PPA Tour Riverland Open – 5 Takeaways – Benny Backdraw
It was a windy one at the PPA Riverland Open this weekend. Like, a real windy one. At times what was going on barely seemed to resemble pickleball. While the players have to play through the conditions, there is a certain degree of grain of salt that has to be attached to these results, particularly with the weather on the Saturday doubles day. On the other hand, there is something to be said for the mental fortitude it takes to play through the frustration of ridiculous wind. You never know what you’re going to get in Florida! There were a lot of things that happened this weekend and we try to bring you the most important takeaways from a whirlwind 4 days.
1. Benny Backdraw (Gritty) – We only got one instance of Benny Backdraw this weekend despite two missed Championship Sunday appearances. Ben Johns lost in singles to JW Johnson in the semi-finals on Thursday and then was taken down by JW Johnson again in men’s doubles with Dylan Frazier in the quarter-finals. Ben and Collin proceeded to immediately withdraw from the backdraw, presumably to rest up for his one whole match on Sunday. Ben is still clearly the best player out there still and we do see ongoing improvement in his game, but he’s also more gettable than ever right now. We are a broken record on this, but the increase in level from the rest of the players is what best explains this. JW Johnson, in particular, has seen a steady and significant improvement in his level that makes him so dangerous in these early rounds of PPA events where his PPA points-based seeding obviously does not accord with where he should be seeded.
It continues to be a bit of an amusing turn of events that one of the biggest drivers of a single elimination format, Ben Johns, is having to deal with the big downside of getting rid of the opportunity to get back to that gold medal match. The move by the PPA was made at a time when Ben was in a completely untouchable league of his own. That has not been the case since last summer. Most great athletes in their sports are not great losers and Johns is no different. Ben and Collin sulk like they’re LeBron James watching Russell Westbrook take a crunch time 3-pointer when things aren’t going well. Ben essentially refuses to talk about his losses on his podcast (when he used to do them at least).
It seems pretty much inevitable that he’s not going to be totally dominant over the course of this 3-year exclusivity deal he has with the PPA and I’ll be curious to see how he handles it when more losing comes his way. Benny may have to actually grind more backdraws in the future.
2. Anna Leigh’s Triple Crown (Slim) – Anna Leigh won the triple crown this weekend, and she didn’t just win it, she took it in dominant fashion. Between the three events this weekend, Anna Leigh dropped a total of one game, a game to Riley Newman and Catherine Parenteau in mixed, enroute to the triple crown. And most of her matches were not overly competitive, as the game scores indicate.
It will be interesting to see if and how many times, Anna Leigh can replicate this feat this year. I would expect that we will see Anna Leigh on top of almost every PPA singles and mixed podium this year (at least until Ben gets bored and checks out), so it really comes down to the women’s doubles. Obviously Lucy Kovolova and Callie Smith did not play together this weekend, and they have been the dominant women’s team this year. In Minnesota though, we did see the Waters play Lucy and Callie tight losing in 5 sets, so it is quite possible they are figuring things out, or maybe the conditions there just favored the Waters.
Women’s doubles is the last piece of puzzle for Anna Leigh as outside of Catherine Parenteau nobody seems to be close to her in women’s singles and she seems to be widening the gap over her opponents. In mixed, she and Ben are rarely challenged, and that looks unlikely to change anytime soon. If she and Leigh can find a way (I am a little skeptical) to top Callie and Lucy she will be inarguably the most dominant force in pickleball.
Also, I don’t think it’s going to happen but it is fun to speculate about Anna Leigh down the road here, looking to move on from Ben, and what a twist of fate it would be to see Ben getting dumped by a younger partner.
3. JW Johnson. Can’t Stop. Won’t Stop (Gritty) – As much as it could be beneficial for the APP Tour to have their marquee player be a bigger personality, they probably needed a person with JW Johnson’s temperament to handle what has been thrown at him as a non-PPA player. It takes a certain kind of person to not care about the perceived glitz and glamor that the PPA offers to players. Photoshoots? Social media growth? Guaranteed money? Free rental cars? That stuff doesn’t impact ol’ JW too much. It also doesn’t hurt that his mother and sister were going to be mainstays on the APP Tour. Regardless, the man is just going to go out to play some really good freakin’ pickleball and let the chips fall where they may.
This weekend was another massive JW Johnson performance. He won gold in singles and silver in men’s doubles with Dylan Frazier. The pair took down Ben and Collin Johns, and played a very competitive match against Matt Wright/Riley Newman even though Frazier appeared to be troubled by a back injury at one point in the match. The PPA is lucky that JW does not appear to be registered for anymore PPA events for the foreseeable future. It gives them time to figure out something that we know some of their contracted players are not happy about, which is the JW’s of the world getting low seedings that lead to very tough earlier than should be matchups in the draw. Ben Johns cannot be happy about the fact he would continue to see JW in singles semi-finals as the #4 seed..
