Pro pickleball is coming to an end for 2023 and there is still a ton that is unsettled going into 2024. We don’t know what a schedule is going to look like for 2024 nor do we have any idea how the two entities, MLP and the PPA, are going to operate, presumably together. Meanwhile, the APP continues to chug chug like Thomas the Tank Engine and does not appear to be departing our pickleball lives anytime soon. Just when you think the pickleball world is quiet, there is more news that comes around the corner. We’ll have more to come later this week as we haven’t even gotten into the relatively meaningless, but still fun, Shuffle Draft results. For now, we’ll stick with the takeaways from a double trouble PPA and APP weekend.
1. Paddle Shenanigans Are Back (Gritty) – We had a couple of people slide into our DMs on Saturday to let us know that Jillian Braverman had a bit of a “meltdown” following her match with Tyra Black against Irina Tereschenko and Jade Kawamoto. Apparently, Braverman had challenged Irina Tereschenko’s Paddletek paddle after their 11-4, 11-6 loss and she was not happy when the paddle passed the PPA’s on-site testing. So, after we heard this, we went digging for some more information and have uncovered some more concerning nuggets about paddles and paddle testing.
Interestingly, on Monday afternoon, Jillian Braverman made a Vegas tourney recap post on Instagram stating, “There is a massive crisis happening in pro pickleball right now”. She goes on to write that 24 paddles failed MLP’s deflection paddle testing protocols in Atlanta compared to only 9 paddles failing in San Clemente. Braverman concludes her post saying that she will be releasing a podcast later titled “The Biggest Cheater(s) in Pickleball.” That podcast has since been released and provides some good information, especially for those who may not be all that familiar with what has been happening on the pro paddle scene in 2023.
I’m not going in-depth here in the takeaways about the most recent potential issue brought to light by Braverman, but I felt we had to write about it in some capacity sooner rather than later. First off, this is yet another issue that is being brought to light involving Paddletek. Although Paddletek appears to be far from the only potential paddle company culprit, the first time we really got into the paddle testing stuff was at the start of the year with Paddletek and things are nowhere near sorted out more than 10 months later.
The problem that we have highlighted is that there is not enough consistency or transparency in paddle testing. There are no repercussions for those who break the rules. There are a number of reasons we can and have speculated on for why that is, but nothing changes until you set a consistent standard for testing and there are consequences for breaking the rules.
We have been told by multiple sources that both Anna Leigh Waters’ and Irina Tereschenko’s Paddletek paddles failed MLP’s deflection testing in Atlanta and were taken out of play. You can take that information for what it is right now, but it is more than a little bit troubling to hear that two of the game’s most well known players had their paddles removed from from play less than a month ago. I actually missed this Instagram post from Christian Alshon until I was writing my separate piece about Alshon for these takeaways:
The PPA is their own mess, but MLP is not doing much to solve the larger problem when they simply remove paddles from being used at their event without publicizing the results of their testing in any capacity. On the face of things, it seems odd that MLP would have such a discrepancy in the number of failed paddles from San Clemente to Atlanta. Even though the reason behind that discrepancy can’t be known without more data and information, one theory I have is that players were more careful when paddle testing was first implemented at MLP in San Clemente and became more emboldened when they realized the envelope could be pushed without any repercussions for failing.
Regardless, this is yet another example of paddle controversy that is not going away. This is in a world where we have two soon to be merged entities handling paddle testing in very different, but still problematic, ways. We’ll likely have more to come on this later in the week as we take more time to cover what continues to be one of the trickier topics in professional pickleball.
2. The Resilience of the Johns Brothers (Slim) – The Johns brothers have a great ability to keep figuring out their opponents and staying ahead of them. This weekend was yet another example of that as they not only took another gold medal, but but they had to come back from down two games to zero to do so in the gold medal match against JW Johnson and Dylan Frazier.
