The PPA Tour was back in San Clemente, California—at one of the most beautiful venues for pickleball in the country, the Life Time Fitness, out there—for its second annual Orange County Cup. At this pickleball tournament, the PPA Tour teamed up with the Tennis Channel to bring the semi-final action, as well as all of the action on Championship Sunday. The PPA Tour also teamed up with the Tennis Magazine (affiliated with the Tennis Channel) to change the narrative around pickleball and tennis, from one of tension from feuds over court time to one of mutually beneficial co-existence. The results of this PPA Orange County Cup pickleball tournament featured new faces on top of the podium, including many young faces and many with strong tennis backgrounds (so, maybe the two sports can find common ground?).
Let’s breakdown the pickleball action…
Mixed Doubles Features Successful Audition?
After the PPA Orange County Cup, the PPA Tour is going on “summer vacation” with a seven-week break in their schedule. However, one player—Ben Johns (#1 ranked player on the PPA Tour and the cover of the Tennis Magazine issue that will spotlight pickleball)—started his European vacation early, as he left the country to spread pickleball in Portugal and Croatia. This left a void in the mixed doubles bracket next to teenage superstar, Anna Leigh Waters. But, to no surprise, she found a partner in JW Johnson, who seemingly has not entered an event that he has not medaled in as of late.
The pairing of Waters and Johnson took the #3 seed and fought their way to the finals after a thrilling semi-final against brother-sister duo, Riley and Lindsey Newman. In the finals, the pair would face off against #1 seed, Matt Wright and Lucy Kovalova. Fun fact, if you combine Wright’s age and Kovalova’s age, then they would be more than twice the combined age of Waters and Johnson.
The mixed doubles finals was epic, and went the distance of the full five games (as a reminder, the PPA Tour does a best of five games (play to 11, win by 2) on Championship Sunday).
Wright and Kovalova had a tendency to take an early lead in each of the five games. However, the teams split the first two games and Wright and Kovalova were challenging Johnson’s hands (which are considered to be some of the fastest and best in the game). However, as the commentator, Morgan Evans, proclaimed, “a happy player is a dangerous player,” and both Johnson and Waters were happy players, frequently smiling back to the baseline before the next serve.
Halfway through the third game, something changed. Waters became much more aggressive. She held the line and started driving more of the shots to her backhand in the hopes that either she or Johnson would clean up any counterattacks. And, it worked for game 3, but, in game 4, Wright and Kovalova were able to hold the teenagers off.
Then, for game 5, nothing could stop Waters and Johnson, who emulated the saying “speed creates chaos.” The pair hit countless “Shake and Bakes,” used their paddle and foot speed, and overpowered Wright and Kovalova. Not even two time-outs from Wright and Kovalova could slow down Waters and Johnson.
Needless to say, Waters and Johnson took home the gold medal in their third pickleball tournament together (11-7, 6-11, 11-9, 6-11, 11-1). And, with a relatively poor showing for Waters’ usual mixed doubles partner in the previous PPA stop at the PPA Atlanta Open, one has to question if we could see more of the Waters-Johnson match-up in pickleball tournaments to come. It may be up to Waters, as Johnson admits in the post-match interview, “Whatever Anna Leigh says, I agree.”
Wright and Kovalova took home the silver, and AJ Koller and Callie Smith battled the Newmans to take home the bronze medal. Shoutout to Koller and Smith! Also, shoutout to Lindsey Newman, who it is nice to see back in the mix.
Parris Todd Serves Anna Leigh Waters with Her First Loss in Women’s Singles in 2022
Anna Leigh Waters has been, in one word, dominant—particularly, in women’s singles. She has not dropped a match this entire 2022 calendar year, and she has won 7 out of 8 PPA Tour titles (the only one she didn’t win was the one she didn’t enter). So, it was no surprise that Waters would be the #1 seed and cruised into the final on Championship Sunday.
Up against the dominant force of Waters (who just came off a five-game mixed doubles thriller) would be #6 seed Parris Todd. Todd has been on her own victory route lately, as she has won three APP Tour titles in a row (including the New York City Open), as well as the Major League Pickleball team event. In other words, this was Todd’s fifth finals in a row.
The result was probably one of the best women’s singles finals on the PPA Tour. It was a match of runs that, again, went the distance of five games. It was a battle of Waters trying to entice Todd to come into the net and play her more “cat and mouse” shots around the pickleball court, versus Todd staying back at the baseline, relying on her tennis background (which included a brief pro tennis stint), and hitting strong passing shots.
