singles and doubles,

These are probably the two guys to watch heading into next year to see if they can break into the elite level of men’s players. Something else that will be fun to watch with these two is who they will partner with next year in mixed doubles. We have already seen Alshon and Tyra Black pushing some of the top mixed teams. With the right partners, both of these guys could be two of the biggest triple threats in the game of pro pickleball.

Fantasy Update: It is a 16 to 9 victory for Gritty to put him 1 up for the year with only one tournament left to go in 2023. We missed 5 total points this week – Lacy Schneemann/Jade Kawamoto’s bronze, Tyler Loong/DJ Young’s bronze (congrats to Loong back to his bronze king throne), Lacy Schneemann’s silver medal and Lauren Stratman’s bronze in women’s singles. What a battle it has been between the two of us this year. Surely, you are all on the edge of your seats to see how this will finish.

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5 thoughts on “PPA Tour Hertz Gold Cup – 5 Takeaways – Expectedly Unexpected

  • November 21, 2023 at 10:34 pm

    If a tour pays PPL to be their paddle testers, then they are not independent. They will have to follow that tour’s rules/suggestions for testing paddles. But maybe PPL is doing it for free? 🙂 Embarrassing? It isn’t embarrassing if you are doing it on purpose. JW and especially Dylan hit way too many balls into the net at the NVZ line speed-ups, IMO, that is what they have to change. Happy Thanksgiving. 🙂

  • November 22, 2023 at 11:34 am

    “Its been reported to me…”


    Yes, JillyB, the bastion of journalistic integrity 😀

    Someone that concerned about the penis size of teenage boys is probably not a great source of info, at least if credibility is of any interest.

    • November 22, 2023 at 6:15 pm

      You can be critical of Jilly B and lord knows we have been as critical of her as anyone in the past, but using that as a basis for whether her information is wrong is lazy. This reporting by her is correct information and there’s nothing to indicate her recent reporting on paddle stuff is inaccurate at all

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