IRT Atlanta Open Preview

Here it is; the moment you’ve been waiting for. The first Men’s pro tier 1 of the new 2019-20 season.

Draws are up on www.irttour.com and on R2 Sports Event Software here: https://www.r2sports.com/tourney/home.asp?TID=30291

The tour returns to Lilburn after a one-season absence, and is rewarded with a great 38-man draw and both both singles and doubles action. The top 10 players are here, then we’re missing the 11th-14th ranked players inclusive ( Jose DiazJake Bredenbeck (injured reportedly), David Horn and Luis Conrrado Moscoso Serrudo all miss this event, somewhat surprisingly for the first three). We’re also missing last weekend’s winner Charlie Pratt depriving the draw a bit of its mid-section talent.

This combination of missing players elevates Lalo Portillo all the way to the #11 seed here, his highest ever seeding in an IRT event. We’re also missing frequent tour participants like Jansen AllenAdam Manilla, and Felipe Camacho; all three treaded water or slipped in the rankings last season; is this a one-tourney blip or are we seeing a changing of the guard on tour? More to come here later. In the meantime…

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Lets preview the singles draw first.

NOTE: post publishing this analysis and the draw, Kane Waselenchuk withdrew from the event due to a personal issue. Take that into mind reading the below. I could see this most benefiting Javier Mar, who could get a walkover in the 16s and very well could run to the finals.

Notable round of 64 matches:
– #24 Maurice Miller vs Troy Warigon; a solid match-up between two solid players, who also happen to be playing doubles together this weekend. They met in the semis of the pro draw of the LPRT event in December on Troy’s home court (a Miller win); now the tides are reversed as Warigon travels to play Miller on Miller’s home court. Miller should advance here.
– #21 Kadim Carrasco vs MoMo Zelada; Carrasco is one of several Bolivian-based players to enter this draw. These two met in the opener of the Bolivian Grand Slam last March, a dominant Carrasco win. I like Zelada keeping it close but ultimately falling again to Carrasco.
– #19 Justus Benson vs Austin Cunningham; Benson takes on a talented local in a first rounder that could be closer than he wants.
– #23 Scott McClellan vs Michael Arterburn: two frequent IRT entrants face off in the opener.
– #18 Eduardo Garay Rodriguez takes on long-time touring pro Dan Fowler, who plays just his third IRT event in the last decade, making the drive down from Maryland along with Warigon and Zelada.

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Notable round of 32s, assuming some early upsets don’t occur:
– #16 Javier Mar vs #17 Sebastian Fernandez; tough match-up for both players, fitting of a 16/17 draw. I like both players chances of breaking into the top 10 with a full season on tour … but we generally only see Mar part time (He’s played just 7 events in the past 5 seasons). But Mar’s results speak for themselves; he’s always a threat to advance when he plays. I like Mar over the younger Mexican player here, but I like Patata’s chances this season.
– #12 Gerardo Franco Gonzalez vs #21 Carrasco: Franco takes advantage of the missing 11-15 ranked players to secure a top 16 seed and gets a winnable match against the Carrasco/Zelada winner.
– #20 Carlos Keller Vargas takes on #13 Thomas Carter, a tough draw for Carter facing the two-time defending PARC champ.
– #15 Andres Acuña vs #18 Garay: great match of two internationals; last time they knowingly played was in the 2014 Junior worlds (a tight Acuna win). Acuna has continued to impress with his international accomplishments, but Garay beat a number of top players last year and is looking to make some noise this season. Garay to advance but its a toss-up.

