PPA Tour Peachtree Classic – 5 Takeaways – Women’s Parity
It was a good weekend of pickleball in Atlanta. When you get that mix of APP and PPA, it ups the intrigue and breaks up what can be the monotony of tournaments every weekend. The Peachtree Classic was not without it’s chalkiness but there were lots of interesting results sprinkled throughout. Let’s get to the takeaways.
1. PPA Women’s Parity (Slim) – The top four teams of the women’s doubles offers the most parity of any event this year for who might win it all. The year started with Lucy and Callie looking like maybe the dominant team, and then the Waters found their stride and started winning, and then Catherine Parenteau dumped Jessie Irvine and picked up Lea Jansen as a partner. With the Waters taking a break, it initially looked like that move was going to pay dividends as Catherine and Lea found gold twice early, but since then have not reached the top of the podium. It then looked like Jessie Irvine might be the odd lady out, but her partnership with Anna Bright has blossomed, and they have now found their stride, winning gold last weekend in Ohio and then reaching the final again this weekend.
The Catherine and Jessie partnership was probably the best thing that could have happened to the PPA, because while they were always going to be in the mix, their games do not complement each other. They are both probably better suited to be the uber consistent right side player in a partnership. Instead, we got some added drama and two new partnerships that can legitimately contend to win it all every weekend.
While, the women’s division may not have the depth of other divisions, it’s parity at the top makes it one of the most interesting watches as we get to see how the top teams adjust to each other, week to week.
Rob Nunnery and Adam Stone raised the interesting hypothetical on their podcast of whether Anna Leigh should leave Leigh and who she should partner with if she does. Honestly, it is probably more entertaining if she doesn’t for now and the Waters are winning enough together anyway. Anna Leigh playing with any of Jessie, Catherine or Lucy among others would probably be too dominant and boring, as their consistency paired with Anna Leigh’s power and aggression would be lethal.
I’ll take the parity for a tour where there are sometimes complaints about a lack of unpredictability
2. Singles Day Fun Day at the PPA (Gritty) – For as long as I’ve been around pickleball, singles day is widely considered the least interesting tournament day. The game itself is not as viewer friendly. Shorter rallies, limited firefights and fairly straightforward strategy mean less butts in the seats and lower viewership on the live stream. However, the division of the tours has fostered the growth of compelling men’s singles days for PPA events. With the top-heavy nature of the PPA with its contracted players, it’s often difficult for players and teams to breakthrough. This has borne itself out in doubles particularly where the time it takes to get to the pinnacle of the game is typically much longer than singles. In men’s singles though, the non-contracted “APP” talent has blown up to the point where it shouldn’t be up for debate which tour features the better singles talent (hint: it’s the APP).
While there are pro tournaments happening just about every weekend, it is not often these days we get the combination of PPA and APP players in one setting. Even 2 weekends ago, we had two big PPA and APP events going on at the same time meaning there were a limited number of more often seen APP players at the PPA event. With an APP event in the state of Georgia the week before, a lot of the APP players stuck around to crash the PPA party, including one James Walter Johnson.
Although many fans were hoping for a Ben Johns vs. JW Johnson gold medal match, the depth of the APP came to play as Julian Arnold took out a fairly sleepy looking Ben Johns in two straight games, 11-3 and 11-8, in the semi-finals to set up an Arnold vs. JW Johnson Championship Sunday. It was not the matchup everyone wanted, but the bigger picture PPA vs. APP rivalry storyline remained well intact as a result. Keep in mind that the previous weekend in Cincinnati featured the twin brothers, Hunter and Yates Johnson (no relation to JW), as the respective PPA silver and bronze medalists.
Everyone likes a rivalry, and the competing tours has created a rivalry like no other. There have been competing leagues in relatively modern sports history such as the NFL and AFL, NBA and ABA, NHL and WHA, but it is rare to see actual competition between competing entities. Co-host of the Pickler Podcast, John Davison, has compared the competition to the MMA organizations UFC and Bellator. I don’t know very much about MMA but, from my limited understanding, Bellator is clearly the minor league to the UFC’s major league.
