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Staksrud Breaks Through, Claims Gold in Mesa

It was quite a weekend for Federico Staksrud, who played some of the best pickleball of his career thus far to take the title on Sunday.

He did so while being the only player to be in a singles final for all three PPA events in 2023.

“I’m just doing my job and trying to get better every day,” Staksrud said. “Ben is still up there.”

Ben might be up there, but Staksrud will have something to say about that in 2023. He proved it during the week at the Arizona Grand Slam in Mesa., Ariz., beating Johns in a Thursday semifinal and then dismissing No. 2 seed Jay Devilliers, 11-2, 11-0 on Championship Sunday for his first gold medal – to go along with a pair of silvers – in 2023.

Staksrud, a loser to Johns twice in the past two tournament singles finals, broke through at Legacy Park and celebrated his second singles title on tour, with the first coming last year at the Acrytech Atlanta Open against Rafa Hewett. This was Staksrud’s first time beating the #1 men’s singles player, something that has to skyrocket his confidence moving into the rest of the year.

“I think playing tournaments is the best way to win and improve,” he said. “When the results do go your way, it helps, and it makes everything more positive.”

Staksrud’s game positively shone in Arizona. He dropped just one game the entire tournament during his defeat of Johns on Thursday, 12-10, 4-11, 12-10. It was the first time Johns lost in singles this season and the first time Johns didn’t win a triple crown.

“I think playing tournaments is the best way to improve and learn to handle your emotions,” Staksrud said. “I was nervous, but I found my game and everything worked perfectly.”

Despite his success this year on tour, Staksrud entered Mesa as the No. 4 seed. Chances are he won’t be that low again, as he racked up a full supply of points at a major, no less.

“Singles is getting tough,” he said. “I’m just happy to be here and win and want to keep it going and get some more.”

Anna and Anna Double Up in Mesa

Anna Leigh Waters was denied her third triple crown of the season, but the No. 1-ranked singles player in the world cruised to her third-consecutive singles title and third-consecutive women’s doubles title.

Not a bad weekend for her, or for her women’s partner Anna Bright, who earned her own double gold finish with a gold in mixed doubles.

Waters dominated the draw in singles, finishing the tournament with an 11-5, 11-5 victory over Lea Jansen on Sunday. She credited the mixed doubles loss, her first of the season, as a partial motivator for her singles and women’s doubles success.

“I think that gave me fire going to the women’s,” Waters said. “I wanted to show everyone it wasn’t going to happen again. Anyone who was around me after that loss with Ben [in mixed doubles] wasn’t a happy camper either. Usually I take the losses pretty hard.”

Waters and Bright, the top-seed, defeated Jessie Irvine and Jackie Kawamoto, the No. 6 seed, 11-7, 7-11, 11-1, 11-3. It was the second time this season that the Bright-Waters duo has won gold.

Newman Wins in Front of Hometown Fans

Meanwhile, Bright and Riley Newman earned gold with an 8-11, 11-7, 9-11, 11-5, 11-4 grind of a match against Jorja and JW Johnson, where each rally was filled with electricity. The PPA Tour’s viewership on Championship Sunday peaked during this match-up. 

“We were focused on playing clean pickleball,” Bright said. “They are a great team and we just tried to stay focused. Some things didn’t go our way, but we came back strong.”

Bright also gave well-deserved kudos to Jorja Johnson in her interview, citing their close friendship and crediting the Johnsons with getting her into pickleball and helping her progress as a player.

The victory was extra sweet for Newman, who plays and trains in Mesa and had friends and family cheering him on during the week.

“Everyone showed up, “ Newman said. “This win comes with a lot of momentum and it’s a good day. Time to celebrate in my hometown.”

Johns and Johns Stay on Top

By most accounts it wasn’t a great week for Ben Johns, who failed to win his first triple crown of the season. A loss in the semis in singles and a loss in the quarterfinals in mixed doubles left Johns with just one more opportunity for gold in Mesa.

He got it. 

Johns and brother Collin beat familiar foes, Matt Wright and Newman, 11-7, 7-11, 11-4, 14-12, and stayed a perfect three-for-three this season. They lost just two games over the weekend. 

It was also the third time this season Johns and Johns beat Newman and Wright in the finals, proving once again the consistency of both of these partnerships. 

The men’s doubles final also featured a ninety-seven shot rally at 10-9-1 in game four — the longest rally in a gold medal match since the 82-shot rally at the National Indoors Championships men’s doubles final a year ago.

One Comment

  • Greg Hammack says:

    “The men’s doubles final also featured a ninety-seven shot rally at 10-9-1 in game four — the longest rally in a gold medal match since the 82-shot rally at the National Indoors Championships men’s doubles final a year ago.”

    The 97-shot rally is therefore the longest rally ever in a GM match, not just since the 82-shot rally.

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