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Projecting the 16s.
– #1 Kane Waselenchuk vs #16 Mar: they’ve met 3 times; Kane crushed him at Syosset last spring, but Mar played Kane as tough as he’s been played in the best-of-three format at last year’s US Open. Mar’s tactical game can keep him in a match with Kane if he’s shooting well, but that only goes so far. Kane gets a quality match out of the gate but advances in two.
– #8 Sebastian Franco vs #9 Rodrigo Montoya Solis: the first of potentially many critical openers for both players as Rodrigo makes a run at the tour top 8. I don’t have any prior meetings between the two, so this should be telling for now, as both guys remain neck and neck at the 8/9 spot and should continue to meet at this 8/9 juncture for a bit until points settle out. I predict Montoya to advance.
– #5 Alvaro Beltran vs #12 G.Franco: they’ve played 3 times since Jan 2018, all three Beltran wins. I’d expect the same here; a win for Alvaro in 2 closer games.
– #4 Andree Parrilla vs #20 Keller; brutal draw for Parrilla. Keller was handily beating Parrilla at the Black Gold cup this summer when Keller had to retire; this will be a setback for Parrilla’s pursuit of the #3 spot on tour right out of the gate, because I think Keller wins this match in two.
– #3 Alex Landa vs #14 Robert Collins: just one meeting between these two; a 3-game win at the 2016 US Open. Landa should advance here.
– #6 Daniel De La Rosa vs #11 Portillo; this should be an interesting match; Portillo has gotten a ton of solid wins this summer, while DLR fell to his lowest ranking in a while. Is DLR in? This is just the kind of match that can trip him up if he isn’t focused. I’d expect DLR to advance here because his game is just too complete for Portillo right now, but Portillo has the talent to win.
– #7 Samuel Murray vs #10 Mario Mercado: 4 meetings between them, none in the last few years. They’re split 2-2, with all four going 4 or 5 games. I like Mercado here, building on his great Pan Am Games showing.
– #2 Rocky Carson vs #18 Garay; little to go on here but I suspect Garay will get a lesson in match management as the veteran advances in two.

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Possible Quarters:
– #1 Waselenchuk vs #9 Montoya: just two prior meetings between the two, both dominant Kane wins. It will be interesting to see if Montoya’s game has added the facets he needs to compete with Kane; i look forward to this meeting if it occurs nonetheless because there’s not too many other guys who hit it this hard on tour.
– #20 Keller vs #5 Beltran: Keller’s beaten Alvaro twice in the PARCs, including in the semis of the 2019 event en route to his title. I see another Keller tight 2-game win.
– #3 Landa vs #6 DLR; a frequent match-up between two top Mexican players: I now have Landa 7-5 in both pro and Amateur meetings with DLR, and you have to go back to 2017 to find a DLR win. I think Landa wins here to move on.
– #2 Carson vs #10 Mercado; 8 meetings, 8-0 for Carson, but Mercado took him to a tiebreaker on home soil in the Bolivian Grand Slam earlier this year. Look for a Carson win.

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Semis:
– #1 Kane over #20 Keller; Keller’s solid, but not this solid. It could be a fun match to watch though, in that Keller’s game does not really overpower players, but he hangs in. Can he hang with Kane’s power? 
– #2 Carson vs #3 Landa; Carson leads 7-4 all time … but they’re dead even split in the last 3 seasons 4-4, alternating wins. Carson won in Syosset to end last season … but Landa beat him handily in Florida the week before en route to that title. I like Rocky here.

Final: Kane over Rocky. 1 vs 2 yet again. I know nobody wants to predict the obvious 1-2 final, but as we saw last year when Rocky and Kane had locked up the top two slots with a couple of events yet to go … there’s still a gap between them and the rest of the tour.

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Men’s Doubles preview

Love this Doubles draw. The top of the draw is stacked, and there’s 11 solid teams. Portillo and Parrilla have decided to play together every event, adding to the intrigue of doubles draws with more and more “regular” teams showing up. All four quarter finals look like they’ll be great.

In the top half, look for Ben Croft/Waselenchuk to get stretched to the limit by the Mar/Montoya team (who just won gold at the Pan Am games) before advancing to face their frequent nemesis team of DLR/Beltran in one semi.

In the bottom half, I like the Colombian national team of Mercado/Franco to top Parrilla/Portillo and to face the #2 seeded Landa/Murray team, who continues to have great success playing with each other semi.

Croft/Waselenchuk took out DLR/Beltran the last time they played (Mar 2019) and we’ll go with that again, as they then continue to beat Landa/Murray in the final.

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Lets get it on. Look for Streaming announcements in all the usual places all weekend.