Although the PPA purports to feature the world’s best players, there is no doubt that some of the best players don’t only play on the PPA Tour. From the start of the year, the PPA publicly discussed the APP operating as pickleball’s minor league and pushed hard for the Bellator vs. UFC type distinction in pickleball. This cart before the horse approach of the PPA has evidently left some fans with a bad taste in their mouth, but it’s also what drives major interest on these singles days that wouldn’t otherwise be there. You sprinkle in the dubious treatment of non-contracted pros and questionable men’s singles draws, and it’s almost as if the PPA are inviting disdain from the fans (see the JW Johnson treatment earlier in the year).
You say your players are the best in the world? Well, prove it.
It remains to be seen whether the PPA can secure a stranglehold over the major league classification that they have tried to create. Even though they are currently winning the gambling race, it is noteworthy that not a single player has signed with the PPA since the initial flurry at the beginning of the year when all this news of Dundon and exclusive contracts came about.
While it may not be ideal that we only get these matchups occasionally, the flip side of it is that we relish the opportunities when they arise. People want to see whether the APP staples can actually stack up to the PPA big boys. Waiting for a PPA singles day draw to come out has become one of the more entertaining things in pickleball. Oh, Federico Staksrud and JW Johnson will face each other in the quarterfinals and won’t face Ben Johns until Championship Sunday. What a coincidence!
Singles day for the PPA may be on a Thursday but, for me, it is unquestionably the most interesting tournament day in pickleball right now.
3. Not Enough Opportunities (Slim) – With the talent somewhat split between the two tours, there are very few opportunities to see certain matchups pickleball fans want to see. With the limited opportunities, it is particularly disappointing when those match ups don’t materialize, when there is a chance to have it. This weekend, JW Johnson made a rare PPA singles appearance and I think everyone had to be hoping to see a showdown between he and Ben Johns. With Ben and JW on opposite sides of the bracket this weekend, it seemed like we might get to see a Championship Sunday showdown between the two, but Julian Arnold had other ideas and knocked Ben out of the winners bracket for the second straight weekend. Who knows when we may next have the opportunity to watch those two play each other.
Pickleball fans have also been waiting to see the Anna Leigh Waters rematch with Parris Todd, since Parris handed Anna Leigh her only loss of the year. Unfortunately, it seems like Parris still isn’t healthy enough for singles. With Anna Leigh otherwise being completely dominant in singles, and the added drama of Anna Leigh challenging Parris’s paddle after the last match, this is another match pickleball fans need to see.
Of course, I also would have liked to see Dylan and JW play the Johns brothers, who they beat in Florida this year on a very windy day, but Matt Wright and Riley Newman squeakdd out a win, 12-10 in the third game. It just would have been fun to see how they matched up. We’ll see Matt/Riley vs. Ben/Collin again soon. When will JW and Dylan be back in a PPA draw?
I think having the talent somewhat split up can actually be good, as it builds some anticipation for certain matchups as Gritty noted above, but it is only good if those players all still play enough of the same events that we can see how they fair against one another.
4. Is Championship Sunday Too Much? (Gritty) – Following the Waters’ semi-finals win on Saturday, Anna Leigh Waters had a very interesting response to a conveniently timed question from Hannah Johns: “You’re going to play in 3 finals, which is a lot of matches, and they are best of five not three. How long is this sustainable? How long can we keep this up?” This was Anna Leigh’s response:
It was a somewhat out of nowhere question from Hannah Johns, whose brother also happens to find himself in situations where he may play 3 finals in one day and, in case you weren’t aware, partners with Anna Leigh Waters in mixed doubles. Ignoring the fact that Anna Leigh’s answer made it sound like she gets to pick what order she plays her matches in on Sundays, it’s clear that Anna Leigh is not happy with the Championship Sunday format.
We put a poll out on our Instagram page to ask people whether they thought the Championship Sunday format is too much for top players. Remember, it’s not just the PPA doing this Sunday thing as the APP has copied this model for their bigger, tier 1 tournaments, except they play 2 out of 3s with the potential for the double dip game to 15.
