The temperature wasn’t the only thing heating up in Kansas City this weekend. When the Vulcan Kansas City Open Presented By Chicken N Pickle kicked off on Thursday, August 24th, everyone’s biggest concern was the brutal temperature, which reached over 100 degrees, leading to rare mandatory hydration breaks in the middle of games.
Lucrative, Multi-Year Contracts
This development affected the players because they were being asked to choose between signing with the PPA or MLP while playing multiple tournament events in the heat.
The decision could have massive consequences for their careers, and the pressure to choose quickly was intense. We heard about secret phone calls taking place in every corner of the venue between matches.
Men’s Singles – Tyson McGuffin vs. Ben Johns
Singles Day was by far the hottest day of the tournament, and you could see the athletes battling through the conditions.
Ben Johns, chasing another triple crown, breezed through his side of the bracket, not dropping a game all day. He beat Bryan Hammond (11-5, 11-7), Quang Duong (11-4, 11-4), Jaume Martinez Vich (11-4, 11-4), and Julian Arnold (11-7, 11-5), earning his first of three spots on Championship Sunday.
Tyson McGuffin also won each of his matches in two games despite facing two of the best singles players in the game: Connor Garnett (11-9, 11-2) and the #2 seed, Federico Staksrud (12-10, 11-5). Staksrud took bronze, and Arnold walked away with an impressive fourth-place finish.
The importance of another Johns/McGuffin match-up in a final became clear as the weekend progressed. Because Johns signed with the PPA and McGuffin with MLP, this could be the last time we see these two players battling it out. On Sunday, Johns defeated McGuffin (11-2, 11-9) to secure the triple crown.
Women’s Singles – Catherine Parenteau vs. Anna Leigh Waters
Like Johns, Anna Leigh Waters needed a singles win at the end of the day on Sunday to secure her 17th triple crown. She faced her doubles partner, Catherine Parenteau, in a match-up we’ve seen before and will likely see repeated in 2024.
Many top female singles players, such as Lea Jansen and Tyra Black, the latter of whom recently handed Waters her second loss of the year, have signed with MLP. In the gold medal match, Waters defeated Parenteau (11-6, 11-9).
Jorja Johnson had an impressive weekend. In the past, she regularly played singles and won many titles on the APP tour, but she hasn’t played as often this year. Coming in as the #11 seed, she took down the #3 seed, Mary Brascia (11-7, 11-8), and gave the #2 seed, Catherine Parenteau, a run for her money in the semi-finals, barely losing the second game (11-13).
She then defeated Lauren Stratman, who has been having success in singles recently, in the bronze medal match (11-1, 11-8).
Mixed Doubles – Newman/Irvine vs. Johns/Waters
When the players walked into mixed doubles day on Friday, they had a lot more than their matches on their minds. Without taking away from the outstanding performances of some teams, this added stress could have contributed to some of the big upsets.
The first major upset we saw was the #3 seed and reigning gold medalists, Parenteau and McGuffin, who were both coming off of big wins in singles the day before, getting beaten by the #30 seed, Game Tardio and Milan Rane (11-6, 11-9). Tardio and Rane went on to have an excellent day, taking down Pat Smith and Irina Tereschenko (11-7, 11-2) and Dylan Frazier and Andrea Koop in a tough 3-game battle (10-12, 11-5, 11-9).
Ultimately, they lost in the semi-finals to Riley Newman and Jessie Irvine (11-5, 15-13). In the intense second game, it became clear that the players may have been preoccupied, as you could hear Irvine telling herself out loud to focus.
Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters had a relatively easy day, only dropping 1 game to Christian Alshon and Hurricane Tyra Black. Each secured their shot at a second out of three gold medals needed to achieve a triple crown.
On Sunday, it was a bloodbath. Waters and Johns only gave up 4 points in 3 games to Irvine and Newman (11-2, 11-1, 11-1). It’s impossible to know what was going on in Irvine and Riley’s minds other than the match, but if this is how Johns and Waters win on Sundays now, how will 2024 pan out with the smaller talent pool in the PPA?
This could also mark the last meeting between Johns and Newman, long-time rivals, as Newman signed with MLP.
