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Key Takeaways From the Compelling PPA Mesa Arizona Cup

by Erik Tice on

No shortage of storylines coming out of Mesa, Arizona, this weekend at the PPA Mesa Arizona Cup. We've got the highlights and takeaways.

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  • Ben Johns and Collin Johns lost in the Round of 16 to Gabe Tardio and Andrei Daescu in two games. Safe to say nobody saw that coming.
  • Cason Campbell, the No. 43 seed, made it out of men’s singles qualifiers to upset Collin Shick and Dylan Frazier to make it to the quarterfinals. More on him coming this week on The Dink!
  • Ben Johns pulled off an ATP from the baseline.

And those were the headlines before action on Friday!

Here are my top 10 takeaways from the weekend:

10. Jill Braverman being placed in the women’s singles qualifiers was a mistake.

Having looked at some of the DUPR ratings and abilities of some entrants into the main draw, I was puzzled why Braverman was placed in the qualifier. I know these things are usually based on PPA points and Braverman finished 33rd in the PPA Masters in January, but still, I found it odd.

Then Braverman won her qualifying match and went on a run in the main draw, finishing 9th overall. JillyB, as she refers to herself, beat No. 18 seed, Cami Blake, and No. 13 seed, Ava Ignatowich, before falling to eventual silver medalist, Mary Brascia. Braverman can definitely hang in women’s singles as a top 10-20 seed if she chooses to play singles in the Progressive Draws moving forward.

9. The PPA Tour had a rogue commentator on Thursday and did a great job addressing the problem quickly.

Since the problem was already addressed, we aren’t going to beat a dead horse. The PPA showed that when mistakes are made, they can act quickly and decisively. A commentator on Thursday made some controversial remarks and social media blew up rather quickly. Shortly thereafter, in a comment on X, PPA CEO Connor Pardoe said the following:

As a growing organization, it would be easy for the PPA to ignore problems or at the very least not acknowledge them. Pardoe stepped up, said it would be handled, and it promptly was. Well done.

8. Mixed Doubles was straight chalk throughout the entire weekend.

In every other bracket this weekend there were some upsets. Not so in mixed doubles. The top eight seeds all won their matches to make the quarterfinals and then the top four seeds all made the semis. 

Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters are the clear cut No. 1 in mixed doubles. The McGuffin/Dizon pairing had to withdraw due to an illness to Tyson McGuffin. Catherine Parenteau and Jack Sock are looking better and better at every event. Whoever plays with Christian Alshon seems to have a chance in mixed doubles. The Newman/Kawamoto pairing seems to be growing and getting better. Thomas Wilson and Vivienne David can play with anyone when they are playing their best. 

There are plenty of contenders in this event moving forward. Hopefully there continues to be parity throughout the rest of the season.

7. James Ignatowich’s shoulder is worrisome.

Speaking of contending mixed doubles teams, the potential James Ignatowich injury is worrisome. Not only is it worrisome to both him and his partners, he brings a lot of eyes to the sport.

At the last PPA event, Ignatowich made this insane play that made SportsCenter's Top 10 plays.

On Saturday, during his mixed doubles semifinal with Anna Bright, he looked to have seriously injured his right shoulder. Every time he put his paddle above his head he winced in pain. This trend continued into his men’s semifinals match with Matt Wright. 

Hopefully James’ injury isn’t a significant one and he can bounce back soon. If, for some reason, the injury is considered long term, it could have a significant impact on pairings during the middle of the 2024 season. Both Anna Bright and Matt Wright (his current partners) are in enough demand that some “set” partnerships may break up and then cause a large round of musical chairs in terms of partnerships.

6. Gabe Tardio and Andrei Daescu are a formidable team.

“The Giant Killers” as Dave Fleming referred to them on the broadcast, played extremely well all weekend. They are both very lengthy, have great hands, and bring a fiery and icy personality. Here was their path to the men’s doubles finals this weekend as the No. 16 seed:

  • Defeated No. 48 seed, Noah Zwiren/Santhosh Narayanan: 11-2, 11-3
  • Defeated No. 34 seed, Tyler Hong/Clayton Powell: 11-7, 11-8
  • Defeated No. 14 seed, Wyatt Stone/Spencer Smith: 11-6, 11-5
  • Defeated No. 1 seed, Ben Johns/Collin Johns: 11-6, 11-5
  • Defeated No. 8 seed, Pat Smith/Jay Devilliers: 11-2, 11-6
  • Defeated No. 4 seed, Riley Newman/Thomas Wilson: 11-9, 11-8

While they lost in the finals to JW Johnson and Dylan Frazier, they showed a free flowing, dynamic strategy that paid dividends. Tardio was fearless and Daescu was the steady rock that kept Tardio reigned in, just enough. I look forward to seeing this pairing play again very soon.

5. Two newer teams made deep runs in women’s doubles.

Women’s doubles is getting more and more competitive, except at the top. Parenteau/Waters seems like an unstoppable duo thus far in 2024. On the flip side, the teams of Bobbi Oshiro/Millie Rane and Jorja Johnson/Mari Humberg made deep runs, despite being underdogs. 