The limited poll results on our Instagram were split with 67% people saying it is too much for top players and 33% saying play on.
I have been a pro Championship Sunday guy from a viewing standpoint. Even if we don’t like the no back draw aspect of the PPA format due to pickleball seeding issues, the 3 of 5 is a better product a system. It makes the gold medal match a bigger thing and gives it this sense of grandeur that a regular match does not have. It also creates easy viewing habits for fans who know that Sunday means Championship Sunday.
One of the downsides to the format is that it can put a few players at a disadvantage for their championship events. The 3 most notable players it has impacted are Ben Johns, Anna Leigh Waters and JW Johnson. The other person who we have seen have to play a lot of matches on Sunday recently at APP events is Jorja Johnson. Without going through it, us normies cannot fully understand what it is like to play 4 full days of competition at that level, and have to bring your highest level on the final day. It is a lot of pickleball, especially when singles days can be as much of a grind as anything in sports. There is also an argument that forcing your best players out there 3 times on a Sunday can hurt your product when your best players may not be at their highest level due to fatigue.
The question here is whether we are really going to feel bad for the 1% of players who are in this privileged position to play in multiple gold medal matches? These are the people making real money playing a game for a living. If they can’t handle the current grind, you can bet just about every other player out there would trade spots with them.
I’m sure Anna Leigh does not forget the Sunday at the Orange County Cup where she lost in 5 games to Parris Todd, won in 5 games over Matt and Lucy with JW Johnson and lost in 3 games to Lucy/Callie. However, it can fall on deaf ears for this complaint to come from Anna Leigh, who really doesn’t have to grind through a good percentage of the draws that she plays. Look at this weekend. Anna Leigh played a total of 16 games heading into Championship Sunday and I would argue that she was not pushed in a single one of those games pushed. In 16 games from Thursday through Saturday, she did not give up more than 6 points to an opponent in any game.
With where pickleball is at right now, I’m not sure there is a better system when they are trying to play tournaments in a single weekend. We have thrown out a fair number of comments in takeaways and live blogs about how hard it can be for these top players to grind the 4-days of a tournament. That’s more a statement of fact though, rather than a desire to have the format changed.
I think players can forget that the product is not about them, it’s what is best for the fans. If the tours find this format works best for their product, it would be a disservice to their product not to continue with it. With both tours doing a Championship Sunday format, there’s nowhere else for the players to go unless one of the tours changes the way they are scheduling tournaments.
With her comments, Anna Leigh put the ball squarely in the PPA’s cater to its top player’s court. As difficult as it may be for the select few to have to grind out Championship Sundays, I think the PPA’s version of the Championship Sunday is the best option for the time being. We will have to see what the PPA decides to do going forward.
5. What is Wrong with Ben Johns in Singles (Gritty) – Something is wrong with Ben Johns. It really wasn’t that long ago that Mr. Johns was on a 100 plus consecutive singles match winning streak. But here we are. Two tournaments over two weekends with one bronze medal squeezed out by the number 1 player in the world. As is the case whenever the top dog in a sport has a dip in their performance, there are going to be questions about what is going on. So, what is wrong with Ben Johns?
This kind of happened at the end of 2021 for Ben when he and Simone hen Simone started losing a bunch. There were some clear answers to what was going on back then, though. Simone was a shell of herself due to injuries. Ben was mentally checked out, both on the partnership with Simone and grinding out his final year of his engineering degree. He was looking ahead to brighter days with the teenage phenom, Anna Leigh Waters. It’s pretty clear now that not too much was wrong with Ben Johns in mixed as he has been close to completely dominant with baby Waters in 2022.
Although there are a number of workable theories as what ails Ben in singles, it’s not as easy to pinpoint in the moment. Of course, we can speculate on some possibilities.
