USA National Singles Preview

Rajsich looking for her 9th straight title this weekend.

Its the week before Memorial Day Weekend, which means that its time for USA Racquetball National Singles!

r2sports link: https://www.r2sports.com/portfolio/r2-event.asp?TID=30549

This year’s version of event is the 52nd iteration of the event, and is as far as I know the longest running racquetball tournament in existence. It was first held in 1968 in Milwaukee, where two legends competed in the final (Bill Schultz defeated Hall of Famer Bill Schmidtke in the final).

Here’s a list of every Men’s Open champ since 1968: http://rball.pro/896B5B.

In 1970, the first Women’s national champion was crowned: Fran Cohen won the first Women’s national title in St. Louis.

Here’s a list of every Women’s Open champ since 1970: http://rball.pro/A75737

Record holders for Most National Titles?
 Rocky Carson holds 7 National titles, winning his first in 2000 and his most recent in 2017. Interestingly, despite still being ranked #2 on the pro tour, Rocky did not compete in the 2018 version, nor is he in this weekend’s draw.

– Rhonda Rajsich holds 11 National titles, winning her first in 2004. She’s also the defending champ, the #1 seed this weekend and has won the last eight National events.

Your defending champs are David Horn and Rajsich. I’m not entirely sure how Horn drops to the #3 seed behind Jake in particular (who he has bested round for round in the last few national qualifying events)., but would have had to play Pratt in the semis regardless so its a minor seeding nit.

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Men’s Singles:

Lets preview some of the match-ups i’ll be looking for:
In the 16s:
– #8 Luis R Avila vs #9 Robert Collins; 8/9 match-ups are always tough, and this should be no different. Lefty touring pro Collins versus the defending outdoor 3-wall champ Avila, who periodically comes indoors and has some good wins on his resume. This is a good test for both.
– #5 Adam Manilla vs #12 Woody Clouse; Woody Clouse back in action competing for the National team … for the first time since 2006. Clouse qualified for the team in 2005 and represented the US in the Pan American Games in April 2006, losing in the final to Canadian Kris Odegard 11-9. He also had several top 10 pro tour finishes during the deep mid 90s tour days. Now he’s back at age 53, playing in his home town. He faces off against fellow lefty Manilla, fresh off of a second top 20 season on tour with some good results. I think Manilla moves on but it’ll be a fun L vs L match.
– #6 Thomas Carter vs #11 Nicholas Nick Riffel; two IRT regulars meet up; they faced each other 3 times in 3 months in early 2018, with Carter taking 2 of 3. Riffel had a tough end to his 2018-19 tour, forfeiting out of Syosset with an injury. Meanwhile Carter had a nice run at the end of the season, getting a couple of solid wins and making the main draw in both Florida and NY. Advantage Carter here. 
– #7 Dylan Reid vs #10 Jeff Stark; two West Coasters who have played more than a few times meet up in the first round. I think the podcasting Reid is favored here but they know each other’s game.

Man, lots of Lefties in action. At least four, maybe more. Something in the water in Denver maybe.

Projecting the Qtrs:
– #1 Jake Bredenbeck vs Avila: Jake struggled with upsets all season … then blew it out in NY, taking out Pratt, Daniel De La Rosa and nearly beating Andree Parrilla. So which Jake shows up? 
– #4 Jose Diaz vs #5 Manilla: they’ve only played a couple times, but both matches were 3- or 5-game tiebreakers. I like Diaz here … in a tiebreaker.
– #3 Horn vs #6 Carter: I don’t think they’ve ever played in a top-level event … so a first for everyone. Horn should win this one in two closer games.
– #2 Charlie Pratt vs #7 Dylan Reid: another match-up of two upper northwestern guys, both hailing from Portland. Fly all the way to Denver … have a repeat of your tuesday night game. Pratt’s solid and advances here.

So i’m predicting Chalk to the semis … and then for some upsets to happen.

Semis:
– #4 Diaz over #1 Jake: they’re pretty even career-wise h2h, but havn’t played in a year and a half. I like Diaz here. Diaz had the better season, nearly slipping into the top 10 and jumping Jake in the rankings. 
– #2 Pratt over Horn: They played in December in Portland, a close 2-game win for Pratt, and I like the year Pratt is having so far.

Final:
– #2 Pratt over Diaz. head to head, Diaz has never lost to Pratt. But something tells me Pratt is on a mission this year.

