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Johns rallies, earns spot in finals

Author: Andrew Gilman | December 1, 2023

After losing his first match of the day, Ben Johns was in a situation he wasn’t quite used to.

Well, for one, any time Johns has lost in previous tournaments, he hasn’t had any more commitments that day. It’s the way the PPA works. Lose and you’re done. Come back next time. Try again.

But Thursday, in the PPA Tour Championship in San Clemente, Calif., playing in a unique format, Johns lost in his first match and then had to do some adjusting. 

Unsurprisingly, he figured things out. After falling in the opening round of pool play to Connor Garnett, Johns rallied with wins against Jay Devilliers and then needed to do some more math before beating Christian Alshon.

“It’s about bouncing back,” Johns said. “It’s unusual to play someone of Connor’s caliber in the first round. It’s a grind.”

Johns, Garnett, Devilliers and Alshon made up one of the two, four-person pools put in place for this year’s Tour Championship. The top two out of each of the pools moves on to the medal round, and after Johns was beaten by Garnett 14-12, 11-6, losing an 8-3 lead in the first game, Johns knew he not only needed to win his final two matches, but he had to have some help, too.

Johns, Garnett and Alshon all went 2-1 in pool play, but it was Johns and Alshon who advanced to the medal round, thanks to the third tiebreaker of point differential. Alshon beat Garnett, Garnett beat Johns and Johns beat Alshon, setting up the three-way tie.  

Johns had a point differential of plus-11, Alshon was next at 10 and Garnett had plus-two.

“In this format, I knew point differential was really going to matter,” Johns said. “Game three made me a lot more focused because I knew the points were important. When every point counts and you’re focusing on every ball, I feel like you play better overall. It’s hard to maintain that focus always, but in that game when I needed it, it came.”

Johns beat Devilliers 12-10, 11-3, but needed three games to beat Alshon, 5-11, 11-7, 11-1. 

Meanwhile, in the second pool, Federico Staksrud went 3-0 and Tyson McGuffin went 2-1 in the preliminary rounds setting up a Johns-McGuffin matchup and a Staksrud-Alshon match in the other semifinal.

Johns advanced 11-2, 11-7. In the other match, Alshon rallied in an improbable fashion, falling 11-2 in the first game and getting behind 7-0 in the second game, before stunningly overtaking Staksrud, taking the second game 14-12 and then winning the third 11-0.

“Statistically it was not looking good,” Alshon said. “But I wasn’t out of the fight.

That sets up a rematch for Sunday’s final with Alshon and Johns.

On the women’s side, the top four seeds each advanced to the medal round and it will be Anna Leigh Waters taking on second-seeded Catherine Parenteau in the final. The two last played in the final at the National Championships in Dallas at the beginning of December. While Parenteau had several match points, Waters won in three games. 

Thursday, Waters lost her first game in matches against Judit Castillo and Mary Brascia, but flipped both into three-game wins. Parenteau was perfect in all three of her matches, not losing a single game and Waters got by Irina Tereschenko in the semifinals while Parenteau beat Brascia.

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