Championship Sunday on Monday: Veolia Austin Open PPA Finals Recap

Ben Johns
Ben Johns PPA 2024 (Picture Kerry Pittenger)

At the 2024 Veolia Austin Open, the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) Finals unfolded not on the traditional Championship Sunday but, on Monday due to rain delays. Among the highlights were Ben Johns winning gold on his birthday in Men’s Singles, Judit Castillo’s breakthrough victory in Women’s Singles, and the dynamic duo of Andrei Daescu and Anna Bright clobbering the Mixed Doubles title.

Men’s Singles

Gold Winner: Ben Johns

Ben Johns overcame Federico Staksrud in a match that was a real test for Federico because even though Ben has beaten Federico 7 out of the 9 times they have been matched up, there has been a lot of talk about Federico being the one who could dethrone the goat on a regular basis. The event, set against the backdrop of the Veolia Austin Open, was marred by challenging wind conditions, so there was an extra layer of uncertainty for the players.

The match began with Staksrud showing strong form, quickly gaining a lead. You could tell the angst in Ben’s demeanor saying “it’s so freakin windy” plus a warning for paddle abuse. He was also dealing with emotions from the previous mixed doubles final he was in just minutes earlier, where he and Anna Leigh Waters got swept in 3 games against Daescu and Bright.

Eventually, though, Ben capitalized on a series of unforced errors by Staksrud and things started clicking for him.

Women’s Singles

Gold Winner: Judit Castillo

In the women’s singles match, Judit Castillo took gold, claiming her first career PPA title at the Austin Open. Kaitlyn Christian, a tennis convert who has quickly made a name for herself in the pickleball world, faced off against Castillo.

Kaitlyn Christian plays super fast and aggressive, which seemed to be paying off as she managed to secure the first game with an 11-8 victory, but Castillo was not deterred by the early setback at all.

The second game saw a remarkable turnaround, with Castillo adapting her strategy to counter Christian. By making Christian hit backhand volleys from a lower position, Castillo was able to extract errors and gradually build a lead. Christian was trying to rally back, but Castillo took the second game.

In the final game, Castillo started leveraging her foot speed and defensive skills, and managed to create opportunities for passing shots that ultimately secured her the victory with an 11-7 win in the third game.

Interviews

Following her historic win, Judit Castillo expressed her disbelief and joy at securing her first PPA title. She credited her physical trainer for keeping her in top shape and emphasized the importance of physical fitness in singles pickleball.

When asked about her transition from tennis to pickleball, and whether or not she would continue playing pickleball, Castillo firmly stated her commitment to pickleball. She plans to celebrate her win with a well-deserved day off before focusing on upcoming tournaments.

Judit Castillo:

“Speechless, pretty much. Did not expect it. She played amazing the whole week, so I’m just glad I came up with something different. I don’t know what I did, but I’m glad that it worked out.”

Mixed Doubles

Gold Winners: Andrei Daescu and Anna Bright

Andrei Daescu and Anna Bright had a remarkable win at the Humana Championship Court, overthrowing the seemingly unbeatable duo of Anna Leigh Waters and Ben Johns in a pulsating final. Waters and Johns entered as the favorites, but Daescu and Bright, they were not messing around, they came out swinging…

The match was not without its moments of brilliance from Waters and Johns, but the day belonged to Daescu and Bright.

Interviews

Andrei Daescu:

“You know, we played really well pretty much the whole match. They’re obviously super, super good players. I don’t know, last time they were defeated.”

Anna Bright:

“Oh, it’s just having to ride the wave. It’s really windy out here. I don’t know if that translates to the people watching at home, but that favored us for sure. We knew there was going to be ups and downs, and we actually got down in game two, and I was panicking a little bit, but I’m just like, no, we got to stick with it. We got to stick with it, and he was 100% right. He really helped me out there, and just truly so proud. I think winning, beating good teams, great teams is always harder in a best of five format than a two out of three, and so even up two games, you know, you’re really — I’m like, oh, my gosh, this is still going to be really tough, and thankfully we’re able to stay mentally solid through the conditions and come away with this one.”

Men’s Doubles

Gold Winners: Andrei Daescu and Matt Wright

Match Summary

Game 1

The game quickly moved to a 1-0 lead for Alshon and Navratil as they gained the first point. The scores were closely exchanged in the initial rallies.

