This weekend featured two big pro pickleball events—the PPA Selkirk Labs Showdown and the second of three Major League Pickleball events. With so much pro pickleball streamed all weekend long, “pickleball overload” felt like a real thing. As someone that is “all in” on the sport, the overabundance of pickleball livestreams made it hard to follow both events on a deep level and really get invested with either. Based on this fan experience, it sure would be nice if billionaire owners of the PPA Pickleball Tour and Major League Pickleball—Tom Dundon and Steve Kuhn, respectively—could find a way to cooperate with their money, resources, and business endeavors in a way that makes “2 + 2 = 5” for the sport of pickleball for the following reasons:
- Both MLP and the PPA Tour struggled with their respective livestreams from time to time—particularly, on Friday, August 5th, which was the first day of the events. While the PPA Tour froze or became glitchy near the end of the day, Major League Pickleball really struggled throughout the day with one of their two streams down entirely and the other stream topping out at 720p. This was very tough from a fan experience and probably led to a lot of fans “giving up” on the events pretty quickly after tuning in. Or, in my case, refreshing your computer and phone constantly for hours at a time. I’d like to think that, if the PPA Tour and MLP could combine money and resources, then these issues would disappear and the two could elevate the fan experience.
- Major League Pickleball has one of the most exciting formats in the sport. The team format brings more energy and excitement, while the rally scoring and singles tiebreaker brings a bit more drama to the game. In contrast, the PPA Tour tried a new format, which included three “random” pools of players with a day of round robins for seeding. Then, with the new doubles pairings based on the seeding, a single elimination bracket in each of mixed doubles, men’s doubles, and women’s doubles took place. While the PPA Selkirk Labs Showdown resulted in interesting new match-ups and partnerships, it also felt a bit like an exhibition event (rather than a competitive event). This could have been because there was limited money on the line (according to James Ignatowich on the latest Pickler The Podcast episode)—especially compared to the $100,000 prize for the winning team at MLP. Or, it could have been because chemistry was lacking with the new partnerships or maybe because usual partners did not want to give up any tips or strategies to new partners as this could be used against them for the rest of the year.
- As noted above, the two events had drastically different formats—from team v. individual, to scoring (side out v. rally scoring or first to 11 v. 21), to whether the players change sides, etc. These two different formats on the same weekend make understanding scoring in pickleball—which is already difficult—even more difficult and confusing.
With that said, although a collaboration by the PPA Tour and Major League Pickleball would theoretically result in an even better event, both events—the PPA Selkirk Labs Showdown and the second of three Major League Pickleball Events—were separately successful. And, at this stage of the sport of pickleball's growth, more high-quality events and more broadcasts of the game is probably a good thing.
The PPA Selkirk Labs Showdown Recap
The PPA Selkirk Labs Showdown showcased some amazing pickleball talent at the Braemar Country Club in California to kick off the PPA Tour’s second half of the season. The venue looked busy with spectators and pickleball fans, which included actor Jamie Foxx court side for Championship Sunday.
As noted about, the event used a new format to mix up the teams and pairings on the day. Despite the mix-up in format, many familiar faces still made their way to Championship Sunday:
- Ben Johns and Jessie Irvine battled against Matt Wright and Callie Smith in mixed doubles. In a tight three games (11-9, 5-11, 11-7), Ben Johns and Jessie Irvine came away victorious (Johns and Irvine could have had an edge because they have played together before).
- Jessie Irvine and Callie Smith stayed on the pickleball court for women’s doubles, as Jessie Irvine and Lucy Kovalova took on Callie Smith and Anna Leigh Waters. Callie Smith and Anna Leigh Waters cruised to victory (11-7, 11-6). Be on the lookout for these two—Smith and Waters—being on opposite sides of the pickleball net next weekend on the PPA Tour’s Skechers Invitational on CBS on Saturday, August 13th.
- And, a new face hit the Selkirk Labs red pickleball court in men’s doubles with a strong performance on the weekend, as Ben Newell and Tyson McGuffin took on Ben Johns and Jay Devilliers. But, Ben Johns and Jay Devilliers proved to be too much, winning 11-9, 11-5.
