Thomas Wilson competing on the PPA Tour during the 2024 season.
Thomas Wilson competing on the PPA Tour during the 2024 season. PPA Tour

How about a PPA shuffle draft event?

There is always a lot of discussion about pickleball partnerships on the PPA Tour. Fans speculate on who should play with who. If a long-time partnership breaks up, it makes the news and fosters a lot of discussion about what new partnerships might form. Similarly, a hot topic is always whether certain players who have success would have that kind of success playing with a different or lesser partner. Collin Johns is often the subject of such discussion. It seems half the pickleball world thinks he would be great with any other top player, while the other half of the fans think his success is all from riding his brother’s coattails. As is so often the case, the truth is not so black and white. Obviously, Ben Johns will play a big part in his partner’s success, whoever he plays with. On the other hand, Collin Johns is arguably the best right side player in the game and would mesh well with many left side dominant players.
But what if we could test these theories? What if we could actually see how Collin Johns (or other top players) does with other players as their partner? Well, we do have such a vehicle and that is the shuffle draft event. Recently, APP had a shuffle draft event. It was interesting, but of course the level of play was not on the level of PPA play. How about if we do a PPA shuffle draft event?
First, let’s explain how a shuffle draft event would work. We start with the top 16 men and top 16 women. The 16 are divided into 4 pods of 4 each. Within your pod, you play a match with each of the other three players. So, for example, players ABCD are in the pod. A and B play C and D. They then switch partners, so A and C play B and D. Finally, A and D play against B and C. Everyone plays with and against everyone else. The top 2 from each pod move on to a group of 8, where we have two pods of four each and we repeat the process. Two winners from each pod move on to the final four. We do that on the men’s side and we do it on the women’s side. This way, we actually get to see different players play with different partners.
We now have to get to the really difficult part: figuring out the top 16 to invite, in men’s and women’s. This is brutally difficult.
Let’s start with the men’s side. We have, in my opinion, 11 easy choices. Ben JohnsRiley Newman, Andrei Daescu, JW Johnson, Dylan Frazier, James Ignatowich, Federico Staksrud, Thomas Wilson, Christian Alshon, Tyson McGuffin, and Hayden Patriquin. Would anyone make a top 16 and not include all 11 of them? No, not if you know pickleball. So, we need 5 more, and here is where it gets really tough. Gabe Tardio, Matt Wright, and Collin Johns all get in, in my opinion, due to their results. They are all right side players, so they all get some level of disrespect because of that. Indeed, if we look at where they get picked in the MLP draft, we see how right side players are discounted. But, this is my column, so I get to put them in. Now we need two more. The candidates are Jack Sock, Julian Arnold, Dekel Bar, and Connor Garnett. Pablo Tellez, Tyler Loong, Jay Devilliers, Jack Munro, Zane Navratil, and Jaume Martinez Vich all come close, but I can’t put them in the top 16. Sock has not proven he is top 16, but he is just so fun to watch I have to put him in. That leaves one more spot. I have to go with Dekel Bar, due primarily to recent success. But it is really close. Well, those are our 16 men.
On the women’s side, I have 13 easy picks of the 16. Anna Leigh Waters, Catherine Parenteau, Anna Bright, Rachel Rohrabacher, Etta Wright, Meghan Dizon, Jorja Johnson, Vivienne David, Tyra Black, Parris Todd, Jade Kawamoto, Lea Jansen and Tina Pisnik. I don’t think any reasonable list leaves any of those 13 out. So, we need three more and once again it gets very tough. Possibilities are Andrea Koop, Callie Smith, Lucy Kovalova, Mari Humberg, Jessie Irvine, Kaitlyn Christian, Lauren Stratman, and Lacy Schneemann. I will take Koop and Callie Smith. The 16th spot is really difficult, and any of the others would be a reasonable choice.  I will put Kovalova in, due again to more successful results in PPA events in the last year. So we have our 16 women.
Now let’s do the pods and this time the women can go first. The way the pods would work is to have seeds, #1 to #16. The pods are then made up of 1/8/9/16, 2/7/10/15, 3/6/11/14, and 4/5/12/13.
For the women, I have the pods as follows: ALW/David/Jansen/Kovalova; CP/Jorja/Pisnik/CSmith; Bright/Dizon/Tyra/Koop; and Wright/Rorhabacher/Todd/Jade Kawamoto.
For the men: Ben Johns/Wilson/Alshon/Bar; JW/Staksrud/McGuffin/Sock; Frazier/Newman/Patriquin/Collin; and Daescu/Ignatowich/Wright/Tardio.
Now, how fun would that be to watch? It would be incredible. Let’s just take one group as an example for an in-depth look. JW, Staksrud, McGuffin, and Sock. We have three players who only play the left side. Tyson could play right with any of the other three. But what do JW, Sock, and Staksrud do when they play with each other? It is a great test. Would Tyson do the best because of his versatility? Would we find out that one of the other three can play a great right side, even though we have never seen them do it before?
In the APP shuffle event, they played one game with each partner, to 21, win by two, rally scoring. I am not sure that is the best format, but it worked. The two players with the best record moved on, and ties were broken by the easy tiebreaker of most points won. The four players making the finals would end up playing nine games to 21, which is a reasonable number for an event.  If you played standard format, best two of three games, the final four might have to play as many as 27 games which is too much for one event.
Just think of the matchups we might see. Who would not want to watch ALW/Dizon v Bright/Jansen? Or JW/Newman v Staksrud/Frazier? I could make another 10 must see matchups. What do you think? Hey, PPA, what do you think? I think this would be a winner and the most interesting event of the year. Absolutely must see pickleball. Let’s get it on the schedule for 2025.
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