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Women’s Singles: just 9 in this draw, but some good match-ups towards the back and one incredibly poor seeding job:

In the Quarters:
– #1 Rajsich over #8 Cassandra Cassi Lee
– #5 Kelani Lawrence over #4 Sheryl Lotts; here’s a seeding question. Lawrence made the Women’s singles final of the 2018 qualifier at Nat’l doubles, made the finals at 2018 Nationals, and made the finals at the 2019 Qualifier at Nat’l Doubles. So that’s basically the last three major National events…. how exactly is she seeded 5th in this event?? What more does she have to do to demonstrate that she’s basically the 2nd best American woman player right now?
– #3 Hollie Rae Scott over #6 Adrienne Fisher Haynes
– #2 Erika Manilla holds off retired LPRT legend Cheryl Gudinas

In the semis:
– #1 Rajsich takes out Lawrence in a rematch of the last three major US national team final, instead of in the final like it should be
– #3 Scott takes out #2 Manilla in a rematch of this year’s Intercollegiates semis.

In the final: Rajsich takes her 9th straight US title over Scott.

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Lastly, a note on attendance. There’s some separate conversations about the # of participants this weekend going on. Here’s a list of the participation numbers for the last 14 National Singles events (these are the “# of participants” from the r2sports page and should indicate unique players, not # of draw entrants):

2019: 191 Highlands Ranch/Denver
2018: 221 Pleasanton
2017: 243 Tempe
2016: 268 Highlands Ranch/Denver
2015: 377 Highlands Ranch/Denver
2014: 292 Fullerton
2013: 435 Fullerton (also IRT and LPRT pro stop)
2012: 559 Fullerton (also IRT and LPRT pro stop)
2011: 514 Fullerton (also IRT stop)
2010: 535 Houston
2009: 501 Houston
2008: 523 Houston
2007: 528 Houston
2006: 515 Houston

The event held steady in the low 500s its last five years in H ouston, then spiked during its Fullerton years thanks to simultaneous IRT and LPRT events (some of the pro draws from those years were amazing; 70+ mens pros competing). But we’ve seen a precipitous drop in attendance over the last few years, including a 100+ attendee drop from 2015 to 2016, now not even able to clear 200 players this year. 191 players isn’t even close to what National Doubles got this year (306) and that number is basically halved from the beginning of the century.

I know there’s some fundamental industry issues that are driving down these numbers. But this is the NGB’s marquee event. You can’t turn back time and make it the mid 2000s again (to say nothing of the mid 1990s), but you can strategize other aspects of the event to make it more appealing to a larger audience, and I hope to see some turn around in the coming years.

LPRT Syosset Open Singles Preview

In addition to the huge International Racquetball Tour draw in NY this weekend, there’s also a big LPRT draw AND a solid mixed doubles events combining both pro tours for just the 3rd time in the last few seasons (that i can see).

r2sports home page: https://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=30716

Lets preview the ladies singles draw. 21 ladies present, including 14 of the top 15 ranked players (only missing the newly-retired Gaby Martinez, who still sits in the top 10 from results earlier this season) are here and the draw is solid.

Qualifying/round of 32 matches to watch:
– #16 Montse Mejia vs #17 Hollie Rae Scott; an interesting match between the reigning 18U junior world champ and the reigning USA RacquetballIntercollegiates champ. Mejia is favored here but Scott has wins over top 10 players in the past and won’t go easily.
– #20 Maricruz Ortiz, a finalist in the World 16U juniors in 2018 and who just represented Costa Rica at the 2019 PARCs, faces off against #13 LPRT touring regular Cassie Lee.
– In the 15/18 match, 18yr old Ana Laura Flores takes on Ceci Orozco Pratt, an infrequent but long-time LPRT player.

round of 16 matches to look for:
– #1 Paola Longoria vs Mejia: wow, what an opener. Paola Longoria beat Mejia at the 2018 UnitedHealthcare US OPEN Racquetball Championships, but then Mejia topped her in the final of the 2019 Federación Mexicana de Raquetbol Nationals to claim the #1 seed at the 2019 International Racquetball Federation – IRF PARC championships. This is a semis or finals quality match right out of the gate. While Longoria remains the undisputed #1 player in the world, Mejia has the talent to be there some day. But on the pro tour, in the best of 5 format, Longoria’s superior fitness will win out and she’ll win on the day.

– #8 Frederique Lambert vs #9 Adriana Riveros; newly minted MD Lambert returns to the pro tour fold having shedded a ton of points as she finished off medical school. Lest anyone forget, Lambert was the #2 player on tour in both of the last two seasons … so she’s a threat to win whenever she plays. But how rusty is she? I think she advances here.

