After two short months of midseason break from the courts this summer, the PPA Tour was back in business this past weekend.
Predictably, Championship Sunday featured some familiar names. Well, correction, familiar names with unfamiliar partners and a familiar finish for Ben Johns.
Quite the twist to get back into the swing of things by giving the picklesphere a totally new format to absorb and discuss.
Johns didn’t play with either of his regular partners – brother Collin on the men’s side or Anna Leigh Waters in the mixed bracket – but he did win a pair of titles on Sunday at the Selkirk Labs Showdown presented by Invited at the Braemar Country Club in Los Angeles.
“This was great for the spectators,” Johns said. “I’m just happy to win.”
Add a few more titles for the world’s top player as Johns and partner Jay Devilliers beat Tyson McGuffin and Ben Newell, 11-9, 11-5. McGuffin and relative newcomer, Newell, had a brilliant weekend together, taking down the team of Collin Johns and Matt Wright on their way to the final, but fell short on Sunday against Johns/Devilliers.
Fans took note of Newell’s breakthrough, making the reasonable guess that Newell (who is a free agent) has been getting some quality reps in this year on the PPA Tour against the world’s best as he travels to tournaments with his wife and PPA Touring Pro, Yana Grechkina.
For the mixed bracket, Johns teamed up with Jessie Irvine, a partner he had played and won with before from as far back as 2019, winning a tight one 11-9, 5-11, 11-7 over Matt Wright and Callie Smith, who played dangerous pickleball together and made every Johns/Irvine work for every point.
The mixed final was hailed as the match of the day as, for the first time during the event, Johns and Irvine needed a three game to outlast Smith and Wright. Johns and Irvine needed eight game points before winning the game and then fell behind 5-3 in game three before rallying.
“Matt always gets 110 percent of me when he sees me,” Johns said of Wright. “They both played really well.
The three-day event had eight players split into three pools, playing with multiple partners, and competing individually for points to determine seeding and partnerships for the main draw. All 24 players competed in a combination of mixed doubles and gender doubles matches. The process made for all sorts of different pairings once it came time for the main draw to begin, making it a fun, made-for-TV event that was broadcast by the Tennis Channel on Saturday and Sunday.
“A lot of fun,” said Irvine, who earned the top prize with Johns on the mixed side, as well as the runner-up spot in the women’s doubles final. “It’s great playing with new players and a great warm-up to get ready for the rest of this tournament season.”
Waters and Smith paired up and beat Irvine and Lucy Kovalova, 11-7, 11-6. Although Waters was nursing a cold, you wouldn’t have guessed it from the way she danced around the court, taking flying volleys and huge backhands. Although Smith and Waters are both aggressive players and like to take up lots of court, they worked remarkably well together. You have to wonder who Anna Leigh is going to pick up as a women’s partner once her mom decides to hang up the paddle at some point…
“We play our best when we’re aggressive,” Waters said. “That got away from us a couple times, so we called a timeout. We decided to drive the ball and stay aggressive.”
That’s something Smith said she’s seen in the past.
“I do know her as an opponent,” Smith said of playing with Waters. “But it was fun to be on the same side as her for once. She’s as awesome as you all think and an awesome partner on the court.”
The action will continue after only a few short days as the Pro Tour stays in California for the Skechers Invitational in Pacific Palisades this weekend. We’ll be back to some familiar partnerships, as the PPA will be live on CBS Sports on Saturday with the Johns brothers taking on Matt Wright and Riley Newman and Anna Leigh and Leigh Waters taking on Smith and Kovalova.
On Sunday during the second day of CBS coverage, McGuffin and Catherine Parenteau will play singles matches against Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters respectively. The coverage will also feature a mixed doubles match of Parenteau/Newman vs. Kovalova/Wright.
PPA TV will have Friday’s matches broadcast on its Facebook and YouTube channels. All three days from Friday-Sunday (August 12-14) will also feature a variety of fun match-ups between additional players like Jay Devilliers, Allyce Jones, and Patrick Smith that have been built around the CBS coverage to keep pickleball fans happy all weekend long!