PPA Austin Texas Recap
What a weekend in Austin, as professional pickleball returned to the Texas. If you missed any of the action at the PPA Onix Austin Showdown, we have you covered with our PPA Austin Texas recap! Here's everything that took place in the Lone Star State.
The Weather Factor:
We talked in our preview how weather could play a factor in both the schedule and play this weekend as the pros were moving from the hot and humid conditions in Florida to the cold and rainy conditions in Austin, Texas.
On Thursday singles had to be moved to a nearby indoor facility at Dreamland Dripping Springs for the first few rounds, before action resumed at the Elevate Athletic Club. On Friday it played an even bigger role as the wind picked up and the temperature dropped significantly.
For those who tuned in there was a huge side advantage on championship court with teams winning most of their games when playing into the wind as opposed to with it. In doubles, playing into the wind has its advantages. It allows players the ability to drive their 3rd shots with little to no fear of the ball sailing long. On the flip side, playing with the wind makes it nearly impossible to drop your 3rd shot into the kitchen and also forces players to back off going full speed on their drives.
All of Friday’s quarterfinal mixed doubles matches went to a third and deciding game, as we saw Vivienne David and Thomas Wilson up 6-1 on Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters late before losing 11-8.
Conditions mellowed on Saturday and Sunday, but it’s important to note for future events that extreme weather conditions can lead to higher variance results as the top teams are more vulnerable to upsets.
APP Players Continue to Struggle
In November of 2022 the PPA struck a deal to merge with Major League Pickleball, positioning itself as the main tour for the best pickleball players in the world. As a result, the APP has become pickleball’s “minor league” tour as most of the talent now primarily participates in PPA events.
Not all of the big names signed deals with the PPA though (most noticeably Parris Todd and the Johnson brothers) and we wondered how those players would fare when they finally decided to make their PPA debuts in 2023.
Todd, residing in Florida, made her first PPA appearance last week at the Red Clay Hot Sauce Florida Open, failing to medal in both doubles' events. This week, Hunter and Yates Johnson (who reside in Texas) made their first appearance in a PPA event at the Onix Austin Showdown. Could they do what Todd could not and medal in what are much deeper PPA fields than we saw in 2022?
Their best chance was in men’s singles with Hunter seeded 5th and Yates seeded 9th. Both brothers took upsets in round two with Hunter falling to the 12 seed Christian Alshon while Yates lost to the 25th seed Vich Jaume Martinez. Safe to say that APP events are not preparing players like Todd and the Johnsons to play against the best players in pickleball.
Alshon Nabs Bronze
When the PPA released the men’s singles draw Wednesday night, pickleball fans immediately began to circle the most enticing first round matchups. Zane Navratil was slated to play Rafa Hewett again but the most intriguing matchup was between 12th seeded Christian Alshon and last week’s improbable silver medalist Collin Shick.
Shick received direct entry into the main draw based on his result in Florida last week, but the question heading into Austin was how he would respond after only three days of rest?
That said, he came out firing early taking game one 11-4 but Alshon was able to adjust and problem solve, winning the next two games 11-6 and 11-9. He showed a high level of maturity, forcing Shick to work for every point over the course of the last two games.
After narrowly escaping a first round exit he rode that momentum all the way to a bronze, backing up his win over Shick by beating (5) Hunter Johnson (4) Jay Devilliers and (11) Connor Garnett. There is no denying the talent of Alshon, but grinding out four wins over four strong opponents was something he wasn’t capable of doing a few months ago. We’ll see if he can back it up when the PPA calendar resumes at the Selkirk Red Rock Open in April.
Staks is Back
After missing the podium in the last two PPA events this was an important week for Federico Staksrud in singles. With all the new talent starting to emerge, he needed a good performance not only to prove he was still #2 (behind Ben Johns) but for his own confidence.
Those missed podiums were clearly in the back of Federico’s mind this week. After his semifinal win over #11 seed Connor Garnett, he mentioned in his sideline interview with Hanna Johns that it takes 100% mental and physical effort to win week in and week out at this level inferring he may not have been fully focused in Minnesota and Florida.
Nonetheless Staksrud breezed through the singles draw on Thursday with his closest match coming against Garnett, winning 11-7 11-7. With six PPA events in the books and Staksrud earning three silvers and a gold it’s safe to say he is without a doubt the second-best singles player in the world right now.
Women’s Doubles Podium Parody
There is a clear top three in the men’s doubles game right now, but the women’s side has been somewhat unpredictable outside of Anna Leigh Waters and her partners Anna Bright and Catherine Parenteau.
The #2 spot, which was once firmly held by Callie Jo Smith and Lucy Kovalova is now up for grabs in 2023, with Kovalova and Smith producing some less than stellar results to start the season. Lea Jansen and Allyce Jones have medaled four times this year but have been upset by lower seeded teams the past two tournaments. Jesse Irvine has been rotating partners with little to no success as of late. The point being it’s very hard to predict who is going to win silver or bronze in the women’s doubles game right now.
The door is wide open and this weekend it was Vivienne David and Meghan Dizon who ran right through it. Seeded 7thDizon/David took out (2) Kovalova/Smith in the quarterfinals and (6) Wright/Tereschenko in the semifinals. The on-court fit and styles of play made a lot of sense on paper with Dizon being comfortable attacking on the left and David being comfortable playing the right-side setup role.
