Image: Franklin FS Tour Paddle - Control The Tempo. Build Your Dynasty
Anna Bright and Rachel Rohrabacher celebrate their women's doubles championship in Austin.
Anna Bright and Rachel Rohrabacher celebrate their women's doubles championship in Austin. PPA Tour

Wrapping up the PPA Veolia Austin Open

It took an extra day, but the latest stop on the PPA Tour, in Texas for the Veolia Austin Open, is now in the books.
 
Both Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters returned to the tour after a brief layoff, but the results did not turn out quite as expected. 
 
Let’s run down the highlights.
 
1. Weather was a factor
 
Through the first handful of PPA tournaments this year, weather was not too much of a factor. However, that changed in Austin, as we experienced both rain and significant wind. The rain pushed the event back a day. The wind was a constant nuisance to the players. As is always true, wind affects players differently. Some cope well and seem to play their regular game, while others appear to be thrown off and play poorly. 
 
2. Who is the second best woman player?
 
Anna Leigh Waters is obviously the #1 player on the women’s side, but who is the second best player? ALW skipped women’s singles. When that happens, the draw just opens up wide as can be. As many as a dozen or more women are capable of winning singles when ALW is out of the draw. And not just as longshots; the gap from ALW to the #2 player is wider than the gap between #2 and #10. Indeed, there are reasonable arguments that can be made about exactly who is the second best woman player; it depends in part upon which event we are talking about. Catherine Parenteau, Anna Bright, Rachel Rohrabacher, Jorja Johnson, Vivienne David (in mixed), and Salome Davidze (in singles) all can make the claim at different times to being #2. Then there are improving players like Kaitlyn Christian, Meghan Dizon, and Etta Wright who can’t be left out of the conversation.
 
 
3. Will the dink become extinct?
 
The 2024 trend of power predominating continued in Austin. The combination of the Vulcan ball and the more technologically advanced paddles rewards power, topspin, and speed. The players continue to adapt to the new conditions and the change can be easily seen in the play. The best example of the new style continues to be women’s doubles. The great final between Waters/Parenteau and Bright/Rohrabacher was a textbook on 2024 style pickleball. While some dinking occurred in the match, there were relatively few long dink exchanges. Many points had no dinking, with the point progressing from drive to power counter to firefight. When dinking occurred, you could just see each player looking for the first opportunity to speed up the ball.
 
Power and topspin are here to stay in pickleball. Jack Sock’s constant forehand power has been a big story of 2024, but the changes can easily be seen in the women’s game too. The players who best adapt to the changes are the ones who will have the most success going forward.
 
4. Who said Ben Johns’ dominance of singles was over?
 
After no success in the first few tournaments of 2024, Ben has come back to win two straight singles golds in events in which he played. Ben looked a little off in doubles play in Austin. He missed more dinks than normal, committed more unforced errors than normal, and just did not look quite right. But, he easily defeated Federico Staksrud in the singles final, silencing any talk that he is anything but #1 in singles in 2024. We got our first look at Sock v, Johns in singles, providing an exciting 3 game match. They clearly enjoyed playing each other for the first time, even playing a point left-handed. Sock will need to work on his left-handed game before he plays Johns again; Ben may well be a 5.0 left-handed and he is not the person you want to challenge to switch hands.
 
 
5. ALW/Johns lose one
 
Among the unusual results was a very rare loss by Ben Johns/Anna Leigh Waters in mixed doubles. With James Ignatowich out with a shoulder injury, Anna Bright teamed with Andrei Daescu to take the gold. Bright/Daescu earned that gold, beating really tough teams along the way. They had to beat Humberg/Emmrich, Pisnik/Bar, Dizon/Tardio, and David/Wilson before the final. They only dropped one game along the way (give credit to Mari Humberg and Martin Emmrich for winning that one game). Bright has always shown she is a top mixed player; Daescu showed he can play top level mixed too.
 
6. Rohrabacher/Bright break through
 
While it had been predicted, it was still surprising to see Bright and Rohrabacher defeat ALW/CP in women’s doubles. The streak of wins by ALW/CP was amazing, but the clear improvement in 2024 of Bright and Rohrabacher meant that the streak was going to end, it was just a matter of when. Give credit to Bright and Rohrabacher for being the players who most clearly embrace the new style of pickleball. They started in 2023 with the pure power game and have doubled down on it in 2024. They play their style regardless of opponents and dictate the pace. They did have to fight through 9 match points before winning, but win they did.
 
7. Daescu was the top story of the week
 
While the weather, the power game, and upsets were all big stories, the biggest story was the dominance of Andrei Daescu. He won mixed and then also teamed with Matt Wright to win gold at men’s doubles. The way got cleared a bit when Christian Alshon and Zane Navratil beat both Johns/Johns and Staksrud/Tellez, but the big win was in the semis when Daescu and Wright came back against JW Johnson/Dylan Frazier to win 0-11, 11-4, 11-5. Following that comeback in the semis, Daescu and Wright relatively cruised to a 3 game sweep in the final.
 
Daescu has long been seen as an excellent player, but as was demonstrated in the last MLP draft, he has not been looked at as a top 5 type player. The double win in Austin following his gold medal win in Mesa should change that viewpoint. The one issue for Daescu concerns partners. He has no steady PPA partner in either men’s or mixed doubles. After these wins, everyone should be lining up to partner with him. Who will it be?
 
 
Next up in North Carolina in two weeks. If you can be there in person, go watch the best play the best. 
 
Follow me on Twitter/X @pickleball_jim
Image: Pickleball Central - Join the Rewards Program

Pickleball.com

© 2024 Pickleball TopCo LLC, All Rights Reserved.