There are only so many things we can write about JW Johnson but he keeps giving us more reasons to do so. It doesn’t seem like he feels pressure, which can be a double-edged sword when the man can probably find a way to be more aggressive at times in doubles. However, it also bodes well for a ‘bet on yourself’ mentality and it looks like JW is going to make a bunch of money doing whatever he’s going to do this year.
4. Jorja Johnson’s Rise (Slim) – To start this year Jorja has really proven herself to be a force to be reckoned with on the women’s pro scene, which given she is still just 15 years old is very impressive. She has been getting results all year, but her bronze in singles at this weekends PPA was just further evidence of her arrival.
Part of what is impressive about Jorja is at a young age she seems to be able to stay pretty steady. After dropping a tough 3 set match in the opening round, she was able to battle all the way back in awful playing conditions and take bronze. That run included a very impressive 15-13 win over Callie Smith and how easily she handled the fast rising Parris Todd in Bronze medal match was almost equally impressive.
Prior to this weekend, in the past two APP events at Punta Gorda and Plantation, Jorja medaled in 5 of her 6 events, including the surprise gold with Anna Bright over Simone Jardim and Corrine Carr and a gold medal in singles in Plantation, in a deep womens singles field.
It will be interesting to see where Jorja’s ultimate ceiling is. She does not play like a classically trained tennis player but she has as much power as pretty much any women out there, and her hands are beyond solid in general (I have to imagine most stuff looks pretty slow when you play with JW every day) so a lot of the tools are there. It will also be something to monitor who she gets for partners moving forward.
5. Lea Jansen’s Serve (Gritty) – I don’t want to beat a dead horse too much and so much has happened since singles Thursday when Lea Jansen’s serve was a very hot topic. Her serve is one of the most, if not the most, illegal looking serves we have seen in the pro ranks. Neither of us on this blog are rules guys. That’s not our angle. However, before getting into the real takeaway of what the serve could mean for pro pickleball, my thought on the serve itself is that it should be illegal. Yes, I know that when you watch the serve in slow motion the majority of them appear to be technically legal. But that’s slow motion. If you use the Bill Simmons ask 10 people in a bar approach, I bet most of them watch it live and say it’s illegal. She is basically full sidearm on some of the serves. If it looks like an illegal serve, talks like an illegal serve, and walks like an illegal serve, it should be an illegal serve. Here’s 3 screenshot photos from 3 different angles I took from the match with Bright that are not necessarily a full picture of where her serve motion ends up each time:
But I digress.
The real point of the serve is what it means for pro pickleball. In Lea Jansen’s match against Anna Bright, she was only called once for an illegal serve by the referee. Whether it’s legal or illegal, she is not getting called on it. It should be a message for pro players to realize that they can push the envelope when it comes to rules. Just the same as if a referee isn’t calling me for standing in the key on every play for 10 seconds, I’m going to go as high as I can with that serve until the refs start to call me on it.
I think it is more problematic in pickleball when there is a limited audience monitoring what goes on in the sport. The players have a ton of say in the direction of the sport relative to other professional sports and their influence on the tours is relatively large. If Jansen is posting on the Pickleball Forum about the legality of the serve prior to the tournament, I’m going to take a wild guess that some conversations were had with Mr. Connor Pardoe about the serve as well. That’s just a completely wild guess though.
My expectation is that we’re going to see a lot of other players continuing to push the boundaries on not only the serve but any aspect of the rules where there is a potential advantage to be gained. I worry that there aren’t going to be enough checks and balances to stop the players from being able to direct how the rules operate. I wouldn’t expect anything drastic to happen with Jansen’s serve and we’ll have to see if Jansen’s serve is somewhat of a tip of the iceberg for these kinds of rules questions.
UPDATE: I wanted to provide a little bit of clarification that I think could have been included in the initial post on how Lea Jansen’s serve is differentiated in my mind from ones like Tyson McGuffin, Gabe Joseph and Dekel Bar. From a live eye test perspective, those players have serves that no doubt border on illegal and, especially Gabe Joseph, it seems like some, but not all, are illegal. However, when I watch Jansen’s serve, pretty much every serve looks to be illegal. That does change to a degree when I slow her serve down or stop her motion at the point of contact, which I note in the post. The other point is that her serve is more sidearm than those other players I mentioned and that makes it more of an issue in my mind. So I wanted to be clear about why her serve is being written about and not other specific borderline serves that are out there.