The best of five format on Championship Sunday makes the Johns brothers particularly difficult to beat as there are probably no greater strategists in the game than those two. It is interesting because earlier this year Dylan Frazier had talked on he and Anna Bright’s podcast about how he was actually happy to see the Johns brothers in the semi-finals because there was a better chance to beat them in a best two out of three games.
If you are wanting to beat the Johns brothers on Sunday, you probably don’t just need a great strategy, you also need to be able to anticipate how they will counter your game plan, and have a counter to their counter. Collin Johns referenced trusting their methodology on his Tuesday Vegas Instagram post:
The Johns methodical style probably does not create the best viewing experience for a broad television audience, but their chess like style is certainly fascinating for the hardcore pickleball fans.
3. More Than a Tweener King (Gritty) – The self-proclaimed Tweener King, Christian Alshon, has always had a flare for the dramatics. However, unlike others who may love their own highlight reels a little bit too much, Alshon looks to be a guy who wants to put in the real, non-Instagram clip worthy work to get better. Yes, he does like to post highlights and share his journey on YouTube. Personal questions aside, Alshon is demonstrating that his hard work is paying serious dividends for him.
I have had my questions about Christian Alshon as a pickleball player. As talented an individual as he is, when I watched the Challenger matches back from season 1 of MLP, I wasn’t terribly impressed because of my high expectations for him. He wasn’t comfortable doing much on his backhand and the counter ability was lacking at a higher end level. While we both questioned his selection to the D.C. Pickleball Team to play alongside Riley Newman, Slim trusted the talent more than I did. I still don’t think I was wrong in questioning what Alshon was at the time of the draft, but the projection of what he could be was undoubtedly off.
Alshon has steadily been improving, and that was proven in spades playing mixed this weekend with Tyra Black. They had a great run together to the semi-finals, eventually losing to James Ignatowich and Anna Bright, and falling short in a close bronze medal match to Thomas Wilson/Vivienne David. To get there, they had to beat Meghan Dizon/Julian Arnold, Callie Smith/Jay Devilliers and Jessie Irvine/Riley Newman.
The match against Irvine/Newman was streamed on center court. It was one of the better matches of the year in any division. Obviously, Black played extremely well and continues to hold her own and then some in hand battles against some of the top guys out there, like Riley Newman. But my takeaway from watching the match could be nothing other than how good Christian Alshon looked. To put it simply, he was fantastic.
The movement of Alshon is what pops off the page. He can cover a bunch of court and he finds his way to get that big forehand into spots you don’t expect. He’s now doing a lot more with his backhand too as he’s much better able to use that one-hand roll to initiate offense and he’s more comfortable dinking on that side. Not surprisingly, his defense was top notch and when you put him with Tyra Black it is hard for opponent’s to finish anything.
The two areas that really stood out for Alshon in his match against Irvine/Newman were his counters and consistency. Alshon is known around the pro scene as being limited in his one-hand punch counter. His solution appears to be masking the problem and it is working. He’s using the scorpion on his forehand, sliding to a two-hand backhand counter and often resetting when he gets the ball gets into his body. He hung right in there all match with Riley Newman.
Alshon’s consistency was off the charts as well. One best 2 out of 3 match is a small sample size, but he was rock solid throughout most of the match. He was lights out with his forehand roll third shot drop and mostly avoided the drive because they were getting to the kitchen so often when he dropped the ball. The ability to put pressure on opponents by establishing at the kitchen and not giving away free points is a great starting point. Not throwing away points on unnecessary tweeners doesn’t hurt as well.
Talent gets you to a certain place in the sport, but it is hands and consistency that you need to get to the top of the pro game. Alshon’s doubles results are likely shining because he is putting in the work to figure out the consistency and the hands part of the game. The mixed stuff is often easier for guys to get under their belt, but Christian has been showing he can stick in there with the best in men’s doubles at times. The man can be a beast out there and he showed that in Vegas.
4. No Stopping Fudge (Slim) – We just talked about Megan Fudge in our last takeaways, but we felt the need to talk about her again as she had another big weekend on the APP Tour taking gold in women’s doubles and singles, and bronze in mixed doubles. She and Susannah Barr repeated as gold medal winners in women’s doubles. She also took gold again in women’s singles, and added a bronze in mixed doubles with Kaden Seward.
