The USA Pickleball National Championships in Indian Wells, California is the preeminent pickleball tournament every year. To qualify for the USA Pickleball National Championships, pickleball players generally need to win a gold medal in their respective event at a qualifying tournament, which includes the USA Pickleball Newport Beach Championships in Newport Beach, California, and is one reason for the influx of players (over 1,400) at this event.
While the USA Pickleball Newport Beach Championships drew a lot of amateur players, the pro player brackets were somewhat modest. For instance, the pro women’s doubles draw only included six teams, after one team withdrew. With that said, these modest draws still packed a punch and put on some great pickleball entertainment.
Let's breakdown the pickleball action...
Women’s Doubles and Men’s Singles See Runaway Victories
The USA Pickleball Newport Beach Championships switched up the schedule just a bit, as they paired men’s singles and women’s doubles on the first day of pro action, and women’s singles and men’s doubles on the second day of pro action. This was a good change of pace in our eyes, as the format gave some extra spotlight to the doubles draw on the day, which is typically pickleball’s main event (as compared to singles).
Starting with women’s doubles—which, as noted above, saw a pretty small draw—the first-time partnership of Anna Bright and Parris Todd stole the show. The two former tennis stars have been much of the talk regarding the pro circuit for the better part of the 2022 calendar year, so it makes sense that the two finally paired up on the pickleball court. Bright and Todd (the #2 seed) played three rounds and did not lose a game on their dominating route to the gold medal. In these three rounds, Bright and Todd played six games and gave up a total of 22 points over those six games (an average 3.67 points per game), including a pretty flawless gold medal match win of 11-1, 11-4.
Taking the silver medal were the Brascia sisters, as Mary Brascia and Maggie Brascia (the #4 seed) were able to come back from the losers' bracket and beat the #1 seed, Jorja Johnson and Lauren Stratman, in the bronze medal match, which is a team that they had lost to earlier in the day. This was a solid result for the Brascia sisters, especially as Major League Pickleball (MLP) had just announced a trade that would pair the Brascia sisters on the same team, the Jackrabbits, for the next MLP event (which will also be in Newport Beach, California).
Turning to men’s singles, JW Johnson (the #1 seed) bounced back on the pickleball court, after having a falter in the past two pro pickleball tournaments, where he had his worst singles pickleball performance in the last year in one event and took a day off in the other. The day off seemed to serve Johnson well, as he came back to the court and did not lose a game. Johnson defeated the #2 seed, Federico Staksrud, in the gold medal match (11-8, 11-2), and James Ignatowich (the #5 seed) snagged the bronze medal.
Men’s Doubles and Women’s Singles See Familiar Faces
The second day of pro action at the USA Pickleball Newport Beach Championships was pretty similar to the first, but reversing genders.
Starting with men’s doubles, JW Johnson and Dylan Frazier continued their undefeated streak for the third pickleball tournament in a row. Johnson and Frazier (the #1 seed) have not only won gold for three straight pickleball tournaments, but have not lost a single game in three straight pickleball tournaments. Like the women’s doubles champions, Bright and Todd, Johnson and Frazier limited their points given up to just 28 points in the eight games that they played (an average of 3.5 points per game—which was even more impressive than Bright and Todd), including a dominant gold medal match win of 11-3, 11-2.
Also, like the women’s doubles draw, the silver medalists, Kyle Yates and DJ Young (the #2 seed), were able to come back from the losers' bracket and beat the #3 seed, Julian Arnold and Hayden Patriquin, in the bronze medal match, which is a team that they had lost to earlier in the day.
Turning to women’s singles, Anna Bright (the #2 seed) had a similar performance as men’s singles champion, JW Johnson, did the day before. Bright ran through the women’s singles bracket without losing a game, as she was able to defeat Megan Fudge (the #5 seed) twice on the day—once in the winners’ bracket final and once in the gold medal match. Fudge was able to defeat the #4 seed, Mary Brascia, twice on the day to grab the silver medal and give Brascia the bronze. This seemed to have been a break for Bright, who had lost the previous two pro pickleball tournaments to Brascia, as Fudge seemed to have been a better head-to-head match-up.
Going into the mixed doubles event, there were two pro players looking for a triple crown—JW Johnson and Anna Bright. However, they would not be paired together, and other pros were looking to stop them both in their tracks. This included JW Johnson’s men’s doubles partner, Dylan Frazier, who admitted that it was his job to make sure Johnson did not get the triple crown.
Mixed Doubles Serves Up a Triple Crown
With two potential triple crown winners, it seemed destined that one would make it happen, especially since both JW Johnson and Anna Bright had not lost a game during the entire pickleball tournament up until the mixed doubles bracket.
Anna Bright, paired with James Ignatowich, fell to the losers’ bracket in the first round, and was unable to battle back through the back draw. But, JW Johnson, paired with his younger sister and Rising Star Award recipient, Jorja Johnson, continued JW Johnson’s winning streak up until the winners’ bracket final. The Johnson siblings (the #1 seed) dropped the first game (which would be JW’s only game lost on the weekend), but came back to win the match in three games against the #2 seed, Lauren Stratman and Julian Arnold.
The tight match-up would be repeated in the gold medal match, as Stratman and Arnold were able to hold off Sarah Ansboury and Dylan Frazier (the #3 seed and bronze medalists) in a close three-game match-up. However, the gold medal match quickly went the way of the Johnsons, as they won in two straight games (11-8, 11-6). To note, Stratman and Arnold seemed satisfied with their silver medal, as they were able to beat Ansboury and Frazier twice in the same day. This is something that both of them failed to do in their respective gender doubles event, as both Stratman and Frazier lost to a team that they had beaten earlier in the day and had to settle for bronze.
In summary, JW Johnson secured the triple crown, which is no easy feat. With a triple crown on the line for JW, pressure can certainly creep into play, but not for Jorja Johnson, who noted that she felt no pressure helping her brother secure the triple crown because “at the end of the day, [JW] is still my brother.”