(Also, as an aside, the Selkirk red pickleball courts at the PPA Selkirk Labs Showdown were a good marketing idea, but made for a bright viewing experience. Remind us not to paint our future backyard pickleball court red.)
Major League Pickleball – Newport Beach Recap
Major League Pickleball unfortunately had some major streaming issues during its pool play on Friday, August 5th. But, MLP sorted the issues out heading into bracket play on Saturday and Sunday (including the finals featured on CBS Sports). MLP also upgraded with additional stats, like score breakdowns and individual and team rankings, and held an amateur event with its partner DUPR to pull more fans into the stands (in fact, there were about 1,300 amateur players in the DUPR Waterfall event and DUPR passed out about $100,000 in prize money to the winning amateur players).
Heading into pool play, DUPR (the Dynamic Universal Pickleball Ratings system) seemed to predict that BLQK, with the highest combined DUPR ratings, would likely win the third MLP event in a row. Since DUPR accurately predicted the last MLP winner (BLQK), this seemed to be a good sign for BLQK, particularly because BLQK made it out of pool play as the #1 seed, has never lost an MLP event, and seems to have figured out the formula for success (Zane Navratil noted that “MLP is not about pickleball; it is about energy. And, we have the best energy”). Joining BLQK in the bracket would be the Ranchers (the #2 seed), Hard Eights, The 5’s, Florida Smash and ATX Pickleballers. However, bracket play followed the seeding, meaning that the finals would feature a #1 seed versus #2 seed in a BLQK versus the Ranchers showdown.
Despite the DUPR predictions and #1 seed, BLQK faced a challenge, as along the way through the event, one of BLQK’s pros went down with injury—Parris Todd seemed to have hurt her hamstrings. Todd sat out multiple matches leading up to the finals, as alternates like Rachel Rettger and Lacy Schneeman stepped in for Todd. Rettger and Schneeman played crucial roles in getting BLQK to the finals (which BLQK teammate Irina Tereschenko notably thanked and highlighted for their performance after the finals). But, once in the finals, the BLQK team agreed that Parris Todd would step back in.
Across the net from BLQK, the Ranchers looked like a different team from the previous MLP event outside of Austin, Texas. The Ranchers took full advantage of Major League Pickleball’s trade and supplemental draft rules in order to shake-up its team. The Ranchers traded Maggie Brascia to the Jackrabbits in exchange for Jackie Kawamoto, and the Ranchers dropped Austin Gridley in order to draft James Ignatowich. At the time, the pick-up of Jackie Kawamoto was applauded, while the draft of James Ignatowich was scrutinized. Ignatowich acknowledged this scrutiny on the latest Pickler The Podcast episode, but also hinted at how much he had been working on his game (and that, if he won, he would be upping his smack talk game, too). These new pros picked up by the Ranchers were crucial in the team’s success in Newport Beach, California.
With the stage set, the Ranchers brought the intensity (cue Anna Bright) and somewhat cruised to a victory (and $100,000 prize) in three straight games. The women of the Ranchers carried the team (as noted by teammate DJ Young in the post-finals interview), as they never lost a women’s doubles match throughout the event. This led to the Ranchers always starting out strong and with the lead, as women’s doubles always is played first in the MLP format. For their efforts, the pair—Anna Bright and Jackie Kawamoto—were named MVPs of the event. Congrats to the Ranchers (including owners Tim Klitch and Bryan Sheffield for their strategic moves in the trade and draft)!
The main two takeaways from MLP Newport Beach were that (1) trades can be powerful if done right; and (2) alternates can be crucial to keeping a team in the hunt for the championship (shoutout to the alternates, including Gabriel Tardio, who played amazing and beyond his years as a 16-year-old). With just one more MLP event for the year (in October 2022), it will be interesting to see if more teams shake it up with trades, drops, and drafts to get a little bit of that Rancher magic for the final MLP event.