Preview to the Hertz National Championship
The world’s best pickleball professionals head to the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida to battle for the Hertz Cup! A handful of unfamiliar faces stunned fans at the most recent event, the Takeya Showcase. Will this unexpected flipping of the script continue, or will the heavyweights get the job done this time?
Perhaps the most shocking results at the Takeya Showcase came in women’s doubles. Only one of the top four seeds made it to the semifinals, and top-seeded Lucy Kovalova/Callie Smith were ousted early on. Irina Tereschenko and Etta Wright, seeded ninth at the event, made it to the final to battle against Andrea Koop and Vivienne David. Koop and David pulled out the victory – topping the podium for the first time together on the PPA Tour. This week, Tereschenko and Takeya Showcase semifinalist Parris Todd are a dangerous team that could go all the way. Tereschenko’s aggressive deep balls and volleys combined with Parris Todd’s energy could be enough to triumph in Orlando. Floridian Anna Leigh Waters will not have her mom as her partner this week, but she is still the favorite with Catherine Parenteau by her side. Watch out for the dark horse team, Jessie Irvine and Anna Bright, who already posted impressive results together this year at major tournaments.
For the first time in ages, Ben Johns was defeated in mixed doubles, and by none other than Julian Arnold and his partner Mary Brascia. The eventual champions in Newport Beach were Andrea Koop and AJ Koller, a team that will not reunite in Orlando. Koller, who uses a unique open stance, plays as if he is a human wall. Nonetheless, he did need some help from Koop, who came away with twin titles at the Takeya Showcase. With Koop absent and Anna Leigh Waters returning to play with Johns, order should be restored at the Hertz National Championship. Look out for Koller, whose newfound confidence could continue with Callie Smith as his partner. Other noteworthy teams include Riley Newman/Catherine Parenteau, Anna Bright/Tyler Loong, Lucy Kovalova/Matt Wright and Jessie Irvine/Jay Devilliers.
Salome Devidze continues to make a name for herself in women’s singles. She upset No. 3 singles player Lea Jansen to reach the Newport Beach final, and was four points away from defeating Catherine Parenteau in the championship match. Could fifth-ranked Devidze go one step further in Orlando? If she doesn’t end up on the same half of the bracket as Waters, she should be able to sneak into the final. Defeating Waters, who did not play in Newport Beach, would require Devidze to play lights out during crunch time. Waters will punish any short balls with her dominant backhand and never seems to have issues coming in clutch in close matches. Jansen, Parenteau and Irina Tereschenko are the other highly-ranked singles players competing this week.
Ben Johns and Tyson McGuffin have both lost to new and familiar challengers this year, but they are finishing out 2022 in top form. The top two singles seeds reached the Takeya Showcase gold medal match, and they will be favored to meet once again in the Hertz National Championship final. Johns dominated McGuffin in Newport Beach by mixing up his shot placement and switching his tactics throughout the match. Johns will be the heavy favorite in Orlando, but a handful of overlooked challengers could potentially flip the script this week. Keep an eye on Tyler Loong, AJ Koller and James Ignatowich. Singles No. 4 Jay Devilliers gave McGuffin some trouble in their Takeya Showcase semifinal meeting, and he’ll make an appearance in Orlando.
The only event dominated by heavyweights at almost every tournament is men’s doubles. The two powerhouse teams, Ben Johns/Collin Johns and Riley Newman/Matt Wright, cruise to almost every final. However, every championship match they play against each other is closely contested. At the Takeya Showcase, Newman and Wright prevailed by staying very consistent at net and targeting Ben Johns’ backhand volley. The Johns brothers will need to stay sharp with their switches if they’re going to get revenge in Orlando. The other duos should not be written off completely. If any team is going to upset Newman/Wright or Team Johns, bet on AJ Koller/Tyler Loong or Tyson McGuffin/Jay Devilliers.
Tune into the action all weekend long on Tennis Channel and PPA TV!