Oshiro and Rane were consistent APP contenders last year. The “small, but mighty” team had to play a lot of matches in the progressive draw as the No. 17 seed. While neither woman is taller than 5’5”, they pack a ton of power. Here is their journey this weekend in Mesa:

  • Defeated No. 45 seed, Victoria Yu/Elizabeth Le: 11-0, 11-3
  • Defeated No. 24 seed, Pierina Imparato/Liz Truluck: 11-7, 11-5
  • Defeated No. 9 seed, Allyce Jones/Megan Fudge: 3-11, 11-2, 11-6
  • Defeated No. 6 seed, Lauren Stratman/Lea Jansen: 11-5, 11-5
  • Lost to No. 1 seed, Anna Leigh Waters/Catherine Parenteau: 10-12, 3-11

A great run to the quarterfinals from a newer pairing is always exciting to see. Hopefully this team can team up again soon. They bring a certain firepower that is exciting to watch.

The other team of Johnson and Humberg not only made a great run, they earned themselves a bronze medal over a superstar partnership in Vivienne David and Anna Bright. As a No. 12 seed, they upset the No. 7 seed, Lacy Schneemann/Irena Tereschenko and the No. 3 seed of Lucy Kovalova/Callie Smith. Johnson is a well known commodity in pro pickleball while Mari Humberg is not nearly as well known. She put a ton of slice on many of her shots and definitely caused some trouble for Parenteau/Waters.

Maybe a small percent of their success can be attributed to Humberg joining the guys on the “Tennis Sucks” podcast this past week. Maybe the only thing you need to medal at a PPA tournament is to go on the Travis Rettenmaier podcast.

4. Two hours of Championship Sunday on Fox is big news 

Yes, making viewers go from broadcast to broadcast is frustrating and I am sure the PPA loses some viewership in doing so. However, the viewers they lose are already probably die hards and will most likely come back. 

Getting on Fox for a two-hour, nationally televised window was big for people who are not normal pickleball watchers. With football season over and the NBA airing later in the day, hopefully more people were able to watch the matches. 

Let’s face it: without more eyes on the professional side of the sport, the sponsorship dollars dry up. So kudos to the PPA for getting that prime time two-hour spot on an otherwise fairly slow Sunday for sports.

3. Ben Johns is 0-3 for triple crown attempts in 2024

I am going to say this is more of a testament to the field getting better than the GOAT dropping off a level. In the first three events of 2024, there have been over 80 entrants in all three events that Johns plays in: men’s doubles, men’s singles, and mixed doubles. Yes, this includes the qualifying rounds, but even a year ago, some of the brackets weren’t even half of that.

This also proves what many analysts believe: the gap between Anna Leigh Waters and the next best female player is much larger than the gap between Johns and the next best male player. While I do expect Johns to get a few triple crowns this year, I would predict the number to be less than seven. He is still the best in the world, but the gap seems to be closing.

Ben Johns
Ben Johns will likely record multiple triple crowns in 2024, but it didn't happen in Mesa.

2. Cason Campbell brings youth, athleticism, and a certain charisma with him to the pickleball scene.

Cason Campbell
Cason Campbell exploded on the scene last week.

There is a saying in sports when a young phenom comes on the scene sometimes: “They are too young to know any better.” This statement epitomizes Campbell’s attitude. The 17-year old is now known in the pickleball world, unless you hid under a rock all weekend. 

He may be known best for his "vintage" hat. Known as his lucky hat, it has definitely seen better days. It’s a good thing he also has a long head of hair covering his head, because the hat is providing basically zero sun blockage at this point.

However, Campbell should also be known for his fearlessness. He started the week on Tuesday as a men’s singles pro qualifier. In the qualifiers, he won three matches with a combined point differential of 28 points. As a No. 43 seed in the main draw, this is how his journey continued:

  • Defeated No. 21 seed Marshall Brown: 11-6, 10-12, 12-10
  • Defeated No. 29 seed Blaine Hovernier: 5-11, 11-7, 11-6
  • Defeated No. 12 seed Collin Shick: 12-10, 5-11, 12-10
  • Defeated No. 8 seed Dylan Frazier: 11-4, 3-11, 11-6
  • Lost (Quarterfinals) to No. 17 seed Jack Sock: 3-11, 11-6, 5-11

If that run of play doesn’t show the kid’s mental toughness, I don’t know what would. He surely made a name for himself moving forward.

1. Anna Leigh Waters and Catherine Parenteau are the most dominant team in pickleball.

Although I am confident this team will lose sometime in 2024, it just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon. A team is going to have to have their best game in order to take down this dynamic duo. Here are some of their best attributes:

  • Versatility: They can both play both sides and flow in and out of either side. If a game needs ALW poaching from the right and Catherine playing the left, great. If ALW needs to dominate on the left, great. Something in between? Great.
  • Power: These are easily two of the most powerful women in the game. Even though Catherine has a short frame, she is extremely powerful. 
  • Defense: This is the best defensive team in women’s pickleball as well. This can be extremely frustrating for their opponents because they just get so many balls back.
  • Mental Toughness: Yes, they go down sometimes. However, they take extremely strategic timeouts, they keep positive with each other, and they push each other. They really are a great team.

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