2020 Wintergreen Wrap-up

Zelada captures a strong Wintergreen pro field. Photo via youtube screenshot capture of Formula flow promotional video

While the International Racquetball Tour was in Austin this past weekend for the Longhorn Open, one of the longer continuously running events in the land was happening back in my neck of the woods, with an IRT Tier 5 draw plus a solid Women’s open draw that saw some great matches and contributed to some great Mixed Open play.

Here’s a wrap-up of the 2020 Wintergreen Classic from Laurel, Md this past weekend.

R2 Sports App home page for event: https://www.r2sports.com/portfolio/r2-event.asp?TID=30705

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In the Men’s Pro:

Seeds when chalk to the semis, where the top four seeds advanced in #1 Maurice Miller, #2 MoMo Zelada, #3 Troy Warigon and #4 David Austin. We saw all these players in action in Laurel when the IRT visited in September, and they were all back here for this event.

Other notables in the draw: LPRT touring pro and Momo’s wife Masiel Rivera Oporto competed in the draw, upset the 5th seed and fell in the quarters. Top east coast junior Dylan Pruitt, who represented the USA playing doubles in the World Juniors last November, was the 6th seed and fell to home-town player Warigon in the qtrs.

In the semis:
– #1 Miller defeated New Jersey’s #4 seed Austin 5,7
– #2 Zelada went tie-breaker with #3 Warigon as they often do, with Zelada coming out on top again 11-4.

In the final, Zelada outlasted Miller for the third time in the last year in east coast events, blanking him in the breaker to take the title.

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Women’s Open:

Virginia’s Kelani Lawrence was the 3rd seed of three LPRT pros in this round robin, but beat both Valeria Centellas and Masiel Rivera in dominant fashion to take the title. It was definitely a statement by Kelani, who has now broken into the LPRT top 20.

Interesting side note: Centellas’ home town in r2sports was listed as Buenos Aires, Argentina. I had heard rumors that she was considering a country switch from Bolivia to Argentina and I wonder if it is now official. This is an interesting development for the international game; Argentina has long been represented by two top LPRT pros in the international game (Maria Jose Vargas and Natalia Mendez, ironically themselves both Bolivian-born and naturalized as well). We’ll see if this gets officially announced at some point.

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In Men’s Open Doubles; the 2nd and 3rd seeded singles players Miller and Warigon teamed up to dominate long-time Virginia-based tourney players Ross Weinberg and Raul Berrios in the final. Good showing by the veteran team to oust the #2 seeded youngsters of Pruitt/Austin to advance.

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In Mixed Open Doubles: the presence of a number of top women’s players made the Mixed Open draw fabulous.

In one semi, #1 seeds Warigon & Lawrence took out top dc-area doubles players Weinberg and Kristen Junkin Jones, and in the other semi #2 seeds Miller and Centellas defeated Rivera and Pruitt.

In the final, the reigning world doubles champion Centellas helped spur her team to victory, with Miller/Centellas winning a tight two-game match against Warigon/Lawrence.

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Great play all around

International Racquetball Tour
LPRT
International Racquetball Federation – IRF
USA Racquetball
Federación Boliviana De Raquetbol – Febora
Federación Boliviana de Racquetball
Asociación Argentina de RacquetballRacquetball Tournament in Laurel, MD USA at SportFit Total Fitness Racquet Club. 1/17/2020 – 1/19/2020 2020 Wintergreen Classic.R2SPORTS.COM

Xmas Classic IRT Tier 5 Singles wrap-up

Maurice Miller the triple-winner on the weekend. Photo US Open 2019, Photographer Kevin Savory

There was a 14-man IRT Tier 5 event at the LPRT Xmas classic; here’s a recap of that and some of the other amateur events that went on.

A ton of the LPRT pros played Mixed Open, there was a solid Women’s Open draw, and a few Men’s Open teams as well.

In the IRT Singles draw:
– #1 Maurice Miller took out top VA amateur #4 Thomas Gerhardt in one semi, and then #3 Troy Warigon defeated #2 Mauricio Zelada in the other. The 2/3 match was pretty special; the two home-court players played the perfect match: 14,(14),10.
– In the final, MIller overcame a game-1 loss to defeat Warigon for the title.

In Men’s Open, the two singles finalists teamed up to take the Open Doubles title over #3 seeds Dylan Pruitt and Jersey native David Austin.

In Women’s Open: Carla Muñoz Montesinos made up for her quarters loss in pros to take the singles Open title over Lexi York.

In Mixed Open, the two Mens singles finalists advanced again to the finals, and there Miller teamed up with Natalia Mendez Erlwein to take the title over #2 Warigon, who played with Virginia native Kelani Lawrence.

This made Miller the rare triple-winner on the weekend.

2019 Valentine Open Wrap-up

Kane wins again. Photo credit: unknown

Congrats to your champions on the weekend:

Men’s Pro Singles: Kane Waselenchuk
Men’s Open Singles: Andres Acuna
Men’s Open Doubles: Carlos Keller/Kadim Carrasco

Note: no pro doubles this weekend, so we had pretty solid Open Singles and Open Doubles draws. The Men’s singles open draw featured three players who made the quarters (or better) of the pro draw and a great draw of east coast amateurs to challenge the traveling pros.

And, a reminder; the 5-8 seeds were “flipped” this tournament. Seeds listed below are for this event, not of the actual rankings on tour at the moment of the event.

R2sports link:
https://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=30994

PRS match Report: http://rball.pro/001AE9

I had the opportunity to be at the Sportfit Laurel club for Thursday night round of 64 and 32 matches, so I’ll describe some of the more interesting matches I witnessed in a bit more detail.

Lets review the matches of note by round:

Round of 64:

  • #24 Mauricio Zelada, playing on his home courts and with the cheering of the home crowd, eked out a brutal tiebreaker against #25 Kyle Ulliman. Zelada is a protege of former touring pro and fellow Maryland native Dan Fowler, and his game-style is really familiar to those who remember Fowler’s days on tour. Similar stroke mechanics, similar drive serve setup, and a similar game style. Zelada plays consistent ball, always putting solid consistent contact on the ball. Ulliman’s game style is flashier, more of a shooter style, taking chances and succeeding often. It was a fantastic match-up that went down to the wire, with Zelada winning on a gimme-error from Kyle after a long match.
  • #20 Maurice Miller faced off against #33 Joe Kelley in a battle of top east coast amateurs (Miller from GA, Kelley from PA). It did not disappoint, and was a back and forth athletic match between two guys with great getting ability. In the end Miller pulled away in the tie-breaker to advance.
  • #22 Hometown favorite Troy Warigon, spurred on by a vocal local cheering section, went tiebreaker against Atlanta newcomer #27 Yacouba Keita before advancing. Definitely the “loudest” crowd of the night, cheering Warigon on.
  • Colombian #23 Set Cubillos was taken tie-breaker by New Jersey top amateur #26 David Austin before advancing.
  • The biggest upset of the round and the sole upset by a local player over a traveling pro was #30 Pennsylvanian Geoff Heskett taking out #18 Justus Benson 10,12. Both players really put some power into the ball, and Heskett was able to really control the points with his excellent drive serve to Benson’s backhand.

Round of 32:

  • In a marathon evening match, #16 Bolivian Carlos Keller