Allyce Jones competing at MLP DC.
Allyce Jones competing at MLP DC. Major League Pickleball

Thinking and rethinking the MLP Dreambreaker

Two events on the MLP schedule have now been completed. Results so far show close to 50% of all matches resulting in a 2-2 tie and thus a Dreambreaker. Dreambreakers are exciting, but they also reveal weaknesses in some MLP teams when they do not have four players who are accomplished at singles.
Only about half of PPA players play singles at a PPA tournament. For example, in the upcoming PPA stop in San Clemente, there are 48 men in the singles draw and 96 in men’s doubles. On the women’s side, 40 are signed up for singles and 96 in doubles. If we look at mixed doubles, we see the same thing; more men and more women play mixed doubles than play singles.
If we look at the top 25, we again see the same pattern. About half of the top 25 male doubles players do not play singles events and well over half of the top 25 women’s doubles players do not play singles events. These top 25 players are the ones who are drafted Premier level at MLP. Thus, half or more of the drafted players are not regular singles players.
Now, this doesn’t mean simply because a player does not regularly play singles that they are bad at it. Especially in a Dreambreaker situation, where you only play four points at a time, there are top doubles players who can play a very solid game in a Dreambreaker; players such as Riley Newman, Dekel Bar, Rachel Rorhabacher, and Anna Bright can bring the heat in a Dreambreaker yet never set foot on a singles court in a PPA event.
Nevertheless, singles play is playing a large part in MLP success so far in 2024. One look at the Challenger standings and we see Las Vegas in first, at 5-0, with 4 of those wins coming in Dreambreakers.
The strategy to date in Dreambreakers has almost universally been to set your lineup as M1 (best male player), M2, F1, F2. So, for example, New York against DC set out Jack Sock, CJ Klinger, Lea Jansen, and Jackie Kawamoto. DC in response, sent out James Ignatowich, Dekel Bar, Rachel Rohrabacher, and Allyce Jones. New York won the Dreambreaker by 2 points, but all because Kawamoto beat Jones 8-1. Was DC’s lineup the best it could do, strategically?
What happens if DC sets their lineup as Jones, Ignatowich, Bar, and Rorhabacher? The matchups then become Sock v Jones, Ignatowich v Klinger, Bar v Jansen, and Rohrabacher v Kawamoto. Obviously Sock is a huge favorite over Jones and will quite possibly take all 4 points each time. But, DC then has the advantage each of the other three matchups, and i would argue DC has a decided advantage. Sock can only win 4 points each time. If the other three can average 3-1 for DC, DC has a 9-7 advantage each rotation. And, I would argue, Jones can win a point here and there against Sock. Just go to the net every point and force Sock to pass. Can Sock hit 4 of 4 passing shots? Maybe. But maybe not.
Mathematically, in a close Dreambreaker, the first player out will not decide the Dreambreaker winner. In an even match, two complete rotations end with a score of 16-16. So the best the #1 player can do in the third rotation is to get to 20-16. If DC can get an advantage in the first two rotations, even a small advantage, they can get it to the third rotation with a lead, maybe 17-15 or 18-14. Then even if Sock can sweep in the third rotation. DC would get to the matchups where they have the edge either tied or maybe down 19-17.  Remember, you must win on serve, so being down 19-17 is not that bad. If DC could get to Ignaotwich v Klinger, Bar v Jansen, and Rohrabacher v Kawamoto, down only 19-17, I like DC’s chances. But when DC runs out the traditional lineup, all New York had to do was to hang around, fairly even, waiting for the Kawamoto v Jones matchup to decide things.
The purpose of this column is not to single out Allyce Jones. She is a fine doubles player and a really good person. But, she is a weak singles player. When your team has a weak singles player, consider sending that player out first, not last. The math shows that playing your weakest singles player first may not be the disadvantage you think it is.
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