PPA Onix Austin Showdown: Pickleball in the Lone Star State

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Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

Professional pickleball is back at the upcoming PPA Onix Austin Showdown, coming off the heels of a wildly exciting Red Clay Florida Open at the beautiful Pictona at Holly Hill complex.

Here's everything you need to know as some of the games biggest stars prepare to dink and dunk the Lone Star State!

Weather Report

The pros move from the hot and humid weather in Florida, to the heavier colder conditions in Austin, Texas for the PPA Onix Austin Showdown. Average temperatures are expected to be in the 50s on both Friday and Saturday.

Most of the top pros should be familiar with tough weather conditions, having played in tournaments all over the United States. However, the newcomers may find it a bit challenging to adapt. Rain is also in the forecast for Thursday around noon, so we’ll see how that affects the singles schedule.

We saw rain earlier this year at the Hyundai Masters, but that was on a Saturday and matches were just pushed to Sunday so the event could be completed. With singles being on the first day of the tournament, the PPA has a much tougher job on their hands this go around. We may see some singles action get moved to Friday or Sunday depending on how long the delays are.

Johnson Twins PPA Debut

The Johnson twins are back and are making their PPA debut this weekend at the PPA Onix Austin Showdown.

One of the storylines heading into Florida last weekend was whether Parris Todd could hang with the best players in the world after spending the beginning of the year playing on the APP tour. Well, we got our answer, as she bowed out early in both doubles’ draws, walking away without a podium finish.

Now we pose the same question to both Hunter and Yates Johnson, can they perform up to expectations?

The Johnsons splashed onto the pickleball scene last year after giving up on their dreams of professional tennis. They had some nice results but Hunter Johnson was especially impressive in singles, making multiple appearances on podiums in the back half of the year. Hunter was in the conversation as a top 5 men’s singles player in 2022 but now he’ll have to prove that he still belongs there.

Will the lack of reps against the highest-level competition affect him as much as it did Todd? We’ll have to wait and see.  Meanwhile he and Yates were a middle of the road doubles team in 2022, so we aren’t expecting much from them with the depth that now exists in the PPA.

Riley Left with Lindsey Right

It was announced just before the PPA Tour Red Clay Florida Open that the Anna Bright + Riley Newman partnership was officially over. It lasted only three tournaments as they earned two medals and a 4th place finish together.

It didn’t come as a total surprise for those of us that watched (what would be their final match together) closely. Bright looked visibly frustrated by Riley’s lack of support and negative body language, most likely leading her to drop Newman in favor of her off court partner James Ignatowich.

With all the top tier females committed to other partnerships that leaves with Riley to play with his sister Lindsey Newman (who is a pickleball veteran and a great player in her own right) until another female becomes a “free agent”. The last time we saw these two together was in November at the PPA Takeya Showcase in Newport Beach where they placed 4th. With Riley taking a few earlier than expected exits the last two tournaments, we expect him to come out a bit more motivated in this spot to prove he is still the second-best men’s mixed player in the world.

As far as future partnerships go, it wouldn’t surprise us to see him team up with Jesse Irvine. Irvine has been rotating events with both AJ Koller and Jay Devilliers but Riley is a much better player in mixed than those two. Irvine and Newman were runners up at Hyundai Masters in January so there is familiarity there. For now, it will be Riley on the left and Lindsey on the right as any position on the podium this weekend will be deemed a success.

Back Staks This Weekend

Federico Staksrud started the year off strong in men’s singles, earning two silvers and one gold in his first three PPA events of the year.

It seemed as if Federico was solidifying himself as the 2nd best male singles player in the world and was potentially on his way to challenging Ben Johns for the top spot. However in the last two events he has failed to make the podium in what were much weaker draws than the previous three events.

Staksrud was taken out in Minnesota by JW Johnson, and in Florida by Dylan Frazier, both in three games. Both matches were tight and could have gone either way but Staksrud’s inability to adjust his in-match strategy is ultimately what cost him.

If there is one knock on Fed it’s that he can go on scoring droughts when he is misfiring on his passing shots. If he wants to continue to be seen as a top two men’s singles player he has to be more willing to grind out longer points when his A game doesn’t show up.

Bored Ben

As those who have competed in sports that played against people that aren’t on their skill level can attest to, it can become boring. It’s human nature to disengage and lose interest when your mind is telling you that you are going to win. But this is when we are most vulnerable to a loss and that’s what Ben faces this weekend heading into Texas.

He has already won three triple crowns this year in the four PPA events he has competed in so what else is there to accomplish? When his mind is right and his focus is there, he is virtually unbeatable but we saw that focus drift at times in Florida, especially in men’s doubles.

In the first round he and his brother Collin lost a game to the #32 seed before proceeding to win 11-5 in the third and final game. In their second-round match they were pushed to 9-9 before closing it out 11-9 in the second game. It didn’t make a difference in the final outcome but when that lack of a killer instinct carries over to the later rounds that’s when upsets can occur. March Madness kicks off this weekend so the question becomes will we see some of that parody carry over to the world of pro pickleball?

