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October 5-8, 2023
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From Love Connection to Championship Sunday

Julian Arnold has never been shy.

Arnold is a talker on the court, not afraid to show his emotions, and has a pretty loud forehand too, so when he started opening his heart Friday evening about his relationship on and off the court with partner Lauren Stratman, it seemed to be right on brand for Arnold.

“I couldn’t have picked a better partner to be here with,” Arnold said. “She’s been so supportive.”

Arnold and Stratman have been together awhile and Stratman has played in a few finals solo, but they’ll be together on the court for a first time in a PPA final after they beat Callie Smith and Dylan Frazier, 11-9, 11-2 in their semifinal.

They were also together during their post-match interview where it kind of felt like a Dr. Phil session with pickleball paddles.

“We had our first counseling session on Tuesday,” Stratman said. “I think it worked. It’s really, really challenging. Julian and I have had our ups and downs and I’m so glad we persevered today.”

Something certainly seems to be working for the couple, both within their relationship and their pickleball game as they head to Championship Sunday together.

The two came into the Vulcan Indoor National Championships as the No. 14-seeded team. After a win in the opening round against Rafa Hewett and Lina Padegimaite, the pair smashed No. 3-seeded Jessie Irvine and Jay Devilliers in ruthless fashion, 11-1, 11-1. 

Stratman and Arnold then knocked off another favorite – the sixth-seeded team of Vivienne David and Thomas Wilson in three tight games before their semifinal victory over the seventh-seeded team of Smith and Frazier. 

“It’s a great feeling,” Arnold said after the victory. “We are a good team and it’s about figuring out how to play. We love each other so much. It’s about finding more love on the court.

“Way to go, Lo. I love you.”

Stratman and Arnold aren’t the only couple to play together on the pro tour. Matt Wright and Lucy Kovalova have found lots of success together. Meanwhile, James Ignatowich and Anna Bright are partners off the court, but rarely play together. Speaking of which, these two faced each other on the court Friday in the other semifinal.

Ignatowich, paired with Catherine Parenteau, was able to outlast Bright and her partner Riley Newman for a big win, 7-11, 11-8, 12-10. As Bright and Newman were our title winners just last week in Mesa, Ariz. and were the number one seeds this week, this was a massive upset for team Ignatowich/Parenteau.

In contrast to the love expressed by Stratman and Arnold, Bright and Ignatowich were 100% focused on getting the last word in their match-up against each other. While both were all business on the court, Bright was none too pleased with the final result, based on her abbreviated paddle tap and frustrated stalk off the court.

It begs the question, what is harder, playing with your partner or playing against them? When you’re playing together and winning, it sure sounds great, but losing beside your partner can be excruciating. However, facing them across the net as your opponent with these kinds of high stakes in play? Might be even worse. 

Either way, the victory for Ignatowich and Parenteau gives the duo a shot together on Championship Sunday against Stratman and Arnold and also gives them both a chance to play for a “double crown” as they are each in a singles final as well. They will both play Saturday in doubles as well, with Ignatowich paired with Collin Johns and Parenteau alongside Jorja Johnson. 

“She’s been supportive of me, not only today, but over my entire pickleball career,” Arnold said of Stratman. “I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today without her.”

The day finished with a bronze awarded to Callie Smith and Dylan Frazier, who took down RIley Newman and Anna Bright in that match 11-8, 11-7.

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