PHOENIX – The Veolia PPA Desert Ridge Open presented by Oh Snap! took place at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort, concluding on Sunday after an eventful weekend in Arizona.
This was an “Open” level event, meaning the winners of the pro events would earn 1,000 PPA points toward year end standings. There were plenty of amazing storylines throughout the weekend and here are my top ten takeaways:
The JW Marriott Resort felt like a small venue for the PPA Tour
There were a total of 25 courts available at the venue this weekend for all of the pros and all of the amateurs.
There were over 1,000 competitors for the event. Starting Thursday with Pro Singles, court space was very scarce. In order to warm up, pros were jumping on amateur courts, amateurs were jumping on pro courts, and everything in between.
Court space was not the only issue in terms of venue size. There were many areas where fans were standing three or four deep into the sidewalk with nowhere to walk through.
In addition, there were multiple courts that pros were playing on where the closest any spectator could get was over two courts away.
While the venue itself is very nice, I think some serious changes will need to be made for the JW Marriott to continue hosting PPA events in 2025 and moving forward.
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While the Progressive Draw is great for broadcasting, the more traditional tournament really helps players who are not full time pickleballers
The Progressive Draw was seen two weeks ago in Palm Springs at The PPA Masters and it was a hit in terms of video viewership.
Knowing who is playing at what time on what stream is very helpful for viewers. The top level players also loved it for the most part, as they know they will only have three matches each day, at the most.
However, the big downside to the Progressive Draws is that the players who have full time jobs can’t always make those work.
I spoke with a female pro who made it fairly far in the women’s singles bracket in her first ever pro tournament in that event. I asked if she was also going to play the next PPA event in Mesa, Arizona, and she said she couldn’t because of her full-time job.
Obviously, there are pros and cons to both, so I think the PPA mixing in some traditional tournaments with the Progressive Draws is the best way to move forward.
In mixed doubles, it seems the blueprint to eventually beat Ben and Anna Leigh is a great female on the left and a lefty guy on the right
Yes, Ben and Anna Leigh won gold in mixed doubles, AGAIN (and easily). However, this was the hardest their road to gold has been in a long time.
Ben has said it himself: he doesn’t love facing lefties across the net from him. There were three mixed doubles matches this weekend that caused Ben and Anna Leigh a lot of stress.
First, they went to three games against Etta Wright and Pablo Tellez and ended up winning, 14-12. This only happened after Pablo missed a serve at match point.
Next, Christian Alshon and Catherine Parenteau got it to three games as well in the quarterfinals. They won 11-6 in the third game, but that match was a real grind.
Lastly, although it only went two games, Ben and Anna Leigh beat Hurricane Tyra Black and Augie Ge 11-7, 11-9.
Ge and Black actually isolated Ben Johns, giving very few balls to Anna Leigh, which seemed to work for them at times. The No. 22 seed definitely made Ben and ALW uncomfortable throughout the match.
I really hope to see Black and Ge teamed up at upcoming events - they could really make some serious runs together.
The change to play bronze medal matches on Grandstand Court on Sunday morning was very well received
The bronze medal matches on Grandstand Court Sunday morning were very well attended and felt like special moments.
In the past, the bronze medal matches were happening at the very end of the night after the semi-finals. They were not well attended, many players withdrew from them, and never really felt like something important.
I like the change to this new format and I talked to many fans who also loved it. With Championship Court tickets sold out well before the event started, many fans were able watch some super high level pickleball on Sunday morning when they normally wouldn’t have.
I hope the PPA continues to implement this new bronze medal format throughout the rest of the year.
It was great seeing a newer partnership in Navratil and Lange get to celebrate with the fans after two unbelievable matches in the semis and the bronze match.
They played a crazy, fun, speed up game that paid immediate dividends. Lange did some sort of shimmy throughout the semis, concealing where he was going to be, which was very new.
Zane had an INSANE behind-the-back spinning volley off of his wrist that somehow went over the net in the bronze medal match. They lost that point but it was one of the craziest sequences I have ever seen in pickle.
Despite not playing her best consistently throughout the week, Anna Leigh Waters is still the best woman in the world - and it’s not even really close
Waters didn’t have her best stuff consistently throughout the weekend and she said it in a couple of post match interviews.
Despite this, she was able to pull out wins under immense pressure. They say champions find a way to win even when they aren’t at their best and she continues to do so.
In women’s doubles, ALW and Catherine Parenteau were down 9-3 in the third game against the Kawamotos before coming back and winning 11-9.
In the women’s singles quarterfinals, Lina Padegimaite brought ALW to three games, but ALW eventually pickled Lina in the third game.
Lastly, in mixed doubles, Pablo and Etta had a match point sitting on Pablo’s paddle at 12-11 only to watch Ben and Anna Leigh rally, 14-12.
She just continues to find ways to win. The mental fortitude she has to have each event is incredible. Although sometimes throughout the week Anna Leigh didn’t have her best stuff, she definitely brought her 'A' game with her on Championship Sunday.
She just keeps winning triple crowns.
The Men’s Singles Finals was one of the best men’s singles matches I have ever seen
For those of you who think athleticism doesn’t play a big part in pickleball, or you think singles is boring - please watch the match between Martinez Vich and Staksrud.
