The 2022 Baird Wealth Management Open begins on Thursday, and there is one question many are asking ahead of this Grand Slam event. Who will be the players to watch in Cincinnati?
To answer that question, let’s take a look back to the last event – the Tournament of Champions (TOC) in mid-August. There, Waters captured the Triple Crown and Johns won two out of the three events. Both players lost only one match apiece in all three events during the month of August. These two juggernauts will once again compete in all three events and team up in mixed doubles, so fans will have a plethora of opportunities to watch these two compete.
The only competitors that managed to crack the code against Waters and Johns during the month of August were Matt Wright, Riley Newman and Jessie Irvine. Wright and Newman, the top ranked PPA men’s doubles team, overcame Ben and his brother Collin Johns in the TOC final. Wright/Newman never seem to have a bad match these days, conceding very few errors when they step on the court. Irvine’s win against Waters came in a mixed doubles match, during which Irvine played with Ben Johns! Irvine is an extremely talented force who should be on the watch list alongside Wright and Newman at the September Grand Slam.
Plenty of other competitors gave Waters and Johns a run for their money despite falling short. Top-seeded Callie Smith and Lucy Kovalova pushed Anna Leigh and her partner, Leigh Waters, to a 12-10 game in a neck-and-neck women’s doubles final at the TOC. Smith and Kovalova mixed their shot placement up much more in Utah, so watch out for a potential upset when they join forces in Cincinnati. In men’s doubles, Tyson McGuffin took Johns out of his comfort zone multiple times with multiple partners during the month of August. McGuffin almost defeated Johns/Johns at the TOC with Jay Devilliers, so keep an eye on McGuffin/Devilliers this week.
There are also a few overlooked competitors worth watching in men’s singles. James Ignatowich comes into this event with plenty of momentum. He has made deep runs in some of the biggest tournaments this year, including semifinal appearances at the Atlanta Open Grand Slam and last month’s TOC. Ignatowich frequently goes on the offensive by crushing the ball and coming into net, which poses a threat to anyone on tour. Another player on the rise to keep an eye on is Federico Staksrud, who has been on an upward trajectory similar to that of Ignatowich. Staksrud’s claim to fame is his gold medal in men’s singles at the Atlanta Open, but he also reached the semis at the more recent TOC and pushed Johns to an 11-9 game. Don’t sleep on PPA singles No. 5 Ryan Sherry either. Sherry is a singles specialist who won the North Carolina Open back in May.
In women’s singles, an under-the-radar player to check out is Salome Devidze. Devidze plays a consistent game and likes to hit the ball deep into the corners of the court. She pushed Lea Jansen in the TOC semifinals and upset PPA women’s singles No. 2 Catherine Parenteau in the quarterfinals. Although Parenteau hasn’t had the results she hoped for recently, she can catch fire out of nowhere. A Grand Slam is certainly the ideal time to turn things around, and she reached the singles final of the most recent Grand Slam in Atlanta. Be sure to watch Parenteau and other top-ranked competitors including Lea Jansen, Callie Smith, and Irina Tereschenko.
Get pumped because it’s time to watch the world’s best pickleball players on the PPA’s biggest stage! All matches will air live on PPA TV and Tennis Channel from Thursday, September 8 to Sunday, September 11. Reference our TV Guide for more details.