– #3 Maria Jose Vargas Parada vs #14 Yazmine Sabja Aliss; they’ve only played twice, both in the back end of IRF tourneys in 2018. Vargas held serve to top Yazmine Sabja Ráquetbol to win the 2018 South American Games, then beat her again in the quarters of 2018 Worlds. Both native Bolivians, they meet in NY where Vargas has been playing really solid lately and advances.

– #6 Natalia Mendez vs #11 Masiel Rivera Oporto; Rivera has been playing well this season, making a quarter in her home country Bolivian Open. Natalia Mendez Erlwein has been pretty consistently advancing to pro tournament quarters and had a great run at the PARCs, making the semis.

Projected Quarters; this is almost identical to last weekend’s Quarters, with only Lambert replacing Amaya.

– #1 Longoria over #8 Lambert: well, if Longoria wants this event, she’ll be earning it, facing last year’s 2nd best player here in the quarters. That being said, Longoria is 26-1 career on the LPRT over Lambert, so she likely moves on here.
– #5 Rhonda Rajsich over #4 Alexandra Herrera ; despite their seeds, Rajsich has never lost to Herrera (9-0 lifetime) and held on for a 5-game marathon win last weekend. I think she makes it 10-0 here.
– #3 Vargas over #6 Mendez: Argentina’s #1 and #2, long-time doubles partners, and now facing each other for the fourth time in the last six weeks. Vargas should triumph again.
– #2 Samantha Salas Solis over #7 Nancy Enriquez; they met in the quarters last week, a 3-game win for Solis who improved to 7-1 career on LPRT over Enriquez and should advance here again.

Semis and Finals: I’m predicting the exact same results as San Antonio; Longoria over Rajsich, Salas over Vargas, and for the 7th time this season a final featuring Longoria and Salas.

LPRT Sweet Caroline Grand Slam Preview

World Champ Ana Gabriela Martinez returns to the LPRT for the Sweet Caroline event.

r2sports.com tourney home page: http://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=30141

The LPRT is back in action, with its 6th event of the 2018-19 season. So far, #1 ranked Paola Longoria has made it 5 for 5 in wins, with four of those wins coming over her frequent doubles partner Samantha Salas Solis.

The annual event in South Carolina is a Grand Slam, and as such has drawn back into play a couple of intriguing players, which should make this draw more interesting than most. There’s 26 pros in the draw, tying a season non US Open high.

Top 20 players missing: #5 Frederique Lambert who has fallen to her lowest ranking on tour since Nov 2015 as she juggles school and some early upsets in previous events. #11 Carla Muñoz Montesinos misses just her 2nd tourney in the last two seasons. #13 Jessica Leona Parrilla remains on the sidelines recovering from her knee injury suffered last spring. And lastly #18 Yazmine Sabja Ráquetbol did not make the long flight. So we have 9 of the top 10, and 16 of the top 20 in the event.

Notably present is reigning World Champ Ana Gabriela Gaby Martinez, who is back and ranked #9 (likely seeded 8th) after making the semis in the first two events of the season and then missing the next three.

Lets preview the draw.

Notable round of 32 matches; there’s a ton of tough openers in this tourney.

– #16 vs #17 Masiel Rivera Oporto versus Brenda Laime Jalil; tough match for both ladies right out of the gate. Both players are playing the tour full time this year and are both looking for a breakthrough win. And … they’re playing doubles together. 
– #14 vs #19: Maria Renee Rodríguez faces Kelani Lawrence in another tough opener for both. Lawrence has less pro experience but has proven her mettle in the USA amateur draws, while Rodriguez has a ton of international experience and has represented Guatemala in Juniors and Adult draws for nearly a decade.
Cassandra Lee vs Laura Brandt: youth versus experience here in an intriguing first rounder.
– #10 Adriana Riveros versus #23 Cecilia Ceci Orozco Pratt: Riveros should prevail but she probably would have hoped for an easier first rounder.
– #15 Susana Susy Acosta vus #18 Ana Laura Flores : two Mexican lefties representing the two major Rball-playing communities (Chihuahua and San Luis Potosi) in the country battle it out in the first round. They met at the US Open with the youngster coming out on top and I’d lean that way again.