Although this was a first-time partnership, the roles and positions on the court were clearly defined and it made the transition seamless. Dizon/David have the ability to compete for the #2 spot but other partnership commitments may keep them from doing so.
The Bright/Newman partnership split has been well documented. Bright mentioned in on-court interviews Saturday that it was best for her and James’ relationship to play together rather than play against each other.
The question was would their off-court chemistry carry over quickly or would it take some time to gel?
We got our answer this weekend as they earned silver and pushed Anna Leigh Waters and Ben Johns to 4 games in the final. As the #7 seed it wasn’t an easy road to championship Sunday as they were challenged by veterans (2) Kovalova/Wright in three games before dismantling (6) the Johnson siblings 11-6 11-4 in what was an all-around master tactical performance.
Our knock-on Anna Bright this year has been shot selection in mixed doubles as she was often pulling the trigger too early and leaving her male counterpart vulnerable to premature attacks. Choosing the right time to speed up at the male player takes a certain level of patience and experience and we finally saw a glimpse of a more calculated Anna Bright. It allowed her partner James Ignatowich the opportunity to be more proactive and initiate offense rather than counterattack and play defense.
What was even more encouraging was the fact they were able to identify patterns that were working against Ben & Anna Leigh to steal game two. All these signs bode well for the future of this partnership and we won’t be surprised if this is the second best mixed team in the world by the time summer rolls around.
Anna Answers the Call
After some close calls in February, before ultimately losing her first singles match in 254 days, we wondered if Anna Leigh Waters would answer the call this weekend and earn a gold in women’s singles. Catherine Parenteau has been as hot as just about any player in pickleball the past month and beating her on championship Sunday wasn’t going to be an easy feat.
However, after winning a close game one 12-10, Anna Leigh found herself in the driver’s seat, up 8-3 in game two. Parenteau then reeled off eight of the next nine points to win 11-9 and send the match to a third and deciding game. Most 16-year-olds wouldn’t be able to handle that type of swing in momentum. Throw in the fact that Waters just lost to Parenteau the week prior and was playing on one of pickleball’s biggest stages, doubt may even start to creep in.
Well game three wasn’t close as Waters clamped down and continued to pressure Parenteau in route to another triple crown, winning eleven of the final twelve points. Her resiliency and competitiveness was on full display as she didn’t let off the gas one bit despite blowing a big lead. This is a rivalry that continues to deliver and we hope to see more of it throughout the rest of the calendar year.
Long Live the King
Another week, another triple crown for Ben Johns.
The storyline heading into Austin was if Ben would be bored after capturing his third triple crown of the year in Florida. That wasn’t the case at all as he won each of his three finals in convincing fashion. After comfortably defeating (2) Federico Staksrud in singles, (1) Ben/Anna Leigh beat (7) Bright/Ignatowich in 4 games responding to an 11-13 game two loss by winning the next two games 11-4 11-5.
The much-anticipated matchup with (2) Newman/Wright was close early as the Johns found themselves down 10-9 in the first game but they fought off multiple game points and eventually won 12-10. From that point on Newman/Wright looked deflated losing the next two games 11-3 11-6. A
s the first quarter of the year comes to a close Ben Johns has earned 13 of the 15 gold medals in the five events he has competed in. The gap hasn’t closed, it has widened and it’s because Johns hasn’t become comfortable with his standing on top of the men’s game. He has added a two-handed backhand drive and counter that he didn’t have last year, spots that opponents used to try and attack to win points but no longer can.
Johns’ blend of experience, shot making and execution in the big moments makes him close to unbeatable. His ability to produce every weekend when the target on his back is bigger than it’s ever been is what makes him special.
Podium Picks Recap
Men’s Singles (⅔): We nailed the top two with (1) Johns and (2) Staksrud and came close with (11) Garnett, who finished 4th and just missed out on bronze losing to (12) Christian Alshon.
Women’s Singles (⅔): Again we were right with our top two as (1) Waters earned gold and (2) Parenteau earned silver. Unfortunately (7) Buckner drew Parenteau in the quarterfinals but did push her to three games.
Mixed Doubles (⅓): The mixed doubles draw matches were super close as we only get ⅓ correct with (1) Ben Johns/Anna Leigh Waters. Our silver pick (4) Mcguffin/Parenteau fell in the quarter finals to (12) Jansen/Frazier. Our bronze pick (3) Newman/Newman had match points over (6) Johnson/Johnson but couldn’t close also losing in the quarterfinals.
Men’s Doubles (⅔): We got the podium correct but not in the right order. The top three men’s teams get it done once again with (1) Johns/Johns (2) Newman/Wright and (3) Frazier/Johnson finishing 1-2-3. We had Newman/Wright earning a gold but after a close game one loss they couldn't recover.
Women’s Doubles (⅓): Women’s doubles is tough to predict right now. We had (6) Wright/Tereschenko taking silver but they lost a tight semifinal to (7) Dizon/David before falling in the bronze match to (4) Parenteau/Johnson. Our bronze pick (2) Kovalova/Smith exit in the quarters to (7) Dizon/David and we have to wonder if that partnership has plateaued.