Break It Up

Women’s singles is becoming rather predictable these days.

The big three of Waters, Parenteau and Jansen have collected 13 of the 15 medals in the four events in which all three of them competed in, with Waters deciding to skip the Vulcan Championships in Minnesota. It would have been 14 but Waters withdrew against Salome Devidze in the bronze medal match this past weekend in Florida.

We have seen plenty of new talent break through on the men’s side, but we are still waiting on a fresh face to provide some staying power in the women’s game. We heard some buzz about Hurricane Tyra Black heading into Florida as she was selected in the MLP challenger shuffle draft and is a top 500 women’s singles player in tennis (we aren’t sure if she is committed to pickleball full time yet). However, she drew Anna Leigh Waters in round two and failed to score a single point losing 11-0, 11-0.

As we dive into the player entrant list in Austin we see a lot of the same names and faces but maybe one of these ladies has been working on their singles game hard enough to give us the surprise result we have been waiting for.

Flash in the Pan?

Oh boy are we happy to see this name in the singles draw again.

That’s right Collin Shick is back, only this time we see him coming! Shick’s run in Florida through the qualifying draw, into the main draw, and onto championship Sunday was one of the best performances we have seen from a newcomer since pickleball has been available to watch on live streams. What he accomplished just doesn’t happen but can he do it again?

He showed he has the skill set but competing with high expectations and a target on your back is a completely different animal. Shick only has three days to regroup and with all the distractions, along with the commitment that medical school demands, repeating his result in Florida will be nothing short of a miracle. Regardless, pickleball needs more stories like Collin and hopefully he has inspired some young talent to make the jump over to pro pickleball.

Podium Picks

Men’s Singles

Gold: Ben Johns: He’s only been beaten once all year in singles and the guy that beat him will be on the other half of the draw.

Silver: Federico Staksrud: We are backing a sure to be motivated Staksrud to find a podium that’s eluded him the past two tournaments.

Bronze: Connor Garnett: We are going outside the box here. We haven’t seen Garnett in the past few PPA tournaments but he is a stud with an elite two handed backhand. He placed 4th at the PPA Hyundai Masters in January taking out both Ryan Sherry and JW Johnson. Garnett should be well rested and ready to go.

Women’s Singles

Gold: Anna Leigh Waters: She is one of the best competitors there is and she is going to welcome the challenge of not losing back-to-back weekends.

Silver: Catherine Parenteau: Parenteau’s hot streak continues as Jansen offered little to no resistance in the women’s final in Florida. She’s clearly the 2nd best singles player right now.

Bronze: Brooke Buckner: We wish the draws were released earlier to see where Buckner will fall but her score lines this year have been impressive. She’s been knocking on the door with a 4th place showing in Minnesota and with Jansen choosing to sit out of the singles draw Thursday, we are going with Brooke to make her first PPA podium appearance of the year.

Mixed Doubles

Gold: Ben Johns/Anna Leigh Waters: Their dominance continues. It helps that the other top females outside of Parenteau keep changing partners. Continuity as a team takes time to build and rotating partners makes life that much easier for Ben and Anna Leigh.

Silver: Catherine Parenteau/Tyson McGuffin: They complement each other extremely well and showed their ability to tactically break down their opponent’s last weekend. They walk away with another silver medal.

Bronze: Riley Newman/Lindsey Newman: Riley will have a chip on his shoulder and is comfortable playing next to his sister. They take a bronze here over the likes of JW/Jorja Johnson, Irvine/Koller & Kovalova/Wright.

Men’s Doubles

Gold: Riley Newman/Matt Wright: It’s tough to win every single time you step out on the court so we are going against the grain and picking Wright/Newman to end the Johns’ boys run at 4 golds in a row.

Silver: Ben Johns/Collin Johns: If there is one team that is a true threat to the Johns’ boys is Wright and Newman as they relentlessly attack and avoid getting sucked into the Johns’ methodical style of play. That can lead to some higher variance score lines but it’s what’s required to beat them. Speed up early win firefights and hopefully gain enough momentum to steal the match late.

Bronze: Dylan Frazier/JW Johnson: There is a clear top 3 right now and no one has really been able to test Frazier/Johnson this year for that third spot, as they easily rolled past Mcguffin/Ignatowich last weekend.

Women’s Doubles

Gold: Anna Leigh Waters/Anna Bright: Pretty simple. Whoever plays with Anna Leigh is going to take gold. Bright reaps the benefits this weekend.

Silver: Etta Wright/Irina Tereschenko: Bold pick but we haven’t been too impressed with Jorja Johnson in women’s doubles so far this year, taking early losses with both Irvine & Parenteau in Florida and Minnesota. Wright looked good on the left this past weekend and Irina is a proven veteran on the right.

Bronze: Lucy Kovalova/Callie Jo Smith: Callie & Lucy took out Jansen/Jones in Minnesota for a gold, a result they desperately needed after a month of lackluster results. Jones/Jansen have been on fire but looked vulnerable against Schneemann/Kawamoto in the semifinals in Florida. You know Callie & Lucy tuned in and took notice.

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