Round of 16 interesting matches:
– #8 vs #9: Cristina Amaya Cris vs Ana Gabriela Martinez: tough match-up for both players. They met at this stage in this event three years ago, an Amaya win, but Martinez has a whole lot of silverware since. 
– #3 Alexandra Herrera vs the Rodriguez/Lawrence winner: i’m not sure who comes out of the feed-in match, but Herrera will have to hustle to advance out of the 16s. Ironically, Herrera topped both possible players in successive rounds as she was winning the 2011 Junior Girls 16U championship.
– #7 Natalia Mendez vs #10 Adriana Riveros: these two top 10 players have only met once on tour; a 4-game Mendez win in June 2017. 
– #2 Samantha Salas vs #18 Flores: assuming Flores comes out on top in the 32s, she gets a first shot at Salas in any competition. Flores can beat top talent, but i’m not sure she can beat one of the top 2 players in the world.

Projecting the Quarters:
– #1 Paola Longoria vs #8 Gaby Martinez; These two have met no less than 15 times in pro and IRF matches … but it was last summer’s World Championships that gave Martinez her one win in the series. Since then, they’ve met twice in the LPRT, both straight-forward Longoria wins. I see the same result here; Paola is just so dominant in the 5-game format.
– #4 Maria Jose Vargas vs #5 Rhonda Rajsich; these two have now met 28 times (26 on LPRT) and are dead even. 14 and 14 each. Along that same line, they’ve met twice this season … and split, Vargas winning in Chicago and Rhonda winning in Laurel. I’ll predict Rajsich makes it two tourneys in a row.
– #3 Herrera vs #6 Nancy Enriquez; Despite being the higher seed, Enriquez faces the easier path to the quarters in this event. But Herrera owns the career h2h record 5-1, just beat her in Boston, and should advance again.
– #2 Salas vs #7 Mendez; they’ve got a scant 3 career match-ups, all three straight-game wins for Salas. She makes it 4 of 4.

Semis:
– Longoria over Rajsich. Despite Rhonda’s demonstrated ability to still be able to top Paola, their only meeting on the pro tour in the last two seasons was a straight-game semis win in December. Expect the same here.
– Salas over Herrera; they’ve already met twice in the semis this season, and both times Salas advanced.

Finals: Longoria over Salas. You hate rooting for #1 vs #2, but these two players have represented the final in 4 of the 5 events so far this season … and the only one where it wasn’t Longoria v Salas was an event where Salas couldn’t make the tourney b/c of travel issues.

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In the doubles, we have some frequently-seen teams playing, including the reigning USA national champs Lawrence/Sharon Jackson, the US National runners-up in Rajsich and Lotts, The top team of Longoria & Salas, the Argentinian national team of Vargas & Mendez, and the Columbia team of Amaya & Riveros. Interestingly the top Guatemalans are not playing together this event.

I’m going with the top Mexicans versus the Argentinians in the final, with Longoria & Salas continuing their dominance with the win.

2018 LPRT Boston Open Preview

The LPRT returns to action this weekend, traveling to Boston for the annual Boston Open. This event has been on the books this Halloween weekend for a few years now and has become a popular LPRT stop.

22 women are entered in the Singles draw, and the draw has some interesting participants and omissions.

Top 10 players missing include #9 Jessica Parrilla (still recovering from knee surgery) and more importantly #10 Ana Gabriele Martinez, who has made two semis in two tournaments this season and misses out on a chance to put herself into the top 8. The only other top 20 players missing are #17 Susy Acosta and #20 Montse Mejia.  (Post-publishing note: its likely that both Martinez and Mejia are missing this event due to its proximity to World Juniors, which starts the following weekend.  Both are favorites in their final juniors appearance to reach the 18U final).

There’s a few interesting “blast from the past” players in this draw; Laura Brandt first appeared on the pro tour in 2005 and plays her second pro event this month.  Jennifer Mayadas-Dering played events in the late 90s into the 2000s, then took 14 years off before re-appearing in pro draws lately. Lastly, four-time tour champ Cheryl Gudinas plays her third straight Boston Open, and for the time being remains tied with Rhonda Rajsich for most ever appearances on the pro tour with 181.

Lets run through the draw and note some possible good matches to watch for:

In the 32s:
– Adrienne Fisher Haynes gets the 4-time former champ Gudinas in the first round. Haynes is 2-16 lifetime versus Gudinas … and those two wins came in their two most recent meetings (in 2012 and 2013).
Cassi Lee faces off against Dering, making for a match-up of two New Yorkers.
– Guatemalan Maria Renee Rodriguez faces off against DC-area native Masiel Rivera Oporto.

In the 16s:
– Bolivian dark-horse player Yazmine Sabja Aliss gets an unlucky early match-up with #1 Paola Longoria. Sabja is a dangerous player who can hang with nearly every player in the world … but I think she’ll be hard-pressed to pull off an upset of this magnitude here.
– In the 8/9 seed, a South American battle between Colombian Amaya Cris and Argentinian Natalia Mendez.
– Representatives of these two countries will also battle in the bottom half of hte draw, when Colombian Adriana Riveros and Argentinian Maria Jose Vargas meet.