Women’s Doubles – Waters/Parenteau Vs. Bright/Dizon
The tension hadn’t let up when Saturday arrived. Early that morning, Lea Jansen tweeted, “Hard to find motivation to even care about the tournament today.”
Hard to find motivation to even care about the tournament today.— Lea Jansen (@LeaJansenPB) August 26, 2023
After a couple of months apart, Catherine Parenteau and Anna Leigh Waters were playing together again, hoping to continue their undefeated streak. They breezed through the day, only giving up 14 points in 3 matches.
On the other side of the bracket, Waters’ other women’s doubles partner, Anna Bright, was hoping her new partnership with Megan Dizon was the winning formula to finally beat Waters and Parenteau. While they were able to push through and make it to Championship Sunday, it was not easy. Their matches against Lacy Schneemann/Hurricane Tyra Black (11-2, 10-12, 11-2) and Jackie Kawamoto/Irina Tereschenko (11-8, 9-11, 11-2) both went to three games.
We saw another big upset early in the day when the #4 seed, Lea Jansen and Jessie Irvine, fell to Rachel Rohrabacher and Rianna Valdes (11-6, 11-9), possibly confirming Jansen’s previous statements about how hard it was to play your best in the current circumstances.
On Sunday, Bright and Dizon played a great match, even taking game 2, but it wasn’t enough to defeat the undefeated Waters and Parenteau (11-7, 7-11, 11-3, 11-4). Like mixed doubles, it’s hard to imagine who will challenge the top team in a smaller talent pool and may be in for another year of watching Waters and her partner win week after week. Bright and Dizon, who could have possibly grown into a dangerous duo, both signed with MLP.
Men’s Doubles – Johns/Wright Vs. Johnson/Frazier
The biggest story going into the weekend was the resurgence of the previously long-time and successful partnership of Matt Wright and Ben Johns. They had a slow start on Saturday, dropping the first game to Ben Newell and Daniel De La Rosa before taking games 2 and 3 (5-11, 11-3, 11-3) and then not dropping another game for the rest of the day. It was business as usual when they beat DJ Young and Tyler Loong (11-3, 11-3) and Christian Alshon and Zane Navratil (11-8, 11-5). As in many previous tournaments, they were off to the gold medal match.
To get to the semi-final match, Navratil and Alshon had to beat the solid team of Hayden Patriquin and Callan Dawson (11-6, 10-12, 11-8) and the #4 seed Federico Staksrud and Pablo Tellez (12-10, 10-12, 11-5). They truly earned their impressive 4th-place finish.
On the other side of the bracket, J.W. Johnson and Dylan Frazier were playing practically flawless pickleball. Frazier had packed the stands with friends and family, as he was the hometown favorite. They were even able to beat the reigning gold medalists, Tyson McGuffin and James Ignatowich (11-5, 11-10). To pickle a team as strong as McGuffin and Ignatowich is quite the feat.
McGuffin and Ignatowich went home with bronze, not a bad result in the tough men’s field.
The gold medal match between Johns/Wright and Johnson/Frazier was full of streaks and close until the 4th game. Johns and Wright were able to secure the victory (11-9, 9-1, 11-7, 11-3). It’s notable that Wright praised Johns as the unchallenged GOAT of the game, which may have been a slight jab to his former partner, Riley Newman, who has been considered by many, Johns’ closest competition for years.
Throughout 2024, Johnson and Frazier have solidified themselves as the #2 men’s doubles team on the PPA tour (which Johns even confirmed in his post-match interview). At the time this article was published, neither had signed with MLP or the PPA, so it’s up in the air if we’ll see them continue to chase the #1 spot in 2024.
What Happens Next?
Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters winning triple crowns have become expected rather than an impressive accomplishment. It didn’t seem like they were ever really challenged throughout the weekend. With the future of the PPA roster up in the air, it’s tough to imagine this not being the case in 2024, with many top players no longer on tour.
The question is, will the fans grow bored of the same results week after week? Across all sports, audiences love tight rivalries and big upsets. It doesn’t look like we’ll see much of that any time soon.
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