International Racquetball Tour
International Racquetball Federation – IRF

IRT 2018 US Open Qualifying Review and Round of 32 and 16 Preview

We’re through two rounds of (often grueling) qualifying and are to the main draw. Here’s some thoughts about notable matches or surprises (to me) from qualifying and a look ahead at the first two rounds of the main draw.

r2sports main draw link here.

Qualifying Results of note:
– #17 Seed Thomas Carter(aka, the highest seed forced to qualify) lost the first game 0 before recovering to advance to the main draw.
Dylan Reid took a solid 11-8 win over veteran Guatemalan Edwin Galicia.
Scott “the Ref” McClellan fought back from dropping the first game to advance to the main draw.
– Daniel Maldonado saved match point in game 2 before advancing in breaker over David Austin.
Ricardo Diaz got a solid win over WOR Vegas singles titlist Nick Montalbano.
Jay Munoz got a win over Set Cubillos Ruiz in his IRT debut
– Ohio’s Kyle Ulliman got a solid W over Wayne Antone IV.
– Costa Rican Alexander Pirie took a solid win over Austin Cunningham.
Mauro Daniel Rojas had to work to get past IRT veteran Hiroshi Shimizu, who first played on the IRT tour in 2002. When Rojas was 4.
– Touring pro Robert Collins got a close 2-game win over long-time IRT player Alejandro Herrera Azcarate to advance to the main draw.

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Round of 32 matches to watch for:

– #9 Jansen Allen v #24 Rodrigo Montoya Solís; though this may be an upset by seed, few consider Montoya the underdog here. The big question for rball fans is the state of his ankle. Allen is no slouch and if Montoya is hobbled we’ll know pretty quickly.

– #12 Jose Diaz vs #23 Gerardo Franco Gonzalez; both players are capable of upsets and this should be an interesting contrast in playing styles.

– #13 Charlie Pratt vs Diego Garcia Quispe; great matchup of youth versus experience. Pratt’s cerebral playing style will likely control the youngster in this match … but Garcia plays like a veteran. Still amazing that a 16U player has made it this far already.

– #14 Adam Manilla vs #19 Javier Mar; upset alert here. Manilla went deep in the tour’s first event, making the quarters … but Mar has WRT titles and Mexican national titles and a run to the US Open quarters last year. Which Mar will show up though? Manilla has his hands full here.

– #6 Sebastian Franco vs #27 Mauro Rojas; Rojas beat Franco once before on the IRT, two years ago in Kansas … when he was just 16. Now freshly graduated from Juniors he’s been saddled with tough draws as he plays the tour full time. I like his game; he hits the ball really heavy and its just a matter of time before he gets a breakthrough win.

– #7 Samuel Murray vs #26 Luis Conrrado Moscoso Serrudo; tough break for Murray, who made the final of the first IRT event of the season. Like with Allen-Montoya, this will look like an upset by seed but Moscoso has more than established himself as one of the world’s top players by now irrespective of his IRT points.

Round of 16s that look interesting, if results go as I think they will:

– #24 Montoya – #8 Mario Mercado; Despite their international experience and long juniors history (they’re the same junior year, both born in 1996), I don’t have these two ever meeting in a senior event. If Montoya is healthy, he’ll be favored.

– #4 Daniel De La Rosa v #13 Pratt ; Pratt has wins over DLR in the past, and can play him tough. This could be a very tactical, strategic match.

– #26 Moscoso vs #10 Andree Parrilla; they met in the US Open last year, a 5-game brutal 11-8 win for the Bolivian. Parrilla plays everyone tough; there are no easy losses to Parrilla, who scraps and scrapes every point. Look for another marathon.

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We’ll be back Friday to preview the Q/S/Finals.

US Open IRT Men’s Qualifying Preview

It is upon us: the 23rd Annual US Open of Racquetball, held in Minneapolis, MN. Because of the size of this draw and the fact that it is our sport’s marquee event, I’ll do daily previews instead of talking about the whole tourney at once.

r2sports.com home page for the tourney is here.

Today, we preview the Men’s qualifying draw. There’s 69 players entered, slightly down from last year’s 73-person draw. The top 16 entered players get byes into the round of 32; the rest play two rounds of qualifying on Wednesday to earn their ticket into the main draw play starting Thursday.