Catching Up to Ben: Maybe the rest of the field is simply catching up to Ben? It’s mostly educated guesswork on our part, but it appears Ben does not put in work on his singles game that his competitors are. He has continued to work on his backhand pass, but it is not a truly reliable groundstroke for him still. If he’s putting in conditioning work, is it to the level of a JW Johnson or Tyson McGuffin? The game is too good now for Ben to get away with cat and mousing his opponents to death when his less polished baseline game fails him. In my opinion, the newer tennis players are doing too much at the net from both wings to play a lot of cat and mouse.
Reps. These APP guys are out pretty much every weekend getting a ton of tournament reps against a bunch of high-quality opponents whereas Ben is maybe playing 1 or 2 quality opponents every two or three weeks. You want to talk about tournament tested? The long-term effect of playing as much as some of the APP players are currently may be questionable, but the immediate results are undeniable.
What about Ben’s desire to play singles? In watching Ben play Julian Arnold, I saw a guy who looked lacking in energy. If I had tuned in to watch that match without any context, I could have sworn Ben was zombie-ing his way through a loser’s bracket match, as he tends to do. It makes no sense to me that Ben wouldn’t have been extremely motivated for another opportunity to take down JW Johnson, but what if he’s just tired of playing singles? Ben has been grinding triple crowns far longer than a lot of the singles guys have even heard of pickleball. Contrast Ben’s energy this weekend with that with JW Johnson, who looked like a different player than he has been on the APP Tour for the past month. JW wanted that Ben matchup, but the feeling did not appear to be mutual.
The paddle. A commenter of the blog floated that Ben’s results have dipped since switching from a fibreglass to the raw carbon fiber JOOLA. I am far from a paddle expert, but Ben has mentioned that there is less pop with the current version of his JOOLA paddle – it does provide a lot of spin. The commenter on our blog noted that it will be interesting to see if he changes to the CAS JOOLA Hyperion 16”. I can’t say I necessarily agree with this theory, but I wanted to throw it out into the world.
With all that being said, I think what’s wrong with Ben is probably a combination of a lot of things. Lame, I know. The rest of the field is way better than it was when he was winning 100+ matches in a row. Ben’s game is limited to a degree because of having only one weapon from the baseline. Who knows how much he wants to play singles anymore, but I’m guessing his desire could be less when he isn’t winning every match. There are also other factors that could be at play – injuries, personal stuff, mental health. Who the heck knows?
I think regardless of the reason for the lack of results in singles for Ben, the past two weekends are further reminders that the singles world is up for grabs.
Fantasy Update: Gritty wins 16-9, halting the momentum Slim had taken back the last two weeks. There was some criticism of Gritty’s selections, but everything worked out this weekend. Gritty had the Waters and Johns teams at #1 on his board, Callie Smith got a silver medal and the mixed category was swept by him. Slim is now 4 up on the year so we still have a battle.
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29 thoughts on “PPA Tour Peachtree Classic – 5 Takeaways – Women’s Parity”
4. The Sunday Format. If one of the gold matches were played on Saturday as hinted at by AL, it would complicate the partnership with Tennis Channel and other PPA broadcasting partners. Would they be willing to broadcast a match whose length is hard to predict? If it was Singles chosen for Saturday, sometimes that goes to only 3 quick matches, sometimes to 4 or 5. I assume the players and especially the players sponsors want to see who they sponsor on TV and not just youtube, despite TV’s low viewership.
Another option would be to reduce the length of Singles from 5 to 3 games – and maybe only for Women’s. I don’t advocate that option – just throwing it out there.
5. Ben Johns – not sure who cares but another reason that Ben might not like singles is how fun can it be for him. On MXD day, he gets to enjoy bantering with AL. On MD, he has his brother. On singles, he is out there with no one and maybe he needs someone to keep his energy level up. With the long waits between matches, it could be boring for him too. But I think your “rising water raises all boats” is a good theory. The excellent singles players in APP is making them all better and PPA doesn’t give him that. Paddle: A player at the tournament said Ben is using the Vision over the Hyperion. But I agree that it is doubtful any paddle would greatly downgrade Ben’s game.
The TV part for the sundays is a big part that was overlooked in the post for sure.
