The PPA Tour’s latest stop at the Orlando Cup brought us some new faces and big surprises, as well as some of the hottest action we’ve seen this year. The tournament was one of our biggest yet, with more than 1,250 registered for the event, which was played over five days.
Weather and Staff
It was the PPA’s debut tournament in Orlando, FL, as well as the Tour’s first time using the USTA National Campus. Although the five days of play were buffeted by wind, rain, humidity, and intense sun in succession, nearly all of the amateur and professional events were able to finish, thanks to nearly 16 hour days that started at 8:00am and ran late into the night. A HUGE thanks goes out to Melissa McCurley and the entire PBT staff, the tireless, incredible team of PPA referees led by Don Stanley, and all of our hard-working volunteers. We couldn’t do this without you!
The USTA Campus was one of the largest facilities the PPA Tour has visited thus far, which made getting around on-site more complicated, but also allowed us to do more with the space, such as setting up an extra-large vendor village and adding four grandstand courts adjacent to Center Court. Fans enjoyed the option of being able to watch five matches simultaneously and cheer on some of the new faces.
Tennis Channel, which broadcast all the action on Championship Sunday, had staff in place all week to capture highlight reels of the pros. This content was used to create promotional materials that were put out throughout the weekend to encourage fans to tune in via the Tennis Channel network. Ben Johns, Tyson McGuffin, Jocelyn Devilliers, Simone Jardim, Anna Leigh Waters, and Catherine Parenteau shot additional clips with the network off-site to help introduce the sport of pickleball to new viewers and give fans an insight into their journeys on the Pro Tour. Connor Pardoe, commissioner of the PPA, rounded off the event by doing a guest feature on Tennis Channel Inside-In where he talked about the PPA Tour, pro competition, and the growth of the sport. The episode is called “Jimmy Arias Recaps the 2021 US Open & Professional Pickleball Association Commissioner Connor Pardoe” and can be found HERE (jump ahead to 31:30).
New Changes for Pro Draws
Another big shift was the PPA’s switch over to partially randomized seeding within the pro draws, which created some interesting new match-ups. The new system still places the number 1 and 2 seeds on opposite sides of the draw (as is traditional), but flips a coin to decide which sides of the draw the 3 and 4 seeds will fall into. This gives the number 1 seed the chance to play the 3 seed in the semifinals, rather than being guaranteed a match-up against the 4 seed. In a similar fashion, 5, 6, 7, and 8 seeds are also randomized for their respective slots within the draw. This means, for example, that the number 1 seed may see the 5 seed in the quarterfinals, which previously wasn’t possible. All players after the 8 seed are randomly distributed throughout the draw.
With no further ado, let’s jump into the action and talk Men’s and Women’s Doubles results from this week!
#1 seeds Matt Wright and Ben Johns breezed through to the final without dropping a game, taking down top teams Jocelyn Devilliers / Dylan Frazier and Dekel Bar / Adam Stone along the way. It was unusual not to see Devilliers playing with his long-time doubles partner Patrick Smith, but their new pairings in this event were an interesting change for viewers. Wright’s / Johns’ defeat of Bar / Stone 11-1, 11-4 put the team into the finals on Championship Sunday.
Up-and-comers AJ Koller and JW Johnson, who were the #7 seeds but had never made it to a PPA final up until this event, took the other side of the bracket by storm in a surprising sweep. In the biggest upset of the day, Koller and Johnson defeated #2 seeds Tyson McGuffin and Riley Newman in a three-game quarterfinal: 6-11, 11-9, 11-9.
Collin Johns / Steve Deakin were cruising through the draw until they came up against Rob Nunnery / Patrick Smith, where they were forced to withdraw partway through the match due to Deakin exacerbating his already injured wrist during one of their rallies. This victory put Nunnery / Smith into the semifinals against Koller / Johnson.