This is the strongest draw you’ll likely see all season; 28 of the top 30 ranked IRT players are here (missing out of the singles draw is #25 Sudsy Monchik and #30 Ben Croft, who is only playing doubles this event). And a slew of dangerous international players ranked below the top 30 are here to make waves.

Just as a side note; I have several US Open-specialty queries at the site:
Matrix of all US Open finishes
Draw Sizes for all US Opens: (this year’s draw is solid … but comes nowhere close to the biggest ever pro draw in 2003).
Quarters/Semis/Final for all 22 US Opens
US Open Finish Summary, all players, all 22 events

Now, on to the qualifying preview…

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In the round of 128, here’s some interesting matches to watch out for:
– Dylan Reid, who does the fantastic Racquetball podcast “The Racquetball Show @racquetballshow is entered into the pro draw; he faces off against Canadian Jamie James Slamko in the first round (disclaimer; i’ve been a guest on Dylan’s show … so i can’t speak badly about him )
– Christian Longoria has a fun first rounder against Colombian veteran Andres Gomez.
– Tough Mexican Rodrigo Rodriguez makes just his second ever IRT appearance and faces off against IRT touring player John Wolfe.
– Mexican 18U player Oscar Nieto faces off against frequent IRT player Troy Warigon.
– Fresh off his WOR pro singles title last weekend, Long Island’s Nick Montalbano faces off against one of the Stockton crew; Ricardo Diaz.
– Bolivian 16U phenom Diego Garcia Quispe gets a first round date with fellow youngster from Mexico Erick Cuevas Fernandez. Both are still playing in the 16U ranks internationally.
– German Marcel Czempisz represents Europe for the first time in a while at this event, facing off against the reigning 16U world champ and 18U Mexican National champ in Sebastian Fernandez.
– Two up-and-coming American players face off in Wayne Antone and Kyle Ulliman.

Assuming some results, here’s some notable Round of 64 matches we may see and some highlights of the guys seeded in the 17-32 range who might make some noise this weekend.

– #17 seed Thomas Carter misses out on a protected seed by one slot; he’s fresh off his first ever pro quarter at the first IRT event of the year in Laurel. He should advance over either Daniel Maldonado or David Austin.
– #25 Scott McClellan (the Ref) may struggle to qualify for the main draw against the winner of Sergio Acuna & A.J. Fernandez.
– #24 Rodrigo Montoya Solís has shaken off an ankle injury sustained two weekends ago in the final of the Sonora Open. This is great news for this tourney, as the defending World Champion easily has the talent to advance deep into this draw. If he’s healthy, he has a relatively straight forward path into the quarters, perhaps deeper. He’ll get his first test, likely against Colorado’s Erik Garcia.
– #21 Gerardo Franco Gonzalez gets a brutal draw, with country-man Longoria playing into him. Franco is just 1-3 lifetime in top-level competitions against Longoria and may fall victim to the upset here.
– Montalbano and Warigon could have a good-ole East coast showdown to advance to the main draw; DC vs NY.
– #20 Nick Riffel is the unlucky recipient of a qualifying match against Garcia. I sense an upset here; Garcia played Adam Manilla tough in the pros at Laurel and made the Men’s Open final.
– #19 Javier Mar likely faces off against hard-hitting Bolivian Kadim Carrasco. Mar is a dangerous foe in any pro draw; he advanced to the quarters in last year’s US Open, downing two top 10 pros along the way. He’ll struggle to match that feat this year, playing into the #3 seed Kane Waselenchuk if he advances that far.
– #26 Luis Conrrado Moscoso Serrudo is one of the biggest names to watch this weekend; his ranking is solely based on his quarter finals appearance last US Open, where he played the King quite tough. He’s no unknown to the rball pro community though; he’s got enough international wins at this point to have long since made his name.
– Look for an all-Georgia winner take all and qualify match between Maurice Miller and Austin Cunningham.

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There’s some great racquetball to be had starting bright and early on Wednesday 10/3/18 (8:15am is the first pro qualifying matches).  Look for Facebook Live streaming from the IRT all day.