Pro pickleball’s summer California tour traveled to Bobby Riggs Racket & Paddle Center in Encinitas, California for the APP So Cal Classic (from San Clemente, California with the PPA Orange County Cup). This was the first of back-to-back APP stops in California and the second of a series of four pickleball tournaments that are all back-to-back-to-back-to-back in the Golden State.
While some pickleball pros are taking the summer off (including Ben Johns and the other PPA-contracted pros), others are going the long haul and playing week-in and week-out with the hopes of climbing in the pickleball rankings and snagging some extra prize money. This also gives some additional room for some new faces to shine through, which is the real story of the APP So Cal Classic, as there were six first-time pro pickleball medalists.
Let’s breakdown the pickleball action…
Mixed Doubles Goes to the Little Sister
After partnering together to win gold at the APP New York City Open, the brother-sister duo of JW Johnson and Jorja Johnson split ways. JW Johnson partnered with a familiar face, and MLP Florida Smash teammate Lee Whitwell, while Jorja Johnson partnered with JW’s frequent men’s doubles partner, Dylan Frazier. As a result of this split, JW found himself across from his little sister Jorja twice on mixed doubles day (as a reminder, the APP Tour plays a true double elimination, so if you lose one match, you can still battle back to make it to the championship match, meaning that you could play a team twice in one day).
The first match of Johnson-Frazier (the #2 seed) versus Whitwell-Johnson (the #1 seed) featured four players that are very familiar with each other’s games, as they frequently play on the same side of the pickleball court as their opponents in other events. But, that familiarity favored Jorja and Dylan on the day, as the first match went the way of Jorja and Dylan, sending JW and Lee into the losers’ bracket. This first match was Jorja’s first-time ever beating JW in a pickleball tournament (if you do not count her win in a head-to-head match-up at Major League Pickleball). However, Whitwell-Johnson would battle back through the losers’ bracket to the championship match to face Johnson-Frazier yet again. Could Jorja beat JW two times in one day?
Within just a few points of the championship match, the answer was an emphatic yes. Jorja and Dylan came out on fire. They played aggressively and confidently, continued to apply pressure with constant pace and speed-ups, forced errors by Whitwell-Johnson, and did not let JW in the match very much at all. This aggressiveness and solid play led to an 11-0 victory in the first game. Jorja and Dylan quickly won the second game 11-6 to win the gold medal. In fact, Jorja and Dylan did not lose a game the entire day.
JW and Jorja Johnson are known to be close as siblings on and off the pickleball court. Playing each other twice in one day—particularly, for the championship—must be a tough task for both of them. As a result, one must ask how long JW and Jorja will be across the pickleball net from each other, rather than on the same side of the pickleball net. This is particularly true, as younger sister Jorja has accelerated her game in recent months, including winning gold in mixed doubles in back-to-back APP Tour stops with two different partners. The Johnsons will likely be on the same team in the near future.
Congrats to Parris Todd and Alex Neumann (the #12 seed) for snagging the bronze medal, which was Neumann’s first pro pickleball medal!
Men’s Doubles & Women’s Doubles Sees Undefeated Play
As mentioned above, not only did Dylan Frazier and Jorja Johnson not lose a match in mixed doubles game, they did not even lose a game. This continued into gender doubles, as Dylan Frazier (with his men’s doubles partner, JW Johnson) and Jorja Johnson (with her women’s doubles partner, Anna Bright) did not drop a game for the second day in a row.
Starting with men’s doubles, the #1 seed of Frazier-Johnson looked unstoppable. They faced DJ Young and Mario Barrientos (the #3 seed) in the final, who would have to beat Frazier-Johnson twice in order to take the gold. This tall order of “double-dipping” looked to affect Young-Barrientos as they did not have much energy on the pickleball court. Also, as commentator Lauren McLaughlin phrased it, Young-Barrientos looked like two individual pickleball players that happened to be playing on the same side of the court, while Frazier-Johnson looked like a unit. As a result, Frazier-Johnson made quick work, winning in two straight games, 11-3, 11-9.
Looking forward, Frazier-Johnson have the overarching goal to become the #1 men’s doubles team in the pro pickleball landscape. These young guns are certainly making waves and are on their way to achieving this goal.
Also, in men’s doubles, another first-time pro pickleball medalist took home the bronze, as Hayden Patriquin and his partner, Julian Arnold (the #7 seed), had a strong showing at the Bobby Riggs Racket & Paddle Center.
Turning to women’s doubles, a similar story unfolded for Jorja Johnson and Anna Bright (the #3 seed), as they too looked unstoppable (although with a bit more energy and intensity than Frazier-Johnson) and did not even lose a game during their run for the gold medal. The women’s doubles final was a bit tighter than the men’s doubles final (11-7, 12-10), as Lauren Stratman (who celebrated her birthday with a silver medal) and Lee Whitwell (the #1 seed) were able to slow down Johnson’s and Bright’s aggressiveness, particularly in the second game.
Shoutout to Parris Todd (for her second medal on the weekend) and Susannah Barr, who took home the bronze medal. They stomped the #2 seed, Regina Franco-Goldberg and Michelle Esquivel, 15-0 in order to make it to the bronze medal match.
Shake Up in Men’s Singles & Women’s Singles
Going into singles day, two pro pickleball players had the chance to take home the triple crown. Both Dylan Frazier and Jorja Johnson looked to continue their undefeated ways and triple crown. However, singles day was all about shake-ups.
In the men’s singles, favorites like JW Johnson, Dylan Frazier, and Gabriel Joseph (last year’s winner for this event) all went down without a medal. This was likely JW Johnson’s (the #1 seed) worst singles showing in the past year, as he is a constant podium favorite and winner, particularly in men’s singles. Rather, it was Federico Staksrud (the #2 seed) taking home the gold, while unfamiliar names—and two first-time pro pickleball medalists—took home the silver and bronze medals. Hunter Johnson (the #17 seed) grabbed the silver medal, and Kyle Lewis (the #9 seed) snagged the bronze.
A similar story unfolded again on the women’s singles division, as two first-time pro pickleball medalists topped the podium. Mary Brascia (the #4 seed) bested Anna Bright (the #2 seed) twice on the day, giving Brascia the gold medal (and her first pro pickleball medal) and Bright the silver medal. Christa Gecheva (the #9 seed) also grabbed her first pro pickleball medal, taking home the bronze.
This trend of new faces—particularly in the singles divisions—is likely to continue. As pro pickleball purses grow, more and more current and former tennis players will trickle in to the pickleball brackets. And, these tennis players will continually have more and more talent as the prize money swells. Plus, with singles pickleball being easier for tennis players to grasp and pick up (as compared to doubles pickleball), these fresh-faced tennis players will find success and find the podium in more and more events.
On a weekend with no double-dips from the back draw in any division (doubles and singles alike), and only one championship match going to three games, there were certainly some solid performances from the winners.