Jaume Martinez Vich competing at the Veolia Sacramento Open.
Jaume Martinez Vich competing at the Veolia Sacramento Open. PPA Tour

New gender doubles pairs take the court in Sacramento

In this week’s PPA stop in Sacramento, a number of new pairs take the court in men’s and women’s doubles.

These include Jaume Martinez Vich/Pablo Tellez, Gabe Tardio/Riley Newman, Federico Staksrud/Hayden Patriquin, Jack Sock/Thomas Wilson, Pat Smith/Collin Shick, Lea Jansen/Vivian Glozman, Lauren Stratman/Kaitlyn Christian, Jessie Irvine/Andrea Koop, and Callie Smith/Alix Truong. But, my favorite is James Ignatowich/Ben Johns.
A couple of these are worth a closer look. The pairing of Gabe Tardio and Riley Newman is going to be a good one to watch. Tardio has been playing an excellent right side. Newman was in 2023 the second best left side player in the game. How will Newman do after sitting out most of PPA 2024 until this point? How will these two mesh? Both are very athletic, so court coverage will not be a problem. Tardio is best when he can set his feet. When set, Tardio is a wall and can counter as well as anyone in the game. Look for Newman to take the middle. I do expect opponents to dink to Newman and mix in drives at him, to test whether he is in PPA shape.
Federico Staksrud playing with Hayden Patriquin is an interesting pair. Both are left side players. I expect Patriquin to move to the right side. But, I could see some conflict occurring in the middle with this pair. Both can cover a lot of court. Patriquin has a good backhand. This could lead to both going after middle balls. I expect their opponents to test the middle a lot. Dinks down the middle, drives down the middle, look to create conflict.
Finally, the new pair I am most looking forward to watching this week is James Ignatowich and Ben Johns. At first blush, some people may think this is not a great pairing as both play left side. But, go back in history a little bit and you can find tournaments where Ignatowich played some right side. Ignatowich can actually play a very good right side. His skill set also meshes well with what Johns can do.  Playing right side, players want to be able to effectively counter attacks from the opposing left side player: think Jack Sock or Riley Newman. Ignatowich has an excellent backhand counter. He tends to slide to his right, and counter backhand. He does so with a very good offensive backhand counter. If Ignatowich has a weakness it is that he can be a little slow to get to the line. But, playing with Ben Johns, Johns will take most of the thirds, allowing Ignatowich to get to the line first. At the line, Ignatowich can use his height and wingspan to poach. Once both players are at the line, Johns is going to take the middle dinks, allowing Ignatowich to be set and ready to counter.
The key when playing with Ben Johns is that you remember your job. Your job is to not lose the point. Your job is to keep the ball in play, and ultimately force the other side to hit the ball to Ben, to make them play Ben. 95% of the time, if you play the ball to Ben Johns, you lose. Your secondary job is to be ready for speedups at you. Opponents for obvious reasons tend to stay away from speeding up at Ben Johns. So, when playing with Ben, you have to be ready for teams speeding up at you. For most teams, the way to beat Ben Johns in doubles is to use controlled chaos; lots of speedups, often done unpredictably. Thus, if you play with Ben Johns, you have to be ready at all times for the opponent to speed up. You have to expect the opponents will not want long dink rallies. The counter has become the most important shot in pickleball, along with the speedup. When you partner with Ben Johns, be ready with your counter, as the opponents are very likely to come after you, a lot. I think Ignatowich is a great partner for Ben Johns and I am predicting gold for them.
Men’s and women’s doubles are on Saturday this week. The PPA Tour is always fun to watch on TV, but the new partnerships this week are must see TV.

Which new pairing is your favorite?
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