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James Ignatowich had some choice words to share yesterday. 

He had just beaten No. 2 seed Jay Devilliers and earned a chance at his first PPA title. He looked comfortable and in control, smiling easily as he took the familiar spot for a quick, post-match interview.

“Let’s talk about the quarterfinals first,” he said. 

If there was a script, Ignatowich wasn’t having any part of it, as he proceeded to give his opinion of his earlier match-up against Christian Alshon in the quarters.

“A lot of people thought it was going to be close, and those people were wrong. It was close when it was 0-0, but I dominated.”

Ignatowich and Alshon have made no secret of their somewhat serious, mainly playful rivalry, which rumor has it, stems from back during their college tennis days. Ignatowich leaned into the attention that their competition with each other has elicited, doing everything but pounding his chest and slinging a made-for-TV, bedazzled belt over his shoulder. It was singles day at the PPA Indoor National Championsips in Minnesota, but it kind of felt like something out of the world of WWE. 

Wait, what?

“I’m glad it [the match against Alshon] wasn’t on camera, because something like that shouldn’t even be available to the public,” Ignatowich added, staying in character and giving his fans exactly what they were hoping for. 

Alshon didn’t stay quiet, posting this on his Instagram in response, followed by a second post showcasing a tweener he hit during his match against Ignatowich.

Well, chances are, the No. 3-seeded ex-tennis star who went to Vanderbilt, was just playing and acting out a part, but he had every reason to be proud, especially after following up his quarterfinal win with a defeat of Devilliers, 11-5, 11-9. On Sunday, Ignatowich will find himself up against the hottest player in the field – JW Johnson. 

And as the PPA grows, characters are emerging and it’s thrilling to watch. There’s Ben Johns, the top player in the world with enough gold medals lying around to paper a wall. There’s Tyson McGuffin, tattoos, tank-top, mullet, and all attitude. There’s Federico Staksrud, the quiet and classy South American who came into the week as the top-seed, having just won a gold medal in Arizona, and then there are characters like Ignatowich who treat an interview like an open-mic night at a poetry slam.

Pickleball needs this. We’re here for it.

The singles final Sunday will be a matchup of huge personality differences as Ignatowich is a spicy gumbo buffet matched up against the more straight-forward and unemotional white rice of Johnson, who generally goes into matches looking like he’s having about as much fun as someone attending a tax seminar.

“I’m just lucky, I guess,” said Johnson, the No. 8 seed with wicked hands, methodical technique, and a face that would be perfect for a poker game. 

Uncomfortable talking about himself, Johnson is a stoic killer, unwilling to accept compliments, but is charging up the PPA rankings in all divisions. He’s been lauded as one of the best players on tour and, potentially, the next “Ben Johns.”

“There’s no secrets. That’s just who I am.”

Well, Johnson might think so, but no one else out there is fooled into putting down his wins to luck. He’s pure talent. Johnson and his sister Jorja made the finals a week ago in Mesa Ariz. in the mixed doubles bracket and then he and partner Dylan Frazier earned third place in the men’s draw. 

This Thursday in Minnesota, Johnson beat the top-seeded Staksrud, 14-12, 12-14, 11-9, denying Staksrud the chance to land in his fourth consecutive final this year. Staksrud has been the shining star in singles in 2023 so far, earning two silvers, a gold medal, and a win over the (nearly!) unbeatable Johns just last week.

Then there’s Ignatowich, fully embracing his moment.

“When I played tennis, I was more focused on looking cool and what people thought of me and not winning,” he said. “Screw that. In pickleball, I just want to be myself out there. I don’t care if I look cool or weird or what. I’m a heckuva lot better pickleball player than tennis player, and I think that might be why.”

Well, it’s pretty clear Ignatowich was being himself and feeling pretty good on Thursday. He didn’t lose a game in his three matches, beating the sixth-seeded Alshon in the quarterfinals, 11-6, 11-8 before topping Devilliers and earning his shot against Johnson in the final Sunday.

Meanwhile, on the women’s side, Lea Jansen and Catherine Parenteau earned themselves slots in Sunday’s final after respective wins over Salome Devidze (10-12, 11-8, 11-0) and Brooke Buckner (11-7, 11-3) in the semifinals.

There is no love lost between Jansen and Devidze, and Devidze shattered a paddle in frustration during their matchup Thursday after getting pickled by Jansen in game three. 

Sunday’s final should be an interesting one, as Jansen and Parenteau spent a large part of 2022 playing doubles together before parting ways. The two are not particularly close, either, so expect to see some fireworks when the two face off against each other. 

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