The PPA Championships at the Darling Tennis Center in Las Vegas, Nevada is one of the biggest pickleball tournaments of the year on the PPA Tour. In fact, it is one of the PPA Tour’s proclaimed “Majors” on the year.
With the size of the PPA Championships (including the size of the prize money at stake, and opportunity to be broadcast on the Tennis Channel (as an aside, we missed the usual broadcasters in the booth)), both PPA-contracted pro players, as well as many pro pickleball players that are not bound to the PPA Tour, descended upon Las Vegas for a chance to compete.
While three pickleball pros walked away with three medals—one in each of their respective events—it was one that reigned supreme. Let’s breakdown the action…
Mixed Doubles: Can Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters Be Stopped?
In mixed doubles, the usual pairings, like Ben Johns-Anna Leigh Waters, Matt Wright-Lucy Kovalova, and Jay Devilliers-Jessie Irvine were present, as well as a few less-seen pairings. For instance, JW Johnson and Catherine Parenteau paired up for the second time (after pairing up for the 2021 USA Pickleball National Championships), and Parenteau’s common mixed partner, Riley Newman paired back up with his sister Lindsey Newman (as Lindsey has played less pickleball tournaments this year).
With the stage set, the #1 seed Ben Johns-Anna Leigh Waters stormed through the bracket to Championship Sunday, only losing one game to AJ Koller and Callie Smith in a 3-game match. Johns and Waters defeated the Newman siblings (who are tough to beat in mixed doubles) in the semi-final to reach the championship.
On the other side of the bracket, upsets led the #6 seed JW Johnson-Catherine Parenteau through to Championship Sunday, as Johnson and Parenteau defeated #3 seed Matt Wright-Lucy Kovalova, as well as the #10 seed Tyler Loong-Anna Bright (who upset the #2 seed Jay Devilliers-Jessie Irvine earlier in the day) in the semi-final match.
On Championship Sunday, fans were hopeful for an exciting mixed doubles showdown between arguable #1 male players on the competing tours—Ben Johns for the PPA Tour and JW Johnson for the APP Tour. However, the started slow for Johnson and Parenteau, as they lost the first game quickly to Johns and Waters. In the best of 5 game format, Johnson and Parenteau had time to bounce back, and they seemed to progressively play more competitive pickleball in games 2 and 3. But, it was all Johns and Waters, who slammed the door in 3 straight games (11-3, 11-9, 14-12).
And, congrats to the Newman siblings for battling through the backdraw for the bronze medal, defeating Tyson McGuffin and Leigh Waters in the bronze medal match.
Medal Count Watch – 1 Gold for Anna Leigh Waters, 1 Gold for Ben Johns, and 1 Silver for JW Johnson
Women’s Doubles: Team Waters Reigns
After a new champion was crowned in women’s doubles at the PPA Tour’s previous event in Cincinnati, Ohio (shoutout to Jessie Irvine and Anna Bright), it seemed that the women’s doubles bracket would be in an interesting one to watch. This is because there seems to be some parity for several of the top teams, so new results seemed bound to occur.
Interesting moments happened early in the bracket, as Yana Grechkina and Regina Franco-Goldberg adopted a new strategy against Team Waters (mother-daughter duo Leigh and Anna Leigh Waters). With Team Waters facing the sun, Grechkina and Franco-Goldberg decided to implement the “high lob strategy,” meaning they hit the pickleball high into the air, shot after shot. These high lobs challenged Leigh Waters’ visibility, resulting a couple missed overhead shots, as she was looking directly into the sun when trying to track the pickleball. As a result of this strategy, frustrations and tensions ran high throughout the remainder of the match (and included some words exchanged between teams across the net). This strategy lobbed Grechkina and Franco-Goldberg to a game three against the #2 seed in Team Waters, but Team Waters ultimately won the match. (To note, more on this strategy to come in a future article.) Team Waters then went on to defeat Jessie Irvine and Lindsey Newman in the semi-final to reach Championship Sunday.
On the other side of the bracket, Anna Bright continued her theme of upsets from mixed doubles with her new partner Parris Todd. The two former tennis stars (who have been playing for about a year) teamed up and went on a tear as the #5 seed. Bright and Todd defeated the #4 seed in Catherine Parenteau and Lea Janson, as well as the #1 seed in Lucy Kovalova and Callie Smith to reach Championship Sunday. Bright was certainly looking to go back-to-back tournaments as the PPA champion, and with two different partners.
