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Staksrud keeps ascending, earns his way to singles final in Phoenix 

Author: Andrew Gilman | February 2, 2024

There was no hesitation with Federico Staksrud, and you kind of have to think, it’s a bit surprising.

If ever there was a time to puff out the chest and to, you know, toot-toot that horn, Thursday might have been it. But Stakrud didn’t bite, didn’t waver, and didn’t make even the slightest of noise. 

“Ben is No. 1,” Staksrud said. “I’m No. 2. I’m just No. 2.”

Ben Johns is certainly the best singles player in the short history of the PPA Tour and beyond, there’s no doubt about that, but Staksrud and others can possibly make a case that the view from the top for Johns isn’t exactly what it used to be.

Johns won’t be medaling in singles at the PPA’s Desert Ridge Ridge Open. It’s the second tournament in a row Johns won’t be on the medal stand after winning 11 golds and a silver last year alone in singles.

Meanwhile, Staksrud is ascending. His case for No. 1 is becoming stronger, too. He finished runner-up to Dylan Frazier in the opening tournament of the season in Palm Springs and now is back in the final of the second PPA tournament of 2024 in Phoenix where he’ll take on Jaume Martinez Vich, who stopped Johns with a three-game victory in the quarterfinals Thursday afternoon.

“I’m out there telling myself that I play four hours of pickleball every day and this is what I practice for,” Staksrud said. “I will try my best. If it works, it works, and it worked today. I want to win that final and I’m going to go for it.”

Notably, when Johns loses, it grabs everyone’s attention. That’s what happened in Mission Hills, Calif., at the PPA Masters when he fell to Quang Duong in the quarterfinals and that’s what happened again Thursday when Martinez Vich earned the 4-11, 11-5, 11-5 win. 

But here’s the deal: Johns isn’t losing to unknown players and the losses by Johns aren’t a slight against him, it’s a nod to the talent in singles that seems to be catching up to Johns.

Since November, Johns has lost to Chris Haworth, who ended up getting third at the 2023 National Championships in Dallas and who won on the APP Tour just a week ago. 

The loss to Duong by Johns was certainly surprising, but Duong is considered one of the best players yet to medal. Duong lost to eventual champion Dylan Frazier at The Masters. And then there’s Martinez Vich, who medaled twice in three tournaments last summer and then finished second to J.W. Johnson in Dallas in November.

But back to Staksrud. He’s been the most consistent performer on tour behind Johns in the past year and is the only player in 2023 to beat Johns head-to-head in singles on Championship Sunday. Overall in 2023, Staksrud earned three golds, six silvers, and a pair of bronze medals, so when he says he’s “Just No. 2,” well, he’s technically right, but the gap isn’t all that wide from Staksrud to the top.

“I think I did well last year,” Staksrud said. “I made a bunch of finals, I’m confident, I always shoot for the finals.”

His run to the final on Thursday was impressive, too. Staksrud allowed just seven total points in his first two matches, then beat fifth-seeded Christian Alshon, 11-4, 11-7, before rallying past second-seeded Tyson McGuffin in three games in the semifinal. 

“I’m just trying to be really consistent and as professional as I can be,” he said. “I want to play every point like it’s 0-0, and take it seriously. Ben is No. 1, but I’m going to try and get there. I think I can play better.”

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