Possible  Quarters:

– Longoria should handle Mendez.
– A highly interesting all-Mexico quarter final between Nancy Enriquez and Alexandra Herrera awaits; Enriquez has been upset in both LPRT events this season by the same (missing) player in Martinez; now she has a path to the semis against a player who she has beaten. Herrera leads the h2h on tour 2-1 but they havn’t played in more than a year.
Samantha Salas faces off against Vargas; a few years ago Vargas seemed like she was perched to take over the #2 spot on tour (and in fact did in 2015). But she’s been hit and miss this season while Salas has come back energized from her injury last season.
– Dr to be Frederique Lambert is set to take on the legend Rajsich in the last quarter.

Projected Semis: Longoria, Enriquez, Salas and Lambert.

My predicted final: Longoria over Salas.

2018 LPRT Paola Longoria Experience Preview

Welcome to the 2018-19 Pro Racquetball season! Fresh on the heels of an amazing World Championships event, we have the first Ladies pro event of the season, and we start of with a bang; the Paola Longoria Experience Grand Slam event.

Here’s a preview of the draw, available now at this link at r2sports.com:http://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=29373

There’s 24 ladies entered, meaning a round of byes for the top 8 seeds. Here’s a preview.

Round of 32 Notable matches:

–  Susy Acosta kicks off her 21st pro season by playing up and coming player Cassandra Lee in the 16/17 first round match-up for the right to play #1 Longoria.
– Samantha Salas Solis comes into the event seeded 10th thanks to missing a chunk of last season to shoulder injury; she has to play-in against fellow Mexican Carolina  Luque.
– Mexican phenom junior Montserrat Mejia, fresh off a doubles final appearance at Worlds, takes on fellow country-woman Erin Rivera early.

Notable round of 16 projections::
– #9 Carla Carla Muñoz Montesinos faces off against #8 Maria Jose Vargas in a tough early match for both players. Vargas is also rebuilding ranking points thanks to an extended absence on tour, but made the semis at Worlds and should advance here.
– #13 Ana Gabriel Martinez comes up against #4 Rhonda Rajsich, and this could be a very early test to see just how repeatable Martinez’ worlds performance will be. Rhonda suffered an early knockout of Worlds and will be looking to play better here.
– #14 Jugadores Racquetbol Guatemala player Maria Renee Rodriguez could give #3 Alexandra Herrera a tough match in this round; Herrera struggled at times in Costa Rica while Rodriguez took a game off of Vargas before losing in the 16s at Worlds.
– #6 Natalia Mendez had a phenomenal Worlds, knocking off two of the top 4 women in the world, and should advance past Colombian #11 seed Adriana Riveros.
– Tough luck draw for #7 Cristina Amaya Cris, who faces off against an underseeded Salas early.
– #2 Frederique Lambert gets a tough early test against junior phenom Mejia in the 16s … Lambert was upset early at Worlds; can Mejia pull another upset here?

Projected Quarters:
– #1 Longoria will have to earn it, facing off against a top 4 player in Vargas in the round of 8. I see a tiebreaker win for Longoria here, but Vargas will make some noise this season.
– #13 Martinez over #4 Nancy Enriquez; I think Martinez is on a run and can only be stopped by one person in this draw.
– #6 Mendez over #3 Herrera: Mendez continues her excellent form and takes out the lefty Herrera in the quarters.
– #10 Salas over #2 Lambert: Salas owns the LPRT head-to-head record 11-4 over Lambert and, despite both players losing early at worlds, seems like she may have the slight edge here.

Possible Semis:
– #1 Longoria over #13 Martinez: I think Longoria is favored over Martinez right now in the pro format due to fitness and experience; she outlasts the Guatemalan and gets some revenge for the Worlds loss.
– #10 Salas over #6 Mendez: Mendez’ luck runs out against the motivated Salas.

Predicted Final: Longoria over Salas, which is anticlimactic given that its a very common LPRT final and given all the possible upsets we may see earlier.
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Doubles:

The doubles draw is stacked, with the #1 overall team of Longoria/Salas, the World finliasts Herrera/Mejia, World semi finalists Rodriguez/Martinez, World Quarter-finalists Vargas/Mendez, and an intriguing new team of Lambert and Enriquez that could be tough to beat.

I’m going with a Mexico-Guatemala final, a rematch of the 2018 central American & Caribbean games final of Longoria/Salas vs Martinez/Rodriguez.