Championship Sunday featured a tight match, although it only went three games, as Team Waters proved to have the edge over Bright and Todd, winning 11-8, 11-8, 11-9. Bright and Todd will likely be back in a similar position to challenge for a PPA championship title.
Shoutout to the #1 seed Lucy Kovalova and Callie Smith for battling back for the bronze medal!
Medal Count Watch – 2 Golds for Anna Leigh Waters, 1 Gold for Ben Johns, and 1 Silver for JW Johnson
Men’s Doubles: The Rivalry Continues
Men’s doubles was all about the budding rivalry between the Johns brothers, Collin and Ben, and the partnership of Matt Wright and Riley Newman. Along the way to Championship Sunday, both teams faced some challengers and some adversity. However, both marched through as the respective #1 and #2 seeds.
On Championship Sunday, the men’s doubles final was filled with drama in the form of intense stares, loud cheers, and contentious line calls and line call challenges, as the match extended in a back-and-forth match that went the full 5 games. Wright and Newman went up early, winning games 1 and 2 by a large margin (11-2, 11-2). However, the Johns brothers went back to their game plan, grinded out points, and battled back to win games 3 and 4 by a small margin (11-9, 11-9), including a large comeback to salvage game 3.
The match came down to a very tight game 5, where Wright and Newman saved their best pickleball for last. Wright and Newman executed their strategy slightly better than the Johns brothers and eeked out the victory with a score of 11-8. Newman claimed his second medal on the weekend (taking gold in men’s doubles and bronze in mixed doubles), and prevented Ben Johns from claiming the triple crown.
Shoutout to the bronze medalists JW Johnson and Dekel Bar, who defeated fellow APP regulars Dylan Frazier and Zane Navratil!
Medal Count Watch – 2 Golds for Anna Leigh Waters, 1 Gold and 1 Silver for Ben Johns, and 1 Silver and 1 Bronze for JW Johnson
Women’s Singles: Anna Leigh Waters Makes Triple Crowns Look Easy
Women’s singles can be summed up in just a few words: Anna Leigh Waters looks to be unstoppable. Anna Leigh Waters stormed through the bracket, having one close game early in the day against Mary Brascia. However, she never dropped a game and even won the championship match in straight games.
Anna Leigh Waters secured her 5th triple crown of the year, which is some feat for the 15-year-old. With a few pickleball tournaments left on the year, Waters could even best her current triple crown count. This is particularly true, as Waters seems to be in a strong mindset week-in and week-out. She noted during the post-game interview that it is important to “believe in yourself” because if “you do not believe yourself, your game won’t go very far.” She credited her mom (and women’s doubles partner) for teaching her that.
Shoutout to silver medalist Catherine Parenteau (which was her second silver medal on the weekend)! Parenteau had a thriller of a semi-final match against Parris Todd, as she lost the first game 11-0, only to come back and take the next two games (11-5, 11-7)—talk about mental toughness.
Also, congrats to bronze medalist Salome Devidze!
Medal Count Watch – 3 Golds for Anna Leigh Waters, 1 Gold and 1 Silver for Ben Johns, and 1 Silver and 1 Bronze for JW Johnson
Men’s Singles: Ben Johns Makes a Statement
Men’s singles featured a very large bracket of talented players. On one side of the bracket, JW Johnson stormed through as the #4 seed, never losing a game. On the other side the bracket, Ben Johns faced some adversity in the form of a tight match against a talented Tyler Loong. However, ultimately, the #2 seed Johns found his way through the bracket into Championship Sunday. As a result, similar to mixed doubles, men’s singles looked to be an interesting match-up between arguable #1 male players on the competing tours—Ben Johns for the PPA Tour and JW Johnson for the APP Tour.
Championship Sunday was all about Ben Johns in men’s singles, though, as Johns defeated Johnson in 3 straight games (11-5, 11-8, 11-1). Johns was able to bounce back from his tough defeat in the 5-game men’s doubles thriller. Johns was also able to get an edge over the talented JW Johnson (who are typically compared to each other, since the Johns v. Johnson match-up is less frequent with the two on opposite tours), as Johns defeated Johnson in each of the three brackets (mixed doubles, men’s doubles, and men’s singles) on the weekend.
Shoutout to Dylan Frazier for snagging the bronze medal, and who had a solid weekend of play with solid runs in both of the mixed doubles and men’s doubles brackets!
Medal Count Watch – 3 Golds for Anna Leigh Waters, 2 Golds and 1 Silver for Ben Johns, and 2 Silvers and 1 Bronze for JW Johnson