Fantasy Update: Slim is back with another win. It’s a 17-12 win this weekend with Slim being the beneficiary of some upsets and betting on JW Johnson. Slim is once again 5 up on the year as the dominance continues. Gritty better figure things out fast or he might need to take out a second mortgage at some point.
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31 thoughts on “PPA Tour Riverland Open – 5 Takeaways – Benny Backdraw”
Great read as always. Well done men.
I will say that I’m a bit sad that JW isn’t registered for more PPA events, as that’s what makes it the most exciting for me. I think more exciting now will be to see how JW vs. Dekel goes in APP doubles events. Dekel has been very strong playing with Vivienne and if he plays with Adam or another high caliber right side player (yates) it will be tough for the boys to overcome I think. Excited for that more than anything PPA has to offer.
Agreed! Seeing JW battle against the top is very enjoyable! I do enjoy watching Tyson battle as well. Not sure if this is true but hasn’t JW won 2 out of his last 3 singles matches against Ben?
Would love to see more of that matchup
Agreed on all of this
Thank you very much for your post. As far as JW goes, why should he play at the PPA when they literally screw him over because he’s not a member. I heard, first hand, that PPA manipulates/rigs the draw against non-PPA players. I only hope Tom D. dumps Pardoe and goes a more honest and fair route for PPA.
I don’t see what the big deal is about Lea’s serve.. So it’s sometimes borderline.. The key point is her serve is not giving her any advantage against her opponents. Do anyone see them struggle with her serve? OMG look how many aces she is getting.. a big zero… it’s no different then returning 50 other players serves.. If the serve was giving her an advantage that would be a different story.. Also the funny thing is that no pros are complaining about her serves just the keyboard warriors on social media and live streams.. The refs job is to call it as they see it..
Seems to be like Jansen is the target when other pros have already been doing this with much more of a weaponized serve. I was discussing this weekend watching her non spin serve has been part of her singles struggles this year which is ironic. Maybe her being an outspoken female is the reasoning?
Definitely not the case. There has been an update to the post to address other possibly illegal serves
U don’t give much of an explanation of why you never mention their illegal serves before Jansen debuted hers. Not much of a side note. Why not a word of the other 3 before? Claiming a player who isn’t the first to push the rules is trying to find loopholes seems a little unfair to only ever write a piece on. Jansen is a huge talent and sometimes gets knit picked IMO maybe deserved maybe not
Theirs weren’t enough to warrant it. Jansen’s has just recently gotten to that point. She’s been serving this way for sometime but it wasn’t this high nearly a couple of months ago. You can tell by her commentary on the broadcast she’s very smart and has obviously realized she can push the boundaries more. There’s a reason why she pre-empted this with a forum post when she’s not a big social media person.
I agree with Gary that you’re losing credibility at your response to ped. People have been pushing the envelope so she decided to as well. Claiming thinking ahead of the forum post? You’re making accusations now and writing things that is targeting only the girl who does it. Your credibility is gone with your comments. Seems like the you’re targeting and if I were Jansen I would be screaming it from the mountain tops.
Let’s be clear. I was not comparing PEDs to the serve. I was using it as a hypothetical for the argument that if it doesn’t make a big difference, it shouldn’t be illegal. The action being illegal is what matters, even if no advantage is gained (which I’m not saying is the case here either)
IMO you are accusing Jansen of lying on a forum and then using her power with commissioner Pardoe. To readers from here including my wife you seem to be showing unjust to only one person and making character questioning statements. That is not right to those I’ve discussed your issue with Jansen and I agree with Gary if I were her or my wife I’d taking action.
She absolutely manipulated everyone with the forum post and sure as shit is pulling strings with Pardoe. If you believe all these pros are goody goody rule followers you need your head taken out of your ass. If you were in the know at all you’d understand Lea’s reputation precedes her. Don’t be so naive.
Sounds like Fred is angry. This article took it too far and fans reactions have taken it to far. I don’t think a guy wouldve gotten this much hate; they haven’t before with their illegal serves. I am in the know and I know she usually just worries about herself and tries to win. She’s trying to win. The backlash towards like this article is targeting and is a little much and ignorant comments like Fred’s are as well. NML it’s not your job to call out on specific player and it shows you say these things to get noticed yourselves.
I disagree. She was gaining advantages with her serve, they were deep and powerful and hard to control. The return is the most important shot in singles, and she made her opponents work very hard to find good returns. You don’t have to ace to say you’re serve is an advantage.