Wright and Daescu made their first move by changing the score from 1-1 to a lead of 2-1. At a critical juncture, with Wright and Daescu leading 3-1, a challenge led to a referee correction, bringing the score back to 2-1.

Despite the correction, Wright and Daescu expanded their lead to 7-3. The game concluded with Wright and Daescu securing a solid 11-4 victory.

Game 2

Wright and Daescu quickly speed ahead to start, pressing their advantage to go up 6-1.

Alshon and Navratil took a time-out at 5-1, attempting to regroup and disrupt the momentum of Wright and Daescu, which did give them a brief respite, as they managed to narrow the gap to 9-7.

It was a good comeback attempt by Alshon and Navratil, but Wright and Daescu managed finish 11-9.

Game 3

The game kicked off with Zane Navratil and Christian Alshon racing to an early score of 1-0, then 2-0.

Not to be left behind, Matt Wright and Andrei Daescu clawed back into the game, first tying it at 2-2.

It was a tight contest between the two teams. However, Wright and Daescu began to inch ahead, taking the game to 4-2.

With Wright and Daescu leading, Navratil and Alshon used a time-out to regroup. Following the time-out, they managed to score, making it 4-3.

Despite the competitive start, Wright and Daescu started to pull away after the tie at 4-4. They embarked on a scoring run pushing further to 6-4, then 7-4, and maintaining their lead.

Interviews

Matt Wright on his collaboration with Andrei:

“Andrei is just so big in the middle. He played so well today. I was just along for the ride, all credit to him. I mean, he is such a battler. Love the guy. Just hats off to Andrei. He was awesome.”

Andrei Daescu on his collaboration with Matt:

“It means a lot to me, obviously, especially doing it with Matt. We’ve played a little bit in the MLP in the past. Our energy matches so well. I think he’s such a great competitor. And he was being very kind earlier. I think he played such a good, clean match here. And that’s why I was able to free up and take a lot of the middle and get into hand fights. And just know he’s got my back. So many times behind me, he was saving me out there. So just super happy to be coming away with the gold medal today.”

Matt Wright then offered his perspective on competing and staying relevant in the sport given his older age at 44:

“Well, I mean, it’s great to get a medal, to get the gold. I really don’t have a lot to say about it. I mean, I just try to stay relevant out here right now. I’m not getting any younger. That’s not lost on me. I have to try to match people’s athleticism with my energy and my competitiveness. And as long as I can do that, I’ll keep coming out here and giving it hell.”

Women’s Doubles

Gold Winners: Rachel Rohrabacher and Anna Bright

Rachel Rohrabacher and Anna Bright decorated themselves with gold at the Veolia Austin Open, toppling the previously undefeated powerhouse team of Anna Leigh Waters and Catherine Parenteau, ending Waters and Parenteau’s staggering winning streak. It had been over a year since they had lost.

Rohrabacher was attacking the middle with her forehand and it just kept working. Waters, with gold medals in 40 of 43 PPA events, looked out of sorts and the defending champs were facing an uphill battle.

Rohrabacher’s mental toughness was a topic of discussion, with her junior tennis background playing a pivotal role in her ability to handle high-pressure situations. You will see more of Bright and Rohrabacher on the PPA Tour, no doubt.

Interviews

In the aftermath, Rachel Rohrabacher and Anna Bright shared their thoughts and reflections on the match:

Rachel Rohrabacher:

“Honestly, we just came out and played our game. We’ve been making adjustments since the beginning of the year, and we’re really happy it came to fruition. Winning today was about winning a battle, but it’s still a war all year. We’re going to celebrate but then get back to work and replicate what we did today.”

Anna Bright:

“I’m really proud of us. We’re great friends and have been working hard on improving as a team. I want to say thank you to everyone who came out to watch us, even those who weren’t pulling for us. And a special shoutout to my new trainer, Connor Derrickson, whose physical work has really helped me out.”

That’s a wrap. Next stop will be in North Carolina April 1-7, 2024. Follow us on twitter or sign up to our newsletter to stay tuned.

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About Dan Langston

With experience in the ecotourism industry and time well spent as a fly fishing guide in the remote absaroka mountain range for 6 years, Dan brings a unique perspective on customer service to the digital world. As the operator, Dan is now committed to revitalizing Pickleball Portal and plans to build a support system for content creators and provide helpful information for the pickleball community. dan@pickleballportal.com

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