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The 2023 Professional Pickleball Recap

by Erik Tice on

The 2023 season was a year to remember for professional pickleball. The year started off with a fairly flimsy merger set between Major League Pickleball (MLP) and the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA).

Ironically, it also ended in an even FLIMSIER and DIFFERENT merger between the two organizations.

In this article, we will recap the MLP Year, the PPA Tour year, and a final PPA Tour player/team power ranking.

(For a summary of the state of the pro leagues themselves and a potential merger, read this article).

Major League Pickleball 2023 Recap

There were two seasons within the 2023 calendar year for Major League Pickleball.

The first season had three events, finalized by a Super Finals after the third event. The second season had three events – kinda. There were two full events followed by an abbreviated event.

The 2023 calendar year consisted of 12 Challenger Level teams and 12 Premier Level teams. The teams that were Premier Level in Season 1 were then moved to Challenger Level in Season 2 and vice versa.

This made for a lot of confusion and movement of teams was drastic.

Season 1 Recap:

In the Premier Level, the two best teams by far during Season 1 were the LA Mad Drops and the Seattle Pioneers.

  • The Pioneers were made up of Ben Johns, Etta Wright, Meghan Dizon, and Tyler Loong
  • The Mad Drops consisted of Catherine Parenteau, Julian Arnold, Irena Tereschenko, and Thomas Wilson

In the Super Finals, the Mad Drops women PUMMELED the Pioneers women in the first game, beating them 21-6.

The men then squeaked out a result and won 21-19.

Lastly, Julian Arnold and Catherine Parenteau beat Ben Johns and Etta Wright to win the 2023 Season 1 Super Finals.

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Season 2 Recap:

Season 2 came with a bit more fanfare for a few reasons:

The 2023 pro tour was well under way and there was a lot of media buzz surrounding MLP, compared to earlier in the year.

The Season 2 Draft was aired live. Teams were (allegedly) fighting for Premier spots in a promotion/relegation scenario, which ended up not being true after all.

Season 2 ended up falling short of everyone’s expectations because of the MLP/PPA merger and tour wars debacle. This caused the future of MLP and its financial security to go into jeopardy.

MLP Atlanta was the first event and it went off exactly as expected. It was at a great venue in a suburb of Atlanta, fans were there and very lively, and the play was spectacular.

The Orlando Squeeze was the biggest wildcard team heading into the weekend, having drafted relatively unknown Rachel Rohrabacher with their last pick.

The Squeeze managed to beat the Miami Pickleball Club in 3 straight games in the finals to claim the first crown of MLP Season 2.

The second MLP event was supposed to take place at the Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California.

However, since the NEW MLP/PPA merger became a thing, the new organization decided to double down on the PPA Nationals venue and moved MLP Los Angeles to MLP Dallas.

From the draft, I believed the best team on paper was the DC Pickleball Team. Riley Newman, the Kawamotos, and Christian Alshon really gelled together in Dallas and beat the Orlando Squeeze in the finals in three games.

Alshon won MVP and made his point for most improved male player of the year.

Lastly, there was a Season 2 Playoffs, which didn’t include all teams in San Clemente.

The Chicago Slice (Ben Johns, Lacy Schneemann, Jessie Irvine, and Erik Lange) ended up defeating the Orlando Squeeze in an epic Dreambreaker, 21-17 on the back of Lacy Schneemann, who won the event’s MVP honors.

While there was an abbreviated second season and there were many ups and downs of the MLP 2023 calendar year, MLP proved to be a success.

Some of the crowds were the best I have ever seen in pickleball, viewership on championship court was high, and overall, the matches were super intense.

If MLP can harness some more continuity and really capture the team atmosphere more in 2024, I think the league can thrive.

Recap of the 2023 PPA Tour

The Ben and Anna Leigh Show:

The overwhelming majority of people who love watching pro pickleball either love to watch Anna Leigh Waters and Ben Johns win OR they love watching Ben and Anna Leigh get upset. Not many people are in the middle on this subject.

There were a total of 22 PPA Tour stops during the 2023 season, including the PPA Tour Finals. Ben Johns won 14 men’s doubles gold medals, 16 mixed doubles gold medals, and 11 men’s singles gold medals, for a total of 41 gold medals on the year.

Anna Leigh did alright herself, grabbing 18 women’s doubles gold medals, 17 mixed doubles gold medals, and 15 women’s singles gold medals. She beat Ben by 9 gold medals, finishing with an even 50 on the year.

The numbers are astounding, considering both Anna Leigh and Ben took multiple events off for rest. Their triple crown totals after 2023, are now at Ben with 24 and Anna Leigh at 22.

The question becomes: how long can this duo hang on to their top spots, respectively? I think the answer is: for a long time.

Ben is only 24 and Anna Leigh is only 16. If they choose to continue to be partners for the foreseeable future, I would bet one of them reaches 50 triple crowns by the end of 2025.

Other PPA Storylines From 2023

On the men’s side, there were quite a few storylines to unfold:

  • Matt Wright was dumped by Riley Newman half way through the 2023 year and neither of them really made any huge runs with different partners for the remainder of the year.
  • There were quite a few “off the court incidents” that grabbed media attention - Pablo Tellez throwing his paddle through an electronic scoreboard, Federico Staksrud screaming obscenities at Anna Leigh Waters and then AJ Koller making sure he didn’t do it again, and who could forget the Tyson McGuffin blow up on Tyler Loong?
  • In addition, Collin Johns calling Julian Arnold the clown of the PPA Tour in the CIBC Finals during his post match interview was priceless.
  • Men’s Singles is proving to be the most volatile event in pro pickleball. Chris Haworth, Aanik Lohani, Gabe Joseph, and Jaume Martinez Vich all made deep runs in Men’s Singles this year.

I am sure next year there will be some more not so well known players making deep runs in singles. Men’s Doubles is still run through Ben and Collin Johns.

Dylan Frazier and JW Johnson have established themselves as the clear cut number 2 team in the PPA.

It will be interesting in 2024 to see who can try to dethrone them from that 2 spot, or if they can dethrone the Johns brothers themselves, for the 1 spot.

On the women’s side, we also had some very intriguing stories:

Anna Leigh played women’s doubles with both Anna Bright and Catherine Parenteau during the first half of the year. After that, she stuck with Parenteau and the results speak for themselves.

The duo didn't lose a match all year. Lea Jansen retired from women’s singles at the end of July, citing health reasons.

She wanted to focus more of her game on doubles. While Lea may not have had the success she wanted over the 2023 season, she was the only female other than Anna Leigh and Catherine to make the tour finals in all three events.

Women’s singles had some newcomers to the sport do well:

  • Domi Schaefer (pronounced Dommy, Jimmy - get it right), Rachel Rohrabacher, and Judit Castillo all got podiums in the event, with Castillo racking up 3 bronze trophies.
  • The biggest “drama” that unfolded on the women’s side involved Anna Leigh Waters storming off the court after losing to Hurricane Tyra Black in the finals at The Takeya Showcase in August.

End of Season PPA Power Rankings

These are MY top five players/teams in each category. This is purely subjective and I used zero data other than me watching hundreds of hours of pickleball.

This is the End of 2023 power rankings and has nothing to do with how I think the teams will do in 2024.

For example, I thought that Tyson and Catherine were the second best overall mixed team in 2023, so they are the number 2.

It does not matter that I know their partnership in 2024 is ending.

Men’s Doubles: Ben Johns/Collin Johns JW Johnson/Dylan Frazier Federico Staksrud/Pablo Tellez Tyson McGuffin/James Ignatowich Riley Newman/Thomas Wilson

Men’s Singles: Ben Johns Federico Staksrud Tyson McGuffin Christian Alshon Connor Garnett

Mixed Doubles: Ben Johns/Anna Leigh Waters Tyson McGuffin/Catherine Parenteau James Ignatowich/Anna Bright JW Johnson/Jorja Johnson Thomas Wilson/Vivienne David

Women’s Doubles: This is by far the hardest category because there was so much change of teams throughout the year Anna Leigh Waters/Catherine Parenteau Anna Bright and whoever she plays with Callie Jo Smith/Lucy Kovalova Jackie and Jade Kawamoto Maggie and Mary Brascio

Women’s Singles: Anna Leigh Waters Catherine Parenteau Lea Jansen Judit Castillo Yana Newell

Summary of 2023

The players and the play definitely elevated during 2023. The hand speed, accuracy, strategy, and consistency of the top level players has become insane.

Having things like the Challenger Level in MLP and the APP Next Gen program ensure that the up and coming players are given opportunities to develop and showcase their talents.

From a talent and playing perspective, I don’t think professional pickleball has been in a better place in history.

With the contracts being offered, even at the discounted rates, players are able to dedicate their full-time career to pickleball.

This, combined with a younger generation getting more chances, along with a ton of high level tennis players entering the fray, the actual pickleball play is going to see new heights in the next three to five years.

The REAL question in pro pickleball is: Can pro pickleball survive the millionaires and billionaires fighting for control over it?

I hope 2024 brings us a long term solution to the PPA/MLP debacle, along with an easy to understand view of the future of pro pickleball.

We don’t need all of the details ironed out for the rest of time, but having some semblance of continuity, logical decision making, and ideas that are in the best interests of the game would go a long way in regaining the public’s faith in pro pickleball.

Erik Tice

Erik Tice

Erik produces content for The Dink related to pro and collegiate pickleball. He is an avid watcher of pickleball and became passionate about the sport in early 2022.

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