After a couple of entertaining tune-ups in California, the premier PPA competitors travel from the beach to the mountains for the renowned Tournament of Champions (TOC) in Brigham City, Utah. Which pros will find themselves at the top by the end of the week?
Ben Johns has won every event that he has participated in this month. He scored gold medals in men’s doubles and mixed doubles at the Selkirk Labs Showdown, then a week later, he went undefeated in singles/men’s doubles/mixed doubles at the Skechers Invitational. Could he also earn a triple crown in Utah to complete a perfect month in PPA tournament play?
The short answer to that question is yes. Based on his results so far this month, he is clearly the hottest PPA player right now. Both August tournaments so far took place in California, however, so adjusting to Brigham City’s higher altitude could be a factor. Last year at TOC, Johns was just shy of the Triple Crown, winning two of his three events. His opponents will have to play their best pickleball to deny Johns his second chance at a full sweep.
If anyone is going to accomplish this, it will most likely happen in men’s doubles. Riley Newman and Matt Wright became the No. 1 PPA doubles team earlier this year, and they delivered strong performances in the most recent notable tournaments. At the Acrytech Atlanta Grand Slam, they edged past Ben and Collin Johns with an interesting strategy. Newman/Wright would bait the Johns brothers into the center of the court, and then they would take one of their opponents’ shots out wide and stun them with an impressive passing shot. They’ll need to execute to perfection in order to exact revenge upon Johns/Johns for their loss to them at the Skechers Invitational.
Ben Johns’ mixed doubles partner at the 2022 TOC will be Anna Leigh Waters, who has also been an unstoppable force in August. Waters took the gold in women’s doubles at the Selkirk Invitational and went 3-for-3 in her main event matchups at the Skechers Invitational (singles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles). The 15-year-old achieved her first Triple Crown earlier this year – can she score another in 2022?
Once again, past results show that the answer is yes. Like Ben Johns on the men’s side, Waters has out-performed her peers this month on the PPA Tour. Out of the three divisions, Waters is ranked lowest in mixed doubles at No. 5. Once she’s paired up with Ben Johns, though, many believe that her ranking just needs more time to catch up. Waters/Johns waltzed past the top-ranked PPA mixed doubles team, Matt Wright and Lucy Kovalova, less than a week ago at the Skechers Invitational in front of the largest television audience in pickleball history. Who has the best chance to spoil Waters’ potential triple crown in Utah this week?
Watch out for the No. 1 PPA women’s doubles pairing, Lucy Kovalova and Callie Smith. The duo might have fallen short to Anna Leigh and her mom, Leigh Waters, at the Skechers Invitational, but this time Callie Smith is on her home turf. The Utah native lost to Kovalova in women’s doubles last year at TOC, but she won’t have to worry about that happening this time around. Smith/Kovalova will need to revert back to attacking both opponents rather than singling out Leigh Waters to emerge victorious. Smith/Kovalova tend to play a more aggressive game than Team Waters and will need to use that to their advantage, especially during net battles.
The usual contenders notwithstanding, don’t count out some surprise medalists this weekend… Callan Dawson is coming off a 5/5 undefeated weekend at the Skechers Invitational and Tyler Loong’s pickleball game looks hotter than ever. Meghan Dizon and Allyce Jones also have been working hard in the off-season and came up with some epic wins over the last two weeks. Jay Devilliers and Jessie Irvine are also due for an upset and almost did so last weekend in their match against Riley Newman and Catherine Parenteau.
Kick back and enjoy live coverage of TOC on PPA TV and Tennis Channel from Wednesday, August 17 to Saturday, August 20!