Unfortunately, due to excessive rain delays on Saturday evening, the second semifinal between Robert Nunnery / Patrick Smith and AJ Koller / JW Johnson had to take place Sunday morning at 9am before Championship Sunday coverage kicked off at 12pm. Although it was a close match, Koller and Johnson maintained control and ended up finishing Nunnery / Smith 11-2, 9-11, 11-3. You can watch that match HERE on the PPA YouTube channel (jump ahead to 38:15)
This put Johns / Wright up against the newcomers Koller / Johnson once Tennis Channel’s coverage began later in the day. The four players commented that although it was somewhat nerve-racking to be broadcast on such a massive stage, they were excited to be a part of history and ultimately felt that it was just another match once they began to play, since they had familiar faces of their families, friends, and fans to support them courtside.
Although the best-of-five final finished in three straight games, the points were hotly contested and Koller / Johnson had several game point opportunities in game two. Johns and Wright came into the match focused and confident, bringing their a-games to the court, which was too much for the challengers. It was evident that Johns / Wright would take no prisoners as they took the match 11-4, 15-13, 11-6 and won the right to hoist the Orlando Cup overhead in victory.
Watch Koller and Johnson join commentator and pro pickleballer, Scott Golden, to talk about their incredible breakthrough run HERE.
Results at a Glance
|GOLD||Ben Johns / Matt Wright|
|SILVER||AJ Koller / JW Johnson|
|BRONZE||Dekel Bar / Adam Stone|
The women’s draw was packed with world-class teams, but the finalists made it to Championship Sunday without dropping a game. #1 seeds Simone Jardim / Lucy Kovalova cruised into the semifinals to face-off against Irina Tereschenko / Lea Jansen, a match that, similar to the Men’s Doubles, had to take place Sunday morning thanks to the deluge of rain Orlando received on Saturday. Jardim / Kovalova finished their opponents off quickly 11-3, 11-5, and left the venue to rest up and prepare for the final which would take place later that day.
The semifinal between Jardim / Kovalova and Tereschenko / Jansen took place Sunday but was not part of Tennis Channel’s coverage, so it was live streamed instead to PPA Facebook and YouTube accounts. You can watch the match HERE.
On the other side of the draw, the #2 seeds Jessie Irvine / Catherine Parenteau had an exciting quarterfinal against Sarah Ansboury / Jorja Johnson, beating them 11-7, 9-11, 11-5. This put Irvine / Parenteau in the other semifinal against Leigh Waters / Anna Leigh Waters – a team that has come roaring back to the top this year after taking 2020 off from professional play due to concerns about Covid-19. Despite Irvine’s / Parenteau’s momentum coming into the match, Team Waters took a hard-earned game one 12-10, then captured their spot in the final by taking the second game 11-3.
This match cemented our Championship Sunday teams, with Jardim / Kovalova and Waters / Waters facing-off as the third match of the afternoon on Tennis Channel’s network. The match was considered to be the best of the day, with both teams displaying their best pickleball and their determination to capture the title. The tightly contested first game set the tone when it fell to Waters / Waters 12-10, who appeared to be unstoppable.
However, Jardim / Kovalova fought back to take game two 9-11 and it was clear that Team Waters would have to scrap for every point if they wanted to get the better of the #1 women’s doubles team in the world. Games three and four were full of epic rallies and long, emotional points, but ultimately, both went to Waters / Waters 11-8, 11-7. This won them the match and the well-deserved Orlando Cup title. Leigh Waters shed tears of joy as she hugged her daughter in triumph after the final point. Although they had come close in the past, this was the first PPA doubles title that the mother-daughter duo had won together.
Results at a Glance
|GOLD||Leigh Waters / Anna Leigh Waters|
|SILVER||Simone Jardim / Lucy Kovalova|
|BRONZE||Catherine Parenteau / Jessie Irvine|
All four finals from Championship Sunday (Men’s Doubles, Women’s Doubles, Men’s Singles, and Women’s Singles) can be rewatched at tennischannel.com, free of charge! The PPA will be able to post the full versions of all four finals on our YouTube and Facebook pages once Tennis Channel has re-aired the finals on their network.
Thank you to everyone who tuned in to all the action, supported the tournament and pros, and read this write-up! We appreciate each and every one of you! Next stop: the PPA Las Vegas Open!