Championship Sunday for the Select Medical Orange County Cup in San Clemente, California had watchers holding their breath. And not pickleball watchers, but those from the world of tennis as well. Coverage of the finals on Tennis Channel welcomed a whole new demographic to the sport and proved yet again that pickleball is a terrific and remarkable spectator sport.
The most noteworthy event of the day was likely that, for the first time in 2022, Anna Leigh Waters was not left holding the trophy at the end of the women’s singles final. And to the surprise of many, it wasn’t Catherine Parenteau who knocked her off her pedestal either.
Parris Todd, with her “Ice Princess” persona and killer groundstrokes, captivated Championship Court throughout five athletic and exciting games. If it was drama and excitement you were looking for, then you were held spellbound by the women’s singles final.
Anna Leigh Waters has been nothing short of dominant in 2022 – she has won every singles tournament she has entered, making her the undisputed women’s #1. However, Sunday ended her formidable streak. After failing to find her way to the medal stand in six prior PPA tournaments, former college tennis player Parris Todd, clawed, scratched, and fought her way to her first PPA title.
In a blistering final, Todd outlasted a visibly frustrated and vocal Anna Leigh Waters, 11-8, 5-11, 11-4, 7-11, 11-3. It may be too soon to crown a new pickleball queen, but it was apparent to everyone watching that a AL vs. Parris rivalry is a storyline to keep an eye on in 2022.
It is worth noting that Anna Leigh chose to challenge the JOOLA paddle that Parris Todd played the final with, which meant that both players left the court to witness their paddles being tested after the match had concluded. Todd’s JOOLA paddle tested within the limits, so no further action was taken.
In men’s singles, we saw a rematch of the PPA Riverland Open final between JW Johnson, who is still questing after the title of best singles player on the planet, and Tyson McGuffin, returning from recent time away.
In women’s pro doubles, #1 seed Lucy Kovalova and Callie Smith blitzed through the first two games, winning handily, 11-5, 11-5. In the third game, the Waters, Leigh and daughter Anna Leigh, showed signs of life, only to fade down the final stretch, dropping it 12-10. Over the course of 2022, Kovalova/Smith have faced the Waters 5 times, winning three times total, including their last two meetings.
On the men’s side, one begins to wonder if #1 seeds Matt Wright and Riley Newman have discovered a magic formula. They dropped the first game to temporary partners, Collin Johns and AJ Koller, 9-11, both of whom were missing their family members and regular partners, Ben Johns and Thomas Wilson. Wright/Newman found another gear after the first game, however, and pulled away after that, winning the next three games: 11-5, 11-9, 11-2.
Winning their respective gender doubles matches didn’t produce a gold medal for #1 seed Lucy Kovalova and Matt Wright in mixed doubles, although they fought an epic battle. Two of the youngest players on the pro tour, Anna Leigh Waters and JW Johnson paired up for the third time ever in what is easily described as a barnburner of a pickleball match. AL remarked afterwards that, “the third time was the charm!” since it resulted in their best result to date.
In a true back-and-forth battle for 4 games, AL and JW alternated games with Kovalova and Wright, 11-7, 6-11, 11-9, 6-11. At the end of the back-and-forth, the teams had split, with a spread of only 4 total points separating the two teams. However, a best-of-five means a fifth and deciding set – and decisive it was. Anna Leigh Waters and JW Johnson found their stride and pulled away, 11-1.
The men’s singles finals was a fairly dominant performance by JW Johnson. McGuffin was looking to avenge his PPA Riverland Open loss to Johnson, but it was not to happen on this day. McGuffin started with a strong 5-0 lead in game one but was unable to convert on his lead. While McGuffin made a very strong showing, JW played magnificent, almost perfect pickleball, paving the way for his victory: 11-6, 11-6, 11-3.