Major League Pickleball (MLP) is making its 2023 debut, with their first tournament going down this weekend in Mesa, Ariz. at the Legacy Sports Complex. This four-day teams event is the fifth in the organization's history and should go down as the best-to-date.
- The PPA Tour pros are back after sitting out in 2022 due to contractual limitations
- Former world no. 11 tennis player, Sam Querrey, playing in the Challenger series
- The Franklin X-40 will be the official ball after a player vote
This event will feature two levels: Premier and Challenger. Both levels have 12 teams of four players (two women and two men). The MLP touts that the Premier division boasts the 48 top pros in the world, while the Challenger teams will showcase the next 48 top pros looking to create some attention.
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Where to watch: The group stage matches will be aired on Major League Pickleball's Youtube Channel starting at 10 am ET Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The Finals will air on Tennis Channel Sunday afternoon.
The full schedule of matches can be viewed here.
For their 2023 year the MLP is breaking their 6 events into 2 seasons consisting of 3 tournaments each. Therefore after the 3rd event in San Clemente, Calif. in June, there will be a redraft to determine teams for “season two” as MLP calls it.
After six events the 12 teams with the most wins will comprise the Premier Level for 2024. Top teams will not only be rewarded with a Premier Level spot, their rank in the standings, 1-24, will determine their draft position for next year.
The first-place team will draft 1st overall in the 12-team Premier Level draft. The Challenger draft will take place after the Premier Level draft and 13th place team will have the first pick for the Challenger Level.
This could be monumental for all of the new franchises in MLP. Drafting someone like Anna Leigh Waters or Ben Johns could set the franchise up for a potential dynasty.
Format and Rules
The Challenger Level and Premier Level will begin on Thursday and Friday respectively, with both finals matchups being played on Sunday. Both levels will consist of three groups of four teams, with each team playing the three teams in their group once. After the group stage, the top two teams in each group will move on to the knockout round, where it will turn into a single elimination bracket.
A match consists of 4 games to 21 using rally scoring: one women’s doubles, one men’s doubles and two mixed doubles games. If those four games result in both teams having two wins and two losses, the “DreamBreaker” will be triggered.
This is a singles game to 21 with rotating players every four points scored. The home team, decided by a coin toss at the beginning of the match, will have to submit their singles rotation first, allowing the away team to pick their matchups accordingly.
The three teams I am looking at to lead the way during this event are the New Jersey 5’s (Anna Leigh Waters, Lea Jansen, James Ignatowich, Hayden Patriquin), the Seattle Pioneers (Etta Wright, Megan Dizon, Ben Johns, Tyler Loong) and the SoCal Hard Eights (Mary Brascia, Lindsey Newman, Riley Newman, AJ Koller).
For the first two teams, it’s pretty obvious why they’ll most likely be in contention for the chip: their number one players! The 5’s have the number one pick in the draft, Waters, who is an absolute menace in all aspects of pickleball.
The 15-year-old phenom will be projected to win every women’s doubles matchup, the majority if not all of her mixed doubles games and if it goes to a DreamBreaker, she happens to be the number one women’s singles player in the world.
For the Pioneers, they possess the second pick of the draft, who is also the best men’s doubles and men’s singles player in the world, Ben Johns. Like Waters on the women’s side of things, Johns will be expected to win every men’s doubles matchup alongside the lefty Loong, and the majority of his mixed doubles games. Again, if it goes into a DreamBreaker, he is the best player in the world at singles.
The Hard Eights drafted in the sixth position of the draft, after trading from the eight spot. They took Riley Newman, who fell into that spot because he will miss the first event due to a scheduling conflict. The team will likely sub in a player from an eliminated Challenger Level team.
The Eights built a fantastic team around Newman, including his sister Lindsey, who is a defensive nightmare, Mary Brascia and AJ Koller. When Riley gets back, this might be the best all-around team in the division.
With that being said, DUPR (dynamic universal pickleball rating) has a totally different understanding of how this tournament should unfold. Coming in as the highest DUPR-rated team is the Milwaukee Mashers, with a 25.29. They picked 11th overall, which also gave them the 14th pick of the draft. With those two picks, they took Callie Smith and Lucy Kovalova, who in PPA tournaments form the best or second best women’s doubles team. With their last two picks they chose Andrei Dăescu and DJ Young. They are scheduled to play the 5’s and the St. Louis Shock.
The last two teams that could surprise a lot of people are make some noise are the New York Hustlers (Anna Bright, Lacy Schneemann, Tyson McGuffin, Rafa Hewett) and the Las Vegas Night Owls (Vivienne David, Lauren Stratman, Dekel Bar, Kyle Yates). The Hustlers have the fourth-picked Bright on their team and paired her nicely with the spicy veteran and singles standout McGuffin.
The Night Owls have a great outside chance of making a run largely due to David’s recent form and her chemistry with Dekel Bar. The 26-year old has been absolutely on fire as of late, winning her first PPA women’s doubles gold medal in December of last year. She also has a lot of golds under her belt with Bar, when the duo teamed up at the beginning of the 2022 season on the APP tour. Look for them to rekindle that partnership and win some games together.
All eyes will be on Sam Querrey, a retired tennis player turned pro pickleballer and his team the D.C Pickleball Team (Shelby Bates, Monica Paolicelli, Stephen Auvergne). The 35-year-old former Wimbledon semi-finalist looked a little shaky in his first pickleball tournament two weekends ago, where he went 1-2 in singles and 1-1 in men’s doubles alongside Wes Burrows.
Querrey will certainly have a target on his back, as he was the number one pick in the draft (with some people feeling it was undeserved). Luckily for him, he has the highest-rated male on his team in the Challenger Level according to DUPR, Auvergne. However, as a team DUPR has them as the ninth best team out of the 12. So it’s certainly going to be an uphill battle.
The highest DUPR-rated team is the Brooklyn Aces who have Cierra Gaytan-Leach, Corrine Carr, Rob Nunnery and Greg Dow. Not only is this team the highest rated, but they are a team with a lot of pro pickleball experience, which could pay dividends in such a tense tournament.
The Challenger Level features more popular names like Christine McGrath with the Atlanta Bouncers and Callan Dawson with the Orland Squeeze. Crafty veterans will try to make their presence known like Patrick Smith (Texas Ranchers), Steve Deakin (Texas Ranchers) and Jeff Warnick (Miami Pickleball Club). It will be interesting to see how these players stack up against the younger talent in pickleball making their way into the mainstream.
Some up-and-comers to watch out for are Connor Garnett (Chicago Slice), CJ Klinger (Columbus P.C.) and Christian Alshon (Bay Area Breakers). If any of these players catch fire, they could launch their team into the quarter-finals or even further!
Mid 60s and sunny is the forecast for Thursday through Sunday, with Sunday showing a high of 69°. However, watch out for Thursday and Friday morning. Those temperatures might be in the high 30s when play begins at 8:00 a.m., meaning the ball will be fast and flying. That is partially why the players elected for the Franklin, which is more durable than the Dura Fast 40 and slightly slower.
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