Let’s take a look at the last week in pickleball and talk about the biggest stories, focused on PPA Holly Hill.
1. Johns Brothers lose
It is very notable when Ben and Collin Johns lose, as it happens so rarely. As usual, when it does happen, it happens early in the draw. They just never seem to lose in the semis or finals. This week, they lost in the round of 16 to Jaume Martinez Vich and Wyatt Stone. Full credit to JMV and Wyatt, but it must be noted that Collin played notably poorly. JMV showed he is more than just a singles specialist, and dominated from the left side. Wyatt played solid right side defensive pickleball. Will this be a breakout win for JMV, that he can build off of, and become a top 20 player in doubles? Something to watch for in 2024.
2. Ben wins singles gold
Different tournament, same result. Ben lost a game to Tyson, but the result never seemed in doubt. Interestingly, Ben continues to incorporate more two-hand backhand shots in his singles game (and to a lesser extent, in his doubles game). His simple strategy of playing tennis style on serve return points (grab the net and volley), but pickleball on serve points (a lot of cat and mouse), continues to be a winning strategy that few players can solve (or imitate).
3. ALW/Ben win mixed
ALW and Ben won mixed gold at PPA Holly Hill, another non-surprise. They were never seriously threatened. No opposing pair is a serious threat at this point. Only a pairing of CP/Riley would appear to create a challenge, but for whatever reason, we don’t see the two #2’s pair up. Too bad, it would bring some excitement to mixed doubles.
4. CP/ALW win women’s doubles
Another expected win. Once again, no serious threat was presented. Is there any pair on the horizon who look like they could be a threat? Kovalova and Smith are able to beat anyone other than CP/ALW, while at the same time appearing to have no chance of winning gold. The new pair of Jansen/Black looks good on paper, but has trouble producing on the court. Lots of talent there, but with both of them, the results do not quite live up to the talent. The Jansen/Black pair has an issue with who is to play which side. They switched back and forth this week, which is a poor strategy. Tyra is a left side player all the way, due to her weakness being her forehand crosscourt dink. But, Lea’s defense on the right was not good, so the pairing has some issues at this point.
5. JW/Dylan take advantage of Johns’ loss
JW and Dylan took advantage of the Johns’ loss and cruised to the gold at PPA Holly Hill. Once the Johns lost, the odds heavily favored JW/Dylan and they came through. The bigger story was the success of the Garnett/Alshon pairing, with them garnering silver. Garnett/Alshon had a great match against Newman/Bar, losing game one before taking games 2 and 3. Garnett played with great energy. Alshon continues to show why he was my “most improved” player on the men’s side in 2023 (it was Tyra Black on the women’s side). Alshon has room to improve in his consistency and defense; he is my pick for the player most likely to break into the top 10 in 2024. Building on MLP success, I would really like to see a Newman/Alshon permanent pairing.
6. Seedings matter
We continue to see the importance of seedings in PPA events. Seedings are based on total points for the year. Thus, quantity is rewarded. A player playing more events with mediocre results can garner more points than a better player who plays fewer events. Also, playing with a top player can help a weaker player get points. A final problem is that new players, with few/no points, will get bad seedings, making it hard to get points and move up. We saw the problem this year with the Staksrud/Tellez pairing. They have been a top 5 team for many months, but they still struggle to get a top 5 seeding. This week, they were again victimized with a tough draw.
On the flip side, we see Matt Wright benefit again this week from a too high seeding of #3 (with Travis Rettenmeier). The way the seedings are done, Matt could play with my cat and they would be a top 6 seed every week (that is literally true). Wright and Rettenmeier cruised into the semis without beating any top 15 player (and only one top 25 player in AJ Koller). Once they hit the top 15-20 players, they lost twice.
Seedings need to take into account more than just points over a year. Some discretion should enter into it. No knowledgeable pickleball player would say Wright/Rettenmeier should be seeded ahead of Staksrud/Tellez or Garnett/Alshon. PPA should do better on the important issue of seedings.
7. MLP Championship is around the corner
More to come on this important event. DC, Orlando, Miami, and Chicago will be the four teams. Three well-drafted teams and Chicago. Can Ben’s talent overcome the poor drafting of the rest of the team? It has not proven to be enough up to this point. DC will be the favorite. Orlando’s energy has been their advantage. Miami has done as well as a team can do drafting last. Every match in this event will be worth watching.
8. Paddlegate continues
The issue of paddle testing continued at PPA Holly Hill. Jill Braverman has been vocal in asserting paddle testing is behind the times. PPA announced this week that they were breaking away from USAP’s paddle testing and going with MLP’s paddle tester. That would appear to be a very good decision by PPA. How it all plays out remains to be seen.
Enjoy the game this week!
See you next Monday.
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