Breaking Down the Pools and Partnerships for the PPA Finals

Breaking Down the Pools and Partnerships for the PPA Finals

DALLAS, TX - With the final PPA event of the season upon us this week in San Clemente, CA, there’s no shortage of potential fireworks. 

Here’s everything to note as the pickleball world prepares for the PPA’s swan song of 2023. 

Men’s Singles: Pool 1
Ben Johns
Connor Garnett
Christian Alshon
Jay Devilliers

Though Christian Alshon has made impressive strides in doubles throughout the second half of 2023, it may come at the expense of his singles game. He hasn’t made it past the quarterfinals in any singles event since taking silver at PPA Denver in July. He won’t have to focus on doubles in San Clemente, though, so this could be his chance to get back on track in this event.

Similarly, Jay Devilliers has been consistently good, but rarely great in singles this year. He finished on the podium in three out of the season’s first seven tournaments, but hasn’t been back since.

It’s hard to imagine Ben Johns not making it out of the group stage, and Connor Garnett is the only other player in this pool with a singles medal in recent months. That being said, both Alshon and Devilliers have the tools to get it done on any given day.

Men’s Singles: Pool 2
Federico Staksrud
Tyson McGuffin
JW Johnson
Pablo Tellez

Federico Staksrud had a year-defining performance in his comeback victory over Johns in the PPA Cincinnati finals. The Argentinian hasn’t found that same level since, though, bowing out in the Round of 16 in both Las Vegas and Holly Hill. But, Staksrud always threatens with strong drives and an underrated short game.

Even with a gold at Nationals, it’s easy to let JW Johnson fall under the singles radar because he doesn’t enter the singles draw at every tournament he plays. The 21-year-old will be a tough out in what is already a stacked pool featuring tour veteran Tyson McGuffin and the talented Pablo Tellez as a dark horse.

Women’s Singles: Pool 1
Anna Leigh Waters
Mary Brascia
Lauren Stratman
Judit Castillo

Aside from Waters and Stratman, this pool features some gals who earned their first PPA singles medals in 2023.

Judit Castillo did so at the Orange County Cup, coming away with bronze. The Spaniard also took a game off of Anna Leigh Waters in the semis at this tournament, proving she can compete with the World No. 1 when she hits her stride.

Mary Brascia’s first singles medal on the PPA Tour came in Atlanta in May and featured an epic semi-final match against Lea Jansen that she won in three games. Brascia and Lauren Stratman faced off in the quarters at Pictona two weeks ago, with Stratman coming out on top in three games. A rematch awaits in group play.

Again, it’s hard to imagine Waters not making the semifinals, but it’s a toss-up between Brascia, Stratman and Castillo for who takes the other semifinal spot from this group.

Women’s Singles: Pool 2
Catherine Parenteau
Lea Jansen
Irina Tereschenko
Yana Newell

The biggest story from this group is Lea Jansen putting her ‘retirement’ from singles on hold. The 26-time singles medalist announced that she would be stepping away from the event back in July because of health concerns, and she has not competed in a singles draw since.

With Salome Devidze not playing in San Clemente, Yana Newell now occupies the final spot in women’s singles. The two-time PPA singles medalist hasn’t played a singles draw since Kansas City, but she has quality wins over Tereschenko, Brascia, and Castillo in 2023. She might just be the week’s biggest wildcard ahead of the singles draws.

Men’s Doubles: Pool 1
Ben Johns / Collin Johns
Matt Wright / James Ignatowich
Tyson McGuffin / Dekel Bar
Julian Arnold / AJ Koller

Had he wanted to, Matt Wright could have turned back the clock and joined forces with his old partner Riley Newman, but he picked James Ignatowich instead. This tandem certainly looked dangerous when they played together in Las Vegas, not dropping a single game on their way to a semi-final clash with Ben and Collin Johns. An ankle injury forced Ignatowich to withdraw before that match, but we’re guaranteed to see it in group play in San Clemente.

The Johns brothers were surprisingly knocked out of the Hertz Gold Cup in the Round of 16, but it came as no surprise that Ben still chose to play with his brother for this event. Expect the 13-time gold medalists this season to come looking to reassert their dominance on the field.

