Anna Leigh Waters competing at the 2024 North Carolina Cup.
Anna Leigh Waters competing at the 2024 North Carolina Cup. PPA Tour

A final look at the Fanatics Sportsbook North Carolina Cup

The Fanatics Sportsbook North Carolina Cup is in the books.
The tournament was characterized by great attendance, some windy conditions, a number of upsets, and a lot of repeat winners. Let’s examine everything that happened this past week, in Cary, North Carolina
1.  Upsets, and more upsets
A number of lower seeds made great runs this week. In men’s singles, #43 seed Johnathan Medina Alvarez leveraged his #370 world ranking in tennis to earn his way to the quarterfinals. Along the way, he beat Jack Sock and Jaume Martinez Vich, no easy tasks. Expect to see more of Medina Alvarez as he progresses in pickleball. In women's singles, Genie Bouchard enjoyed some first-time success, winning a match over veteran Lauren Stratman. In the women’s doubles bracket, vying for biggest upset in a week of upsets, #15 seeds Audrey Banada and Sarah Ansboury defeated Anna Bright and Rachel Rohrabacher in the round of 16. Banada and Ansboury took advantage of windy conditions to score the upset, despite losing game two 11-1. In mixed doubles, Todd Fought and Maggie Brascia, #22 seeds, made a nice run to a fourth place finish, beating #14 Julian Arnold/Parris Todd, #2 James Ignatowich/Anna Bright and #9 Hayden Patriquin and Lea Jansen. Finally, in men’s doubles, first-time pair Augie Ge and Jaume Martinez Vich, #14 seeds, defeated #2 James Ignatowich and Matt Wright, and #3 Federico Staksrud and Pablo Tellez on their way to earning a silver medal.
2. Old favorites took the golds
Despite the many earlier round upsets, when it came time for the gold medal rounds, the usual suspects all won out. Ben Johns in singles, Anna Leigh Waters in singles, Ben and Collin Johns in men’s doubles, Ben and Anna Leigh Waters in mixed doubles, and Anna Leigh Waters and Catherine Parenteau in women’s doubles. With so many upsets and the windy conditions, congratulations are in order for the top seeds for all winning under some at times difficult conditions.
3. Hometown favorite Jack Sock disappoints
Jack Sock was a bit of a hometown favorite in this tournament, as he lives in North Carolina. The tournament set up as perhaps his best chance to do well and if not win an event, to at least medal once, if not more. But, the results were disappointing. In singles, Jack’s strongest event, he was upset in the round of 32 by Medina Alvarez. In mixed doubles, where Sock has a strong partner in Parenteau, they lost in the quarterfinals. In men’s doubles, Sock lost with another home-state son, Collin Shick, in the round of 32.  Needless to say, two round of 32 exits and one quarterfinals appearance was not what Jack Sock or anyone else would have expected for him in a North Carolina event. At some point, the pickleball world is going to have to understand that the PPA tour is loaded with tough competition, that is getting more difficult by the week, and thus lower expectations for Mr. Sock. It is just not that easy to come over from tennis and earn medals on the PPA tour, regardless of your talent at tennis. At this point, Jack is an immensely talented player, extremely fun to watch, but he is more of a top 25 player than he is a top 10 player.
4. Augie takes another step up
A few tournaments back, Phoenix pro Augie Ge seemed to come out of nowhere to earn a bronze medal in mixed doubles. That tournament put the pickleball world on notice of something pickleball insiders had known for awhile; Augie Ge has game. Augie showed that again this week, teaming with Martinez Vich for the first time and making a run all the way to the finals. They took a game off the Johns brothers, finally falling in four. Augie’s week in North Carolina coincided with his being drafted at Premier level in MLP. He may have been a pick that surprised some fans, but not MLP general managers. Do not be shocked if Augie is in the running for an MLP MVP later this year. We should certainly expect to see him make more runs at medals in PPA events going forward. It will be interesting to see if he forms a permanent partnership with JMV, or if he switches around. In mixed doubles, his performance has been limited at times by weaker partners. Expect his silver medal this week to entice better players to want to partner with him in mixed doubles. Etta Wright or Tyra Black, both strong players, without a regular partner, and who greatly benefit from playing mixed with a lefty, should give him a try.
5. The next strong mixed team?
Federico Staksrud and Rachel Rohrabacher lost a heartbreaker of a match in mixed doubles to the top team of Thomas Wilson and Vivienne David. Staksrud and Rohrabacher, seeded 10th, had no less than 5 match points against the #3 seeds, but ultimately couldn’t close the deal, losing 4-11, 13-11, 14-12, in a match that was theirs for the taking. I have been noting Staksrud and Rohrabacher as the next top mixed team, saying they just needed a signature win to be noticed. They had such a win in hand in North Carolina, but let it slip away. It is difficult for a new partnership to break through, due to the seeding process. Unless both players have a strong prior record, they will be seeded low, drawing tough opponents, making it hard to go far in a draw, making it hard to get a higher seed and an easier draw. We saw this play out with Staksrud and Tellez in men’s doubles, where they were an excellent team for awhile without results to show for it, due to consistently getting low seeds. Watch for Staksrud and Rohrabacher to follow the same path. They will break through, it is just a matter of time and once they do, I expect them to be a regular visitor to the quarters, semis and an occasional final.
Next up on the PPA Tour is the Veolia Houston Open. Texas is the home of a number of tour pros, so I am sure they will like being relatively close to home. While the #1 seeds in each event remain hard to beat, the depth of talent competing for a spot in the quarterfinals continues to improve. Winning a medal, any medal, is an accomplishment worth noting.
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