Did you get a chance to check out MLP Mesa, Arizona as the 2023 season kicked off live on the Tennis Channel? If not, we have you covered!
This past weekend the world’s best and brightest pickleball stars took to the courts in Mesa, Arizona for an action-packed weekend of Major League Pickleball. This was the first of six events slated to take place throughout the season for MLP.
Related: PPA Hyundai Masters: Johns and Waters Triple Crown
After battling it out in a round-robin group stage, the MLP’s Premier and Challenger level teams were placed in a six team bracket for the right to be crowned the first champion of the 2023 season. There were some unforgettable matchups and excruciatingly close dreambreakers that could very well shape the future of pickleball.
Here is everything you missed at MLP Mesa Arizona:
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Major League Pickleball is split into two levels of play this season, the challenger and premier level. During the halfway point of this season teams will redraft and can choose players from the premier or challenger level to draft. There were just as many eyes on the challenger level as the premier level this weekend out of curiosity for who might get moved up. Here are our superlatives for challenger level play across MLP Mesa.
Challenger Level Teams To Watch: Orlando Squeeze, Bay Area Breakers, Chicago Slice, Utah BLQK, Brooklyn Aces, Atlanta Bouncers
The six teams predicted to move on to the playoffs heading into the weekend held true. These teams were the most talked about in the challenger level and for good reason. The Bay Area Breakers and Utah Black Diamonds distanced themselves, both earning a spot in the championship.
Standouts: Ewa Radikowska, Rachel Summers, Andreas Siljestrom, Coach Scott Crandall
The female tandem of Ewa Radikowska and Rachel Summers were a standout for most fans watching the challenger level at MLP Mesa. They both helped propel the Bay Area Breakers to a championship.
We’ve also seen a lot of pro tennis players take a shot at pickleball and we are still finding out that skills on the tennis court don’t always translate to the elite level of pickleball… that is unless you’re Andreas Siljestrom. The big man finished his first MLP event as the 15th ranked player in point differential and will surely continue to make a splash with his unique combination of skill and size.
Living Up To The Hype: Connor Garnett, Christian Alshon and Pablo Tellez
Connor Garnett was one of the names that was constantly being brought up as a player to watch, and boy oh boy did he live up to the hype. Garnett finished the weekend as the Number 10 ranked player in point differential percentage, and this was while going against the other teams’ top mixed doubles tandems. Lots of eyes on him and the dude delivered.
Christian Alshon and Pablo Tellez continued to impress, lifting the Bay Area Breakers to a championship. There is no question these two players are Premier level talents so don’t be surprised if they get called up to the big leagues during the next MLP Draft half way through 2023.
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Going into challenger level play, the Bay Area Breakers were labeled the heavy favorites to come out on top, and that held true. Without a doubt Christian Alshon and Pablo Tellez proved themselves as premier level worthy players, leading the Bay Area Breakers to the Challenger Level Championship without dropping a match. It wouldn’t be easy as they had to face off against the lefty tandem of Robert Cassidy and Olivia McMillan on The Utah Black Diamonds. Despite losing 3-0 the Black Diamonds should be more than proud with their performance, as all three games ended with both teams being frozen and us returning to a little traditional pickleball to end the games.
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Free agency in the very first event? Due to injury or prior planned engagements, two players from the premier level needed to be replaced by challenger level players whose teams did not move on to the playoffs. Meghan Fudge subbed in for Maggie Brascia on the California BLQK Bears, while Stefan Auvergne subbed in for Riley Newman of the SoCal Hard Eights. Despite being a sub-in, Auvergne left the weekend as the 17th ranked player player based on point differential percentage.
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The Premier level play of MLP Mesa was jam-packed with some of the most intense play we’ve seen out of any pickleball event. There were a number of upsets and players that took the next step in becoming pickleball greats. Although only six teams made the playoffs, there were a number of players who didn’t advance who we think stood out this weekend.
Best Of The Rest: Allyce Jones, Dylan Frazier, Stefan Auvergne, Federico Staksrud, Simone Jardim.
Despite not advancing to the playoffs, all five of these players ranked top 17 or better out of a pool of 48 players. Allyce Jones and Federico Staksrud both finished in the top 10 rankings, and i’m sure they’ll come back with a vengeance.
