Dylan Frazier and JW Johnson at the Select Medical Orange County Cup.
Dylan Frazier and JW Johnson at the Select Medical Orange County Cup. PPA Tour

How Frazier, Johnson adjusted their game and became No. 1

DALLAS, TX - With the conclusion of the Select Medical Orange County Cup, the men’s doubles duo of Dylan Frazier and JW Johnson took over the top spot as the #1 ranked team on the PPA Tour. It has been awhile since Ben and Collin Johns were not in the top spot. Frazier and Johnson have been on a very steady hot streak. In the last five PPA tournaments, Frazier/Johnson have won four and finished second once. Hard to do better than that.
But, how did they do it? Have they just been playing better or, if we look at their matches, can we see any subtle adjustments that have contributed to this hot streak?
Frazier/Johnson, like the Johns brothers, have an inherent advantage over the vast majority of doubles teams: they always play together and they always play the same side. Frazier will always be on the right, Johnson on the left. They will always be together. This may sound simple, but it is a not insignificant advantage to always be with the same partner and to always be on the same side. By not switching sides and partners, they can focus on what they do best on that side. Frazier knows his forehand dink will be crucial; Johnson knows his backhand dink will be equally important.  It is no coincidence that the two best teams are made up of pairs who always play together and who always play the same side.
But Frazier and Johnson have recognized that pickleball has changed in 2024. It is not the same game, nor is it played the exact same way as it was just a couple of years ago. Offense has come to be of more importance. Generating winners, and not just waiting to counter, has become a much bigger part of pro pickleball in 2024. 
Prior to this year, the “book” on Frazier/Johnson was that you had to dink them middle. JW’s backhand flick was the danger zone. Dylan would just play steady, mostly defensive. By dinking middle, you could stay away from that dangerous Johnson flick, and the middle was a safe zone.
However, 2024 has been different. First, Frazier/Johnson now speed up more than they used to. In the Orange County final, they averaged more than eight speedups per game. They sped up the ball almost twice as often as their opponents, Hayden Patriquin and Pablo Tellez. This is a big change for Frazier/Johnson, as they used to pretty much sit back and wait to counter, and allowed the opponents to try more speedups.
Second, Frazier has moved his location at the line. Frazier now stands much closer to the middle than he used to. During dink rallies, Frazier does not set his ready position in the middle of his side; instead he will slide so that his ready position is fairly close to the center line. If dinked wide, he uses his athleticism to slide right and get the forehand dink. But, by standing closer to the middle, he now takes more of the middle balls than he used to. Previously, if you dinked Frazier/Johnson middle, you could count on JW taking the shot, with his forehand dink. Now. Frazier will take a fair number of those shots, and even goes so far over that he takes them with his forehand. Frazier will sometimes speed up on those middle balls, making the middle a more dangerous place for the opponent.
Third, Johnson has also slightly changed his game on the middle dinks. He used to not be a threat to speed up off the forehand. With Frazier staying more on his side, and Johnson being passive on forehand dinks, it made the middle a safe and quiet zone for opponents to target. However, we now see JW speeding up on forehands much more often. In the Orange County final, Johnson had more speedups than anyone else; indeed, he had more than twice the number of speedups as any other player. This pattern was also true in earlier rounds, where we saw Johnson sometimes speedup on middle forehand shots, something rarely if ever seen from Johnson in prior years.
The paddles of 2024 are not the same as paddles of prior years. We see more drives, more speedups, more hard hitting than ever before. This has lead to players initiating more offense. The block/counter arguably remains the most important shot in men’s doubles, but the drive and the speedup are catching up. Frazier and Johnson have recognized how teams were playing them, and have adjusted how they handle those middle dinks. Now it will be up to the opponents to adjust to the adjustments, and see if they can topple the new #1 team.
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