latest In the PPA And MLP

The latest in the PPA and MLP

It was another eventful week in the pickleball world, with the PPA Finals wrapping up in San Clemente. To be followed right away with the MLP finals.  Let’s look at the highlights from this week in pickleball.

1. A very interesting PPA Final, with some extra drama

The PPA Finals incorporated a new format.  With a limited field in each event, pool play was utilized, with a round-robin determining who made the semifinals. In each event, there were pools of 4 players (singles) or 4 teams (doubles). The top 2 advanced to semifinal play.
Pool play incorporated some strategies not seen in typical tournament play. For example, if one team went 0-3, and 3 teams tied at 2-1 (as happened a few times), the 2 teams advancing were determined by a tiebreaker. The tiebreaker was point differential. Thus, one team might be 2-0, but not be assured of a playoff spot, as if they lost the third match, they could still be knocked out on the tiebreaker.
The unique features of pool play with tiebreakers lead to some interesting moments.  In mixed play, the team of Riley Newman and Vivienne David seemed to be cruising along, with a 2-0 record. Their third game was against Matt Wright and Lucy Kovalova, who were 1-1. However, Wright and Kovalova won easily, dramatically lowering the point differential for Newman/David and knocking them out of the playoffs entirely.
Another interesting round-robin moment came up in men’s doubles. Newman/Wilson faced Staksrud/Tellez, with Newman/Wilson at 2-0 and Staksrud/Tellez at 1-1. Staksrud/Tellez needed a win to qualify for the playoffs. Waiting in the wings were JW/Dylan; they needed a Newman/Wilson win to make the playoffs. Staksrud/Tellez won in a very tight 11-9, 11-9 match. There were online accusations that somehow Newman/Wilson threw the match so that JW/Dylan would not qualify for the playoffs. The accusation made no sense as if JW/Dylan made the playoffs, they would have faced the Johns brothers; obviously, if you are Newman/Wilson, you want the Johns brothers to face the toughest opponent and maybe knock them out. In any event, Newman/Wilson certainly played very hard against Staksrud/Tellez, even calling for line judges at one point (more on that below), so any accusation of anyone throwing the match was baseless.
Next, no discussion of the PPA Finals would be complete without a discussion of the Julian Arnold/Collin Johns fireworks. In their men’s doubles match, things were a little chippy. Both players were chirping, and they even had a disagreement about who should pick up a ball after a point was over. At match end, CJ refused a handshake/paddle tap from Julian, resulting in Julian gesturing to CJ that Julian thought CJ was #1; a ref had to step between them. After the match, CJ had the last word in the post-match interview, calling Julian “the biggest clown in pickleball”. Well, maybe it won’t be the last word; I doubt Julian will let that one go unanswered.
In the finals, the gold medal winners went as expected. Ben Johns won men’s singles, although he was pushed as hard as can be by Christian Alshon, winning 13-11 in the third game. Women’s singles was the opposite; the expected close match between ALW and CP turned into a laugher for ALW. In mixed doubles, there was little drama as ALW/Ben Johns easily beat the Johnson siblings. In women’s doubles, the juggernaut that is ALW/CP rolled to an easy victory.
The only Sunday doubles match delivering a compelling match was in men’s doubles. The new partnership of Riley Newman and Thomas Wilson faced the Johns brothers. Ben and Collin won game one easily, 11-4, and the crowd wondered if this would go quickly. But Newman/Wilson proved tough to put away, taking game 2. Games 3 and 4 went to the Johns for the match, but either game could have gone the other way.
The wrap-up for the PPA Finals left us with several questions. First, is the men’s singles world catching up to Ben Johns? While he won gold, he is losing more matches and more games than was true a year ago. 2024 may well see Ben take down fewer golds in singles than we are used to. Second, can anyone touch the ALW/CP doubles duo? Not only have they not been beaten, they are rarely even tested. No pair has tried much in the way of new strategies. Perhaps all out attack, or manic lobbing will finally be tried by their overmatched opponents. What is clear is that employing a “same old” strategy is only leading to a “same old” result. Third, has Riley Newman finally found the right steady partner for men’s doubles, in Thomas Wilson? Thomas played a steady, right side, defensive style all week, and it paid off with a big win over JW/Dylan. It also made for a super close match against the Johns brothers. There is great value in a steady partnership. It looks like a Newman/Wilson partnership might be able to compete at the highest level in 2024. Finally, will line judges be used in more or all matches in 2024? It would seem pro tournament pickleball is finally ready for line judges, at least in gold medal matches. Let’s hope 2024 brings us greater use of line judges.

2. The MLP playoff finals are coming

 We go straight from the PPA Finals, to the MLP Finals. MLP will be using a restricted format this week, with only four teams qualifying. Hard to see anything but a repeat of a DC v Orlando final, but never count out a team with Ben Johns on it, no matter how poorly drafted are the other three picks. Miami is very balanced, but can they break through in men’s doubles?
The real questions on MLP will begin after the event. Will the pay cuts help MLP survive? Will MLP make it through 2024? Will MLP make it to 2024? What will be the format for choosing teams/players in 2024? How many teams will there be? Not even MLP franchise owners know the answers to all these questions at this point.
The hope is that MLP survives, but in limited format. MLP is like a birthday cake; a little once in awhile is good, but having it all the time makes you sick of it. Here is one vote for MLP surviving but being a small part of the pro pickleball landscape going forward.
Coming up we will take a look back at 2023, and then a look forward to 2024. Always fun to make a few predictions for the year ahead. Look for that in a future column.
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