And for Ben, his lack of fun and ability to create energy on his own could be another factor
3. PPA Las Vegas 10/6 through 10/9 will have the APP players – an even larger field than Peachtree. It will probably be very hot. Last few years they had it later in October. List isn’t showing a partner for JW in MD.
Dekel isn’t on the list, would he dain play a PPA event? Or will JW end up with somebody like Andrei or Pat Smith? Either way, it’s a bit sad to have a strong team like JW/Dylan split into what are more likely two separate weaker teams.
Yeah…only Catherine in mixed
As Jan suggested above, switching the singles championship matches to best of 3 is an option. Unlike Jan, I fully support this. Singles is the least popular format as well as the most exhausting for the players. It makes the broadcast schedule tighter and saves the top players a little for the more popular events. If you want to add back a little drama from the best of 5 format, make the 3rd game, if it’s necessary, to 15.
With Ben Johns and singles, I’d say his style of play can’t really match up with the groundstrokes and quickness of the tennis guys. They can hit absurd passing shots off of his drives and cat-and-mouse that he hasn’t developed. As far as the paddle goes, I don’t think it’s the lack of power of the Joola (see: Ben’s crushed overheads) so much as not using it to its full potential. I don’t see him try to hit the drive-drop very topspin-heavy shots that a softer raw carbon fiber paddle excels at. Iggy and Stak use this shot to both pass and/or force a pop up when they’re in transition, and Ben hasn’t mastered that or been able to practice much against it in a tournament. Mentally, yeah, I agree, he’s not very engaged. Who knows what’s up there other than your (educated) guesses.
3 out of 5 is exhausting for singles. It is a good thought to do that potentially.
His singles game may simply be behind newer players as the game evolves
I’ll add a take-away: the regression in commentator quality. I seldom listen to any commentator for long because they are so repetitive (and sometimes inane). But this tournament regressed to commentators that were talking during the point from singles Thursday through to Championship Sunday. They had a lot of different players in the booth as commentators so can’t blame them for their inexperience. Some were so low-voiced (men and women) you couldn’t hear them – which was actually nice as they were easier to ignore. One of the men singles games on Thursday had 2 women that were saying something (no idea what) almost the entire time.
Commentators are very personal to what people like. But the majority of comments I see say they don’t like when commentators talk through the point – again and again. And for those who do like what the commentator is saying, I’m sure they would prefer to hear them.
Let’s bring back some commentators with substance and give them a quality mic/sound. Give us quiet during most of the points. I hope Morgan Evans is booked for the PPA Las Vegas event or someone equally respectful of the play and with good strategic knowledge of the plays unfolding on the court. Anyone can comment on a single hit but can they comment on the 3+ shots that set-up the win.
One great thing is that the ref’s mic was easy to hear when I didn’t mute the sound.
Agreed on commentators. The PPA has really gone through this rotating cast of randoms with Dave fleming being a general staple. It does not help the quality of the broadcast and the level of professionalism. It’s very hard to talk between 10 secons but you’re right it’s very clear majority do not like talking during points
great synopsis ! My thoughts
1/ Ben in his 20s ,making big bank , is just having a good time which is ok and normal
2/ Womens singles is always great to watch starting at semis , Devidze is much improved (even at 36 ), Todd is the real deal, Callie was a beast and almost took out ALW but mentally lost it last set ( i think needs more input from Kovalova in that regards than Chuck Taylor.
3/ Dinking and speed ups strategy is really changing for the betterment of the game
4/ Newman and Wright lost the mental match and eventually the whole match vs Johns when Matt tried the out of place lob at 8-1
Love all you commentary Thanks !!
Thanks for the comments too!
Another interesting thing is that the APP pro scene in Sacramento this week is very sparse, are they saving themselves for the championships? Will Dekel come back out of nowhere to show he’s still #1 at the PPA champs? Or will JW have to convince Zane to play with somebody else so he can play with Dylan?
Even though they don’t have the best of results together, if Dekel came back with JW to claim the PPA doubles title for himself AGAIN, that would be far and away the pickleball moment of the year for me.
That would be an awesome storyline
It really would be!
