We weren’t expecting to put any coverage together for the PPA’s Bubly Water Team Championships, but this was a legitimately interesting event with the tennis players being featured in the competition. What we did not know about the event is that there were going to be exhibitions with players going against the pros, which were undoubtedly the most fascinating part of the entire weekend. We probably enjoyed the exhibitions a lot more than the pickleball pros did too.
1. Sock It to Them – The exhibition on Friday night featured John Isner/Jack Sock vs. Jessie Irvine/Anna Leigh Waters while the Saturday night special was Sock/Sam Querrey vs. Ben Johns/Matt Wright. These were not the celebrity pro-am events that the PPA has been putting together. This was real pickleball with the tennis pros out to prove they belonged.
It was clear early after watching bits on Friday that Jack Sock stood out as the cream of the tennis pro crop – Sam Querrey has said himself previously that Sock is probably the best of the tennis pros that he plays with on a regular basis. Although Sock/Isner lost game one 11-0 and fueled Kamryn Blackwood’s prediction that the match would be a “bloody” if the women went full out, Isner/Sock got it together and found a way to win the next two games. Again, it was Jack Sock who stood out with his quick and powerful hands with this kind of stuff:
From what we can see, Sock appears to have one of the more compact counter punches of anyone in the game of pickleball considering the pop he gets when he counters. Both Isner and Sock got used to the speed of the game and were largely unbothered by the banging that AL and Jessie brought in games 2 and 3. Sock’s hands and athleticism combined with Isner’s (probably unsustainable) diving, flat 3rd shot drops gave the women a ton of trouble. Also, the length of Sock and Isner seemed to be fluster Waters and Irvine in how difficult it made their task of working up to the kitchen when scoring.
If you had told either of us going into the weekend that two of these pros could beat Anna Leigh Waters and Jessie Irvine playing full on, we probably would have scoffed. However, it’s not completely shocking after seeing Sock play now. His game needs quite a bit of seasoning, but the talent is so obvious, even in comparison to Isner, Querrey and Young, who all have skills in their own right (shocker). Look at Sock’s results in the men’s events with pros – he and Spencer Smith beat Isner/Ben Johns, and he beat Querrey/Riley Newman with Matt Wright. Current pickleball pro player, Maggie Remynse, made a good point in response to our early assessment of Sam Querrey and off-hand remark about Jack Sock on Twitter:
It has been an ongoing question how good these higher end tennis pros can be at pickleball. Jack Sock showed that it won’t take some of these guys very long to get really good if they ever want to transition over.
2. Querrey’s MLP Status – It seemed a bit odd that Sam Querrey was not featured in both exhibitions as he is the one vying for MLP status of the 4 tennis pros that played this weekend. Our early impression of Querrey during day one was that he is not a Challenger worthy player. Not yet at least.
His match with Sock against Wright/Johns was more promising as Querrey/Sock had a game point in game 1 before losing 12-10. They ended up losing 11-4 in game 2, but the fact that they did not look completely out of their depth as a duo against two of the best in the business was something else. Matt Wright said after the match that he was going about 75/80% and Ben sort of jokingly agreed with him, but it sure looked like both players were putting in a good effort the entire match.
Even though they are playing more than an insignificant amount of pickleball, these tennis guys are not grinding their games nor are they getting the high level play that is needed to improve in the best way. It looked like they all improved as the weekend went along, which makes sense considering they exponentially increased their exposure pro pickleball in the span of a few days. Overall, the Querrey showing was fine, but it did not impress us nearly in the same way as Jack Sock.
Querrey “100%” expects that a Challenger team will draft him, and we also expect that a team will take a shot on him. It may be a worthwhile risk to take if you believe that the improvement will come rapidly. He has some quality tools, and the length is undeniable, even if he doesn’t know how to utilize it properly right now. Nevertheless, if we were owners drafting in Challenger for season 1, we would be wary of making the decision to take on Querrey as it stands right now. Top 10 by the end of March 2023 is not a bet we would take.
3. Notable Results – We’re not taking too much stock into any of the results that happened from this weekend among the pros themselves. They fiddled with the rally scoring to ensure they could get things done on time for TV and it was the first instance a lot of these pros had exposure to rally scoring. Keeping that in mind, there were a few noteworthy results.
Collin Johns and Pat Smith had two wins together, with Collin Johns playing the left. They beat McGuffin/Spencer Smith, 15-14 and 15-14, along with Loong and Dawson, 21-17 and 21-17, and they even took a game from Ben Johns and AJ Koller. Again, all the caveats with rally scoring and weird team format, those are quality results.
Pat Smith’s lack of mobility and downward trending results in men’s doubles left him undrafted at the Premier level for MLP. However, this set of results in combination with his entire 2022 presents a conundrum for owners in Challenger and whether you can rely on someone like Smith to anchor your team, especially with serious singles limitations to his name. At the same time, those players who may be more tantalizing from a talent/flash perspective do not have the body of work and proof they can beat top players. These are the type of questions that make the Challenger level draft such a crapshoot.
Lea Jansen and Lindsey Newman had wins over Irina/Etta Wright as well as Callie Smith/Yana Newell this weekend. Jansen ended the year strong with a silver medal in Orlando while Lindsey Newman is getting back into the swing of tournaments. Lindsey got drafted to MLP to pair with Mary Brascia in women’s doubles, but likely needs someone like Jansen to help her out with finishing off points. Still, it’s an encouraging set of results for both players as we head into 2023.
Matt Wright and Spencer Smith got beat handily by Loong/Dawson. It was not a tick in the right box when it comes to the difficult Matt Wright MLP evaluation. Yes, it’s one silly match with rally scoring indoors in a Las Vegas Casino, but it’s these kinds of results that make us wonder what things are going to be like at MLP for Wright without his usual partners.
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