Men’s Doubles: Pool 2
JW Johnson / Dylan Frazier
Riley Newman / Thomas Wilson
Federico Staskrud / Pablo Tellez
DJ Young / Jay Devilliers

Since dumping Matt Wright in June, Riley Newman has had five different men’s doubles partners: Julian Arnold, AJ Koller, Thomas Wilson, Christian Alshon and Dekel Bar. With Alshon not being an option, Newman went with Wilson. In the one tournament they played together this year (PPA Cincinnati), they made the semifinals and took a game off the Johns brothers. They’ll be looking for more in San Clemente.

Barring any upsets from Young and Devilliers, the second semi-final berth from this group (after JW Johnson and Dylan Frazier) will most likely come down to the group stage match between Staksrud and Tellez and Newman and Wilson. Staksrud and Tellez have really come into their own as one of the top men’s doubles partnerships this year, but Newman and Wilson have shown the ability to compete at a high level, albeit in a small sample size.

Women’s Doubles: Pool 1
Anna Leigh Waters / Catherine Parenteau
Allyce Jones / Etta Wright
Meghan Dizon / Jorja Johnson
Jessie Irvine / Lacy Schneeman

Allyce Jones and Etta Wright both have multiple women’s doubles medals on tour this year playing with multiple different partners. They earned bronze when they played together in Las Vegas, and though they may fly under the radar in a group with the undefeated duo of Waters and Parenteau, they can do some real damage.

Jessie Irvine and Lacy Schneeman don’t often play tournaments together, but they are women’s doubles partners in MLP as members of the Chicago Slice. This pairing could be a strategic play to get more reps in ahead of MLP Season 2 playoffs beginning Dec. 4.

Women’s Doubles: Pool 2
Anna Bright / Vivienne David
Callie Jo Smith / Lucy Kovalova
Lea Jansen / Jade Kawamoto
Yana Newell / Irina Tereschenko

Anna Bright and Vivienne David are both accomplished doubles players in their own right and won bronze together at February’s Desert Ridge Open. Though they haven’t played together too often in 2023, they will be an extremely tough out in group play, with Bright most likely playing the left and David taking the right.

Lea Jansen and Jade Kawamoto figure to be the wildcard of this group. Though they haven’t played together extensively, they have complimentary strengths on paper. The lefty Kawamoto is a strong right-side player with the ability to reset and keep points alive at will, which will allow Jansen to play the left side, where she seems to be the most comfortable in women’s doubles.

Mixed Doubles: Pool 1
Anna Leigh Waters / Ben Johns
Anna Bright / James Ignatowich
Catherine Parenteau / Thomas Wilson
Tyson McGuffin / Lea Jansen

Catherine Parenteau and Thomas Wilson is an intriguing pair that certainly has the makings of a potential powerhouse. Each of them has played with the same partner for a good portion of this year, but they won’t be doing so in San Clemente. Parenteau played most of 2023 with Tyson McGuffin but chose Wilson, who usually plays with Vivienne David, as her partner for this event. Both Parenteau and Wilson have the tools to win in mixed—we’ll just have to see if they’re able to combine them effectively to reel off some wins.

Anna Bright and James Ignatowich are always a dangerous mixed team. They lost to Johns and Waters in the gold medal match at Nationals, but they have a strong opportunity to make the semifinals from this pool, especially with a fully rested Ignatowich, who didn’t play in Holly Hill.

Mixed Doubles: Pool 2
Riley Newman / Vivienne David
Jorja Johnson / JW Johnson
Jessie Irvine / Dylan Frazier
Lucy Kovalova / Matt Wright

Riley Newman and Vivienne David are two of the top mixed doubles players in their fields, and Newman made a statement when he chose David with the No. 2 pick. Newman and Catherine Parenteau racked up 15 medals playing together between 2020 and 2022, but Newman decided to go with David to close out the year. We’ll see if it pays off.

Matt Wright and Lucy Kovalova are two veterans of the tour and have earned 24 medals together since its inception. They may be flying under the radar a bit in this group featuring the Johnson siblings, but they are far too talented to count out.