It seems JW and Dekel may be trying to create something to take down PPA big boys but Dylan could be better suited for that role
he is on record as saying he needed to go to carbon faced paddle. he has won numerous tournaments in all 3 events with the new paddle. the paddle is built to his exact specifications and is modified to his precise specifications by himself. the “paddle” that supposedly isn’t good enough, beat him in two games in the semis. it’s crazy how many people give players a pass for losing matches. they are willing to make up any excuse they can think of. typical Fandom.
players ARE catching up. ben does not have the high level tennis background many of the new players have. JA played D1 college tennis at UCLA. iggy played at vandy. Ben does not pass well on either wing, especially the backhand. Ben does not have the weapons from the backcourt these players do. Elite tennis players are able to take his drop out of the air and pressure ben. his primary rivals of years past did not have the athleticism or skills to do that. Ben also isn’t as good a mover as many of the “new breed”. Stak jw iggy and ja all are better movers in singles. Don’t forget his primary rival of the past was One Person. TysonM. that was his primary competition for 3 years.
I believe that ben knows the game has changed. I believe he is somewhat resigned to the idea that singles just got a whole lot tougher for him. And I think fandom should prepare themselves for a ben that only occasionally (if ever) wins singles events when more than one strong APP player is entered in the same tournament.
I love ben’s doubles game. I do believe that ben has a long runway in Doubles. I have always said that ben’s game is a mix of old school and new school. he’s better at old school pb than anybody out there, and will remain at the top of the doubles game for the foreseeable future.
Didn’t Ben play D1 tennis at Maryland? If that’s correct, I do think he gave it up for pro pickleball.
I think a lot of what you have said is correct. He may just be riding out the singles and quite possible he stops doing it in 2023 to focus on doubles
Ben literally was playing with the Vision this week
That’s what seems to be the case
Great insights as always.
I think the skill level in the singles field for men and women is getting much better. Easy certain wins are no longer a sure thing. Elite college tennis or even pro tennis players (Todd) are flooding into pickleball. What was once a given is no more. We will see many more join the competitive ranks of pickleball and with their increasing numbers the matches in singles, mixed and doubles will get tighter. A world #1 ranking in pickleball will change hands and not be a certainty. The exception might be Anna Leigh, but this is not true for Ben Johns. The fact that he has the mixed partnership with Anna Leigh assures his success in that division for the time being. But he no longer owns singles and the top of the podium. Mens doubles will soon be in contention as well. Anna Leigh with her exceptional skills, training, focus and competitive nature would probably win mixed with almost any top ten player. Fun times ahead for fans, tough times for players.
Even AL is facing trouble and probably will be at some point sooner rather than later beyond Parris. Thanks for reading!
the draw for Las Vegas mens singles will be super interesting. zane should get an incredibly low seed. so I would think they will match him up against another young gun app player, perhaps JW or stak or iggy. that eliminates one of them before the meat of the tournament even starts. in this event we gain iggy zane hunter and yates but lose ja and alshon. and you never know which unkown sleeper is lurking either. the draw is deeper but it’s still not as deep as it could be. it will be interesting to see how PPA deals with this draw. it kind of looks like their support is now shifting over to ben’s side. but we shall see. could they have the audacity to put zane jw stak and iggy on one side? stay tuned if you wish to see a pro pickleball tour perform Contortions!
Zane won’t be that low as he still has PPA points but playing without spin serve will be something. You can only group so many app players together so hopefully we get some cross match ups. Ben is the golden child at the end of the day and he no longer can just win regardless. Will be fun!
It’ll be some early practice for Zane without the serve. Looks nearly confirmed to be outlawed starting next year.
Don’t forget the Kawamoto sisters! (App) They beat Lucy and Callie in the backdraw a few tournaments ago. I would have loved to see that on the livestream!
I thought the comment from Adam Stone about the Waters was rude and kind of mean spirited. He reference Mama Waters age etc. and inferring that she was holding baby water back. I think it is a great partnership, they complement each other well and who know how Baby Waters will jell with someone new. They should ride this partnership as long as they can. Adam Stones seems to take himself a bit too seriously.