Her mixed bronze with Kaden Seward, is particularly notable because mixed has probably been her weakest event. To see her go and get a bronze with Seward a player we do not see on pro podiums is very notable. If Fudge can continue to become more comfortable in mixed doubles, and playing on the right side, her MLP stock could rise substantially for next year. She has been tough to project in MLP because she is a solid dreambreaker player, but has profiled as more of a low upside, left side player, who is vulnerable in mixed. If her mixed and right side play continue to improve, she could offer significant value as a number two female for a team depending on what the MLP format ends up being for 2024z
It seems very notable that Fudge is continuing to improve. We are still uncertain of what her exact ceiling is, but it is clear that she is still continuing to get better in all three events which is not something we are seeing from a lot of players.
5. Lohani’s Random Results – It is no shock to pickleball fans that singles offers the most unpredictable results. It has been shown time and time again that men’s singles has the widest range of potential outcomes. Gabe Joseph won a PPA title earlier this year and now we have Aanik Lohani show up out of nowhere reach a Championship Sunday. Lohani is not a complete unknown in pickleball. He showed up at the APP Chicago Open in September 2022 with fellow Minnesotan, Amrik Donkena, and put together one of the most surprising doubles runs of 2022, which included an 11-6, 11-0 shellacking over DJ Young/Thomas Wilson.
Since that time, there hasn’t been any complete breakout for Lohani. He gets good wins here and there in both doubles and singles with his limited tournament schedule, and has some tough losses to higher end players. He was signed to a PPA contract during the signing frenzy. Still, there was nothing to indicate that Lohani would be able to make the deep run that he did on Thursday. He beat Julian Arnold, Brandon Lane, Hayden Patriquin (some draw luck with Patriquin beating Federico Staksrud) and capped it off with a straight games win over JW Johnson. Ultimately, Lohani fell to Ben Johns in the finals, which is the one thing we can almost always predict in these singles draw.
Lohani’s win doesn’t mean anything other than there is always strong depth in the men’s singles draws. I don’t think this necessarily means we are in for some big breakout from Lohani considering he has been grinding away for a little while now. However, it may be a sign that there is a higher level to Lohani’s game that I didn’t take into account. Gabriel Joseph actually had another quality singles result in Vegas, barely losing to Connor Garnett in the quarterfinals when he had him on the ropes. There is something to be said when players make a deep run, but you need to do it consistently for it to mean anything. Collin Shick is a great talent, but we haven’t seen anything since his early 2023 Championship Sunday run (he did beat Ben Johns in San Clemente, which I missed the first go around writing this).
The other aspect to all of this is whether there’s another level for a lot of these players who are just starting to play pickleball full-time. Although Lohani has a contract to play pickleball in 2024, he’s not going to be making the big money that other players are getting so it’s unclear if he can solely focus on pickleball as some others will be able to. As more players are able to commit their full-time energy to the sport, the depth should continue to increase as the competition gets stiffer. Heck, the APP Dallas event had their first ever women’s pro doubles qualifier so it is evident that more players keep flocking to pickleball.
After this weekend, Aanik Lohani has to his name two of the most random and unexpected pro results over the past two years. He’ll have to be someone to keep monitoring.
Side note: the Commissioner of a professional sports league posting about players on social media like he’s Magic Johnson will never stop being amusing.
Fantasy Update: It’s a 1-0-1 week for the dueling weekend. Gritty won the APP Dallas event 15-14 despite losing Simone Jardim in women’s doubles due to a withdrawal for injury. Slim was able to then squeak out a PPA Vegas tie with the big Johns brother comeback over JW/Dylan, as the matchup ended up 14-14. The only miss from the Vegas event was Aanik Lohani’s silver medal in singles. Slim is now just 1 up on the year after a couple of very close matchups. No event for the next couple of weekends and then we have an APP at the end of the month before MLP Dallas.
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