Whether she gains an advantage or not should not matter, although I would contend she does the more illegal she serves it. But let’s say someone uses PEDs but doesn’t get stronger or faster. That does not mean the use of PEDs is legal because no advantage is gained. It’s the action not the result
LOL yeah lets compare using PEDS to a borderline serve.. That’s actually hilarious.. You’re losing credibility here and just being a bit dramatic. 🙂
I actually agree that whether she gains an advantage or not should not matter, but this is a terrible analogy — not just inflammatory, but also contextually so far off as to be useless. A better example would be something like holding in football, which can be called regardless of whether it had an impact on the play as a way to deter people who otherwise might not get caught.
But both PED and holding are actually illegal — her serve is generally not illegal! That some people are not talented enough to see this in real time is irrelevant. This is what is blowing so many people’s minds about this Hot Take.
The holding analogy is a better more apples to apples one. But will still disagree on the serve being legal
I agree on slomo it looks legal. Just saying to Gary that there is an advantage to be had 👍
Some of them at least
“Yes, I know that when you watch the serve in slow motion the majority of them appear to be technically legal. But that’s slow motion. If you use the Bill Simmons ask 10 people in a bar approach, I bet most of them watch it live and say it’s illegal. She is basically full sidearm on some of the serves. If it looks like an illegal serve, talks like an illegal serve, and walks like an illegal serve, it should be an illegal serve. ”
It’s a legal serve that looks illegal to people who aren’t trained to distinguish a legal from illegal serve, but should be made illegal because it makes people online frustrated? Maybe the should train to be refs instead?
If it takes slow motion to tell whether it’s legal or illegal, it should be illegal is how I would interpret that. There are a good chunk of her serves that are illegal when you slow it down and almost all of them are not being called by trained referees
Agree. If she (and the others pushing the boundary) didn’t believe that serve motion wasn’t superior to a more traditional, (clearly legal) underhand serve…they wouldn’t be using it.
I get it, though…their tournament results impact their livelihoods so I understand pushing the limits. What concerns me is how quickly we’ve seen the side-arm, paddle-above-the-wrist serves take over the recreational, “open play” courts and local tournaments. The “it’s not illegal unless you can show me it on video…and if you do…it was only that one” warriors are everywhere and their ranks are growing. Definitely an unfortunate trickle-down.
It is no doubt a problem when refs are not involved at any level rec or tournament play
From the comments, it seems like you think draws work both ways. Gary says they manipulate to favor PPA and NML say they follow seeding that hurts Ben Johns in singles (thus not favoring PPA).
I wouldn’t go blaming PPA or Connor too much. Many of us know local TDs who will change the draw to favor local favorites. But a draw isn’t necessarily changed to favor – sometimes changed so locals don’t pay $$ only to play each other.
Some want the singles draw to be redone instead of following the point system so it won’t pit Ben against JW early. I actually wouldn’t want it to change so JW stands a better chance at Gold. lol We all have our favorites and our perception of a fair/unfair draw might color reality.
I don’t disagree with the “first hand” knowledge of draw manipulation. But overall I’m willing to give PPA benefit of doubt that they mainly follow seeding objectively. I don’t have the knowledge to comment on how the seeding/points are done. From the comments, everyone seems to want recency bias weighted heavier in the algorithm along with outside tournaments giving weight.
It does work both ways. The draws have appeared to be manipulated at times to help PPA players. And the way PPA operates with PPA points means their players get higher seeds since they are playing all PPA events. However, what this means is that very good non-PPA players get lower seeds than they would say if you used their WPR or UTPR, and the unintended consequence of that can be PPA players with higher seeds end up having to face non-PPA players who have lower seeds earlier in the bracket than they would normally in the tournament. So it does go both ways with the latter being an unintended effect of trying to skew things in favor of PPA players as well as incentivizing players to play more PPA events
Lea’s *new* serve is clearly illegal. She made a slight adjustment after being called on it and you can actually see that she knows how to serve legally! Don’t beat up on NML. They are dead right on this one!
Is there a more disliked player in all of pickleball other than benny backdraw? His attitude, his complaining, his entitlement…seems like the pickleball world has had enough and we’re ready for an actual star to rally behind. I’m not sure ive ever heard anyone say a positive thing about benny backdraw after interacting with him. The cockiness, the arrogance, the douchery. Complains about giving autographs and taking pictures on his podcast. Never looks like he enjoys doing those things. Always looks annoyed by it. That is a privilege that most people would covet and it’s a chore for him. I’ve heard this from many, many people he’s interacted with.
Time to get off the benny backdraw bandwagon.
Hi! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could get a captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having trouble finding one? Thanks a lot!
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