Simone Jardim showed she can still hang with the best of them, pulling off a couple of huge wins with Allyce Jones. Her presence is still a force in the women’s game.
Best Moving On: Julian Arnold, Catherine Parenteau, Ben Johns, Jorja Johnson
There were few mixed tandems as lethal as Julian Arnold and Catherine Parenteau at MLP Mesa. They dominated all weekend with a great combination of skill, strategy, and heart.
Ben Johns is already known as one of the greatest pickleball players ever, and he furthered that status leaving MLP Mesa as the top ranked player in point differential. Jorja Johnson has also been on a meteoric rise since entering the pickleball scene and finished the weekend as the 9th ranked player in point differential.
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Out of all matches leading up to the championship game, none may have been more hype than the regional battle between the New Jersey 5’s and the New York Hustlers. 5’s owner and GM Gary Vaynerchuk was on-site during the match to witness his first MLP event and the intensity was second-to-none.
Trailing 2-1, James Ignatowich and Lea Jansen pulled off an incredible comeback (and a major upset) being down 20-14, over Tyson McGuffin and Anna Bright, at what was at that point the biggest moment in the tournament. The dreambreaker was hotly contested with the score swinging back and fourth before the Hustlers would ultimately win 21-19.
This is a matchup that pickleball fans will be relishing for years to come because it truly came down to the strategy of matchups. Fans everywhere were treated to sights they always wanted to see, like Anna Leigh Waters vs. Tyson McGuffin in a singles game that matters. The Waters vs. McGuffin dreambreaker illustrated how important dream breaker strategy is. Seeing Waters against McGuffin gave us more insight into what a top individual male vs a top individual female looks like on the pickleball court at the highest level.
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Player Rivalry of the Weekend: Travis Rettenmeier vs Julian Arnold
The first semi-finals matchup for the Premier level at MLP Mesa saw the Los Angeles Mad Drops square off against the Florida Smash. The Mad Drops were without a doubt the most dominant team throughout the weekend, not losing a single match. They took care of the Florida Smash in the semi-finals with a clean 3-0 sweep.
There was some loud jawing between Smash’s Travis Rettenmeier and Mad Drops Julian Arnold, all in good fun of course. That intensity spilled over to the rest of the team and gave us one of the most hype games of the weekend. Their last game saw Julian Arnold and Catherine Parenteau narrowly edge out Jessie Irvine and Collin Johns in a 22-20 mixed doubles game.
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We got to see potentially the most anticipated individual and team matchup in the Pioneers vs. Hustlers semi-finals. The Pioneers are led by Ben Johns, the top male player in the world. Closely following Johns in the rankings is Tyson McGuffin, the New York Hustlers lead pickleballer. McGuffin and Johns have battled it out relentlessly on the PPA stage, but this was the first time the elite athletes squared off in the MLP format.
The match went to a dreambreaker which was tightly contested to the end. The Hustlers were able to narrowly edge it out, winning 21-18 to advance to the championship. Going into the match we knew what we were getting out of top draft picks Anna Bright and Ben Johns, as well as players like Etta Wright and Tyson McGuffin. It was Lacy Schneemann however that would emerge and decide the game in a dreambreaker.
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The championship match between the Los Angeles Mad Drops and the New York Hustlers saw two former teammates turned rivals. Last season, BLQK won 2 of the 3 MLP tournaments behind the exceptional play of Rafa Hewett and Irina Tereschenko, so it was no surprise to see the two in the finals.
Anna Bright and Lacy Schneemann came out firing in the first game and gave the Hustlers a 1-0 lead. This was shocking to all viewers as the Mad Drops hadn’t even lost a game up to that point. Things were looking bleak for the Mad Drops, that was until Julian Arnold stepped on the court.
Going into the draft as one of the hottest players on tour, it was a shock to see Julian Arnold drop in the draft. He clearly used that as a chip on his shoulder and dominated Friday morning straight through Sunday night. He closed out the championship match appearing in two of the three sets that won the Mad Drops MLP Mesa.
This was an incredible start to the year for the Los Angeles Mad Drops. Tereschenko is distancing herself as maybe the greatest winner in MLP to date, taking home 3 of the last 4 tournaments. Only time will tell if Tereschenko will be lifting the Pritchard Cup again in Daytona Beach, Florida.
What was your highlight of MLP Mesa, Arizona? Shoot us a message on Twitter @137pm and let us know!