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Pro Pickleball’s Common Themes in 2022

News Stacie Townsend 12-12-2022

As the 2022 calendar year closes the book on pro pickleball tournaments, the last storylines of the year were familiar ones:

  • Both Anna Leigh Waters and Ben Johns secured triple crowns (winning gold in all three of their respective events) at the final PPA Tour pickleball tournament at the National Championships in Orlando, Florida.

Pro Pickleball’s Common Themes in 2022 | Pickler Pickleball

  • Each of Simone Jardim, JW Johnson and Jorja Johnson secure two gold medals at the APP Mesa Open in Mesa, Arizona.

Pro Pickleball’s Common Themes in 2022 | Pickler Pickleball

Given the standout performances of these pro players during the last pickleball tournament of the year, let’s take a look at how their performance over the entire 2022 calendar year shook out (along with a few other notable players):

  • Anna Leigh Waters reigned supreme, as she played in 48 events over 16 pickleball tournaments, earning 8 triple crowns and 45 medals (with 38 being gold medals!). In other words, Anna Leigh medaled in a whopping 94% of the events she entered, and won gold in 79% of the events she entered. With her mother and women’s doubles partner, Leigh Waters, suffering an injury that will sideline her for the 2023 season, whoever is paired up with Anna Leigh for women’s doubles in 2023 will have a high likelihood of winning any time that they step on the court. 

Pro Pickleball’s Common Themes in 2022 | Pickler Pickleball

  • Ben Johns had a similar track record to his mixed partner, Anna Leigh Waters (in fact, the two did not medal in just one mixed doubles event together on the year)—although not quite as golden. Johns played in 49 events over 17 pickleball tournaments, earning 6 triple crowns and 45 medals (with 36 being gold medals!). In other words, Johns medaled in 92% of the events he entered, and won gold in 73% of the events he entered.
  • At the beginning of the 2022 calendar year, Simone Jardim noted that it would be her last year of professional play. However, after grabbing 20 medals over 18 pickleball tournaments (and three Major League Pickleball events), Jardim may realize that her time to compete is not up yet.
  • The Johnson siblings—JW and Jorja Johnson—were the “road warriors” of 2022, as JW played in 30 pickleball tournaments (plus 3 MLP events) and Jorja played in 29 pickleball tournaments (plus 3 MLP events). JW, in particular, snagged 70 medals in 83 events! Query whether this number of events is sustainable over the long term (or whether burnout would set in), but kudos to the Johnsons for making the most of it and winning a serious number of medals.

Pro Pickleball’s Common Themes in 2022 | Pickler Pickleball

  • Another “road warrior” is newcomer to pro pickleball Anna Bright. Bright, who played her first pro pickleball tournament at the end of February 2022, played in 28 pickleball tournaments (plus 3 MLP events—one of which she came away as a champion) and grabbed 37 medals. Bright will be a serious contender in 2023, as her skills and success only rose throughout her first year in pro pickleball. With her rising “stock,” Bright may be a potentially strong match for Anna Leigh Waters who will be looking for new partners in 2023 (as her mother and women’s doubles partner is out due to injury). Bright also paved a path for other tennis standouts to convert and have success on the pickleball court, so be on the lookout for new “bright” stars (*pun intended) looking to chart their own success stories.

Pro Pickleball’s Common Themes in 2022 | Pickler Pickleball

  • On the PPA Tour, two themes seemed to play out over the course of the year:
    • Men’s doubles was dominated by the Ben Johns—Collin Johns v. Matt Wright—Riley Newman rivalry. With that said, the Johns brothers had the edge, winning 11 gold medals to Wright—Newman’s 8 gold medals (of which 5 of these golds were wins that were head-to-head with the Johns brothers).
    • Women’s doubles was dominated by the pairings of Team Waters (Leigh and Anna Leigh Waters) and Lucy Kovalova—Callie Smith, as Team Waters secured 7 gold medals on the year, and Kovalova—Smith snagged 6 gold medals. With that said, other competitive teams emerged to challenge these top teams, including the late success of Jessie Irvine—Anna Bright and strong runs by players like Catherine Parenteau, Lea Jansen, Parris Todd, and Jackie Kawamoto (who claimed a silver medal in the final event on the year).
  • Many players converting to pickleball have success first in the singles bracket (as opposed to the doubles bracket). One such player that has had strong success in singles (and has contributed to some controversy along the way) is Salome Devidze. Devidze (who is a former professional tennis player) has claimed 14 medals in the singles division over the course of the year. On the men’s side, Federico Staksrud also had a similar background of tennis and success story in singles (claiming 14 medals). Two other players that have had great success in singlesalthough he has been in and around the game for many years—are Tyson McGuffin and Zane Navratil. McGuffin earned a total of 22 medals14 of which were in men’s singles (and 3 of the 14 singles medals were gold)—over 20 pickleball tournaments (and 54 events), and Navratil earned a total of 26 medals (9 of which were in men’s singles) and two MLP championships.

Pro Pickleball's Common Themes in 2022 | Pickler Pickleball

  • Quickly touching on MLP, BLQK will be the team to beat, as they have won 3 out of the 4 MLP events to date. Will they be able to maintain their success in 2023?

Pro pickleball is rapidly changing—from new ownership, to new rivalries (both at the player level and at the organization level), to new formats, to the introduction of tour cards, to more exclusivity, to new organizations, and more. The only thing that is certain in pro pickleball at the moment is uncertainty. So, as we look back on 2022 and turn the page to 2023, there are more questions and unknowns than ever before, including will the top players of 2022 remain at the top in 2023? Or, will there be new faces that usurp the top spots? And, who will you be rooting for in 2023? We will all have to watch to find out how the next chapter of pro pickleball unfolds…

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