In the end, Parris Todd prevailed and grabbed the match (11-8, 5-11, 11-4, 7-11, 11-3). Todd has quickly climbed to the top of pro pickleball after starting to play just eight months ago. Todd acknowledged that, to knock off the undefeated Waters, she watched previous matches and carefully strategized her attack against Waters. We will see if Waters counters, adapts her strategy, and reclaims her top spot, and if the Waters-Todd match up is a new rivalry on the women’s singles circuit.
Also, to note, interestingly, after the match, a PPA referee took both players’ paddles to be tested per the PPA’s new paddle testing rules and guidelines. Both players’ paddles seemed to have passed scrutiny.
And, again, shoutout to Callie Smith for her bronze medal in women’s singles!
Men’s Doubles Sees Riley Newman and Matt Wright Remain on Top
The men’s doubles final had the predicted #1 seed versus the #2 seed, which featured three out of four familiar faces. It was Matt Wright and Riley Newman on one side of the pickleball net, against Collin Johns and first-time partner, AJ Koller, admittedly attempting to do his best Ben Johns impression (as Collin Johns typically pairs up with his younger brother, Ben Johns). While AJ Koller did do a very good impression, and it was nice to see Collin Johns show his value on the pickleball court separate from his brother, they came up short (9-11, 11-5, 11-9, 11-2) against the now back-to-back champions in Matt Wright and Riley Newman.
Wright and Newman admitted that they did not like each other before deciding to put their feelings aside to partner up for the 2022 season—a smart decision by all accounts.
With that said, one of the best matches in the men’s doubles bracket had no medal on the line. It featured gold medalists Wright and Newman versus Jeff Warnick and Wesley Burrows. The men’s doubles match featured very little dinking and a ton of drives, body shots, “Shake and Bakes,” Ernes, etc. The only thing the match featured more of than fast, aggressive pickleball, was trash talking (which is to be expected when Warnick is either on the pickleball court or anywhere around the pickleball court). Warnick constantly poked the bear that is Matt Wright by sending jabs like, “Just think Matt (who is 44 years old), in less than 10 years you can play senior pro.” But, Wright got the final word. After winning the match, Wright got the entire crowd—who by that time, was cheering for every Jeff Warnick mistake—to wave “bye bye” to Jeff Warnick.
Lastly, shoutout to JW Johnson and Dylan Frazier for grabbing the bronze medal in the back draw.
Women’s Doubles Rivalry Between Team Waters and Lucy Kovalova-Callie Smith Continues
Women’s doubles featured another predicted #1 seed versus #2 seed. The #1 seed of Lucy Kovalova and Callie Smith fought their way to the finals on Championship Sunday after a tight semi-final match against Jessie Irvine and Lindsey Newman. On the other hand, the #2 seed, Leigh and Anna Leigh Waters stormed through their side of the bracket pretty handily, only allowing 17 points in 3 matches.
This was the eighth finals match-up between the two teams. Kovalova-Smith had taken four, while Team Waters had taken three, leading up to the eighth match-up. So, by looking at these close numbers, there is certainly a rivalry brewing. And, if you look just at on-court “Come on!” volumes, then there is definitely a rivalry already in place. Plus, Kovalova likely sought out redemption after losing a five-game thriller to Anna Leigh Waters in mixed doubles.
At the end of the day, it was Kovalova-Smith that continued their lead in head-to-head match-ups, as they won the PPA Orange County Cup in three straight games (11-5, 11-7, 12-10). Team Waters looked to be able to take game three, but Kovalova-Smith closed it out and attacked relentlessly.
Congrats to Lea Jansen and Catherine Parenteau for battling back and taking the bronze medal.
JW Johnson Just Wins Men’s Singles
Men’s singles rounded out Championship Sunday at the PPA Orange County Cup, in a match-up of the #1 seed, Tyson McGuffin, versus the #3 seed, JW Johnson. Johnson ended the day like he started it—with a gold medal. Simply stated, Johnson lived up to his “Just Winning” nickname and very matter-of-factly beat McGuffin in straight games (11-6, 11-6, 11-3).
JW Johnson won three medals on the weekend, and, joining him on this feat on the weekend, was his mixed doubles partner, Anna Leigh Waters, and also Callie Smith.
Shoutout to James Ignatowich for grabbing the bronze medal in men’s singles. Also, shoutout to Jay Devilliers for his first pickleball tournament back after getting stuck in France with visa issues, and also to Ky McMakin for snagging a game off of the “Flying Frenchman” while wearing a cowboy hat (yes, a cowboy hat).