To quote Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator, “Are you not entertained!?”
Martinez Vich is one of the most charismatic, charming players on tour. He is always smiling, making jokes with the crowd, and even with his opponents.
In my book, he is the best showman in pickleball, ahead of Tyson McGuffin and Riley Newman.
Federico has emerged as a great men’s singles player. His athleticism and shot-making ability are both elite. He is also one of the best cat-and-mouse players in the game. Fed is going to be a top 3 men’s singles player for a long time.
This point has to be in the top 5 of best singles points in the history of the sport:
There seems to be more parity on the PPA Tour in 2024
PPA Desert Ridge Open - Number of players/teams who won upsets in The Round of 32 to make it into the Round of 16:
Men’s Doubles: 4 teams
Men’s Singles: 4 teams
Mixed Doubles: 5 teams
Women’s Doubles: 2 teams
Women’s Singles: 5 teams
More parity in the sport and different teams playing in important games will only grow the sport. Sure, everyone loves watching Anna Leigh Waters, but seeing new faces on Championship Court and Grandstand Court is also really fun - and new faces there were.
Will Howells had his PPA coming out party this weekend
Sure, Howells made himself known two weeks ago at the APP Punta Gorda, winning men’s doubles with CJ Klinger. However, we know the PPA talent is at a higher level, so it was fun to see how he fared in Phoenix.
Howells played men’s doubles with Johnny Goldberg and I didn’t get to see either of his matches. They beat Louie Payetta and Rob Hutchins 11-4, 11-1. Then they faced the Johns brothers and lost 5-11, 4-11. Still a decent showing, considering their competition.
However, Howells made his name in Men’s Singles. First, he had to make it through qualifiers, as he didn’t have enough PPA Points to get into the main draw.
In his three qualifier matches on Wednesday, he won a combined 66-14. He didn’t lose a game, and the most points an opponent scored on him in a single game was Claudio Quinones Garcia (4).
In the main draw on Thursday, Howells still had success. Michael Loyd withdrew, even though I had very high hopes for him.
I heard a rumor he had a small medical tweak, but nothing that kept him out of mixed and gender doubles. Howells then beat the speedy No. 13 seed, Ryan Sherry, in three games – 11-3, 9-11, 11-4.
The Round of 16 is where Howells met his match, losing to the eventual champion, Fed Staksrud, 0-11, 5-11.
Howells has ELITE athleticism, an amazing two handed backhand groundstroke and volley, and his hands are lightning quick. I am expecting a big jump for Howells in 2024. This is not the last time I will be writing about his great play.
Kaitlyn Christian is the real deal
I said it before, and I will say it again - Christian is going to be a hot topic throughout 2024. The ex-tennis pro made a small name for herself at The Masters three weeks ago, but she dominated in Phoenix.
Christian made the round of 32 with Christine Trufunovic, losing to Schneemann/David 2-11, 4-11.
In mixed doubles with Wes Burrows, she beat Craig Johnson and Audrey Brown in three games, then lost to Matt Wright and Lucy Kovalova in two.
However, women’s singles is where the former No. 38 women’s doubles tennis player made her name.
Kaitlyn came in as the No. 22 seed in singles. She made quick work of Emelia Schmidt, 12-10, 11-6. Then she was supposed to play Parris Todd, but she withdrew.
Next up, in the Round of 16, Christian won 8-11, 14-12, and 11-8. In the quarterfinals, she faced the No. 6 seed in Brooke Buckner and made the quickest work of all of her matches and won 11-5, 11-4.
In the semis, she faced Anna Leigh Waters and lost 3-11, 6-11. Sunday morning she made quick work of Lea Jansen – the No. 2 seed – and won the bronze medal 11-5 and 11-2.
I watched all of her matches and Christian has what it takes to be a big name in pickleball. She showed IMMENSE mental fortitude in her match with Salome, losing the first game, having match point against her at one point in the second, and just continuing to battle.
Kaitlyn brings a very quiet confident energy and her quiet positive affirmations to herself are refreshing in a world of pickleball where a lot of players speak negatively to themselves. Look for more of Christian on tour this year.
James Ignatowich behind the back wrist flick ATP winner
How could the Top Play on ESPN SportsCenter not be the number one takeaway from the weekend?!?!
The play happened at 5-5 in the second game of the semi finals on Championship Court against Thomas Wilson and Vivienne David. It was one of the most athletic plays I have ever seen in pickleball.
Thomas Wilson has a NASTY two handed roll dink and he hit one of the best shots he could. Ignatowich used all six foot four of his frame and speediness to track that shot down and then hit a clean winner in the back corner of the court.
Anything that gets more eyes on pro pickleball is good. Making it to ESPN’s Top 10 plays is even better. Getting the Best Play? AMAZING.
The PPA Desert Ridge Open was full of entertainment and plenty of upsets. There were crazy points and crazy matches. Saturday and Sunday saw sold out crowds that brought a ton of energy.
The next stop on the PPA Tour is the Mesa Open in three weeks. It will be held at Legacy Sports Complex (formerly Bell Bank Park).
Since that tour stop is worth more PPA Points, I expect to see more of the top pros at that event than the PPA Desert Ridge. And maybe, just maybe, we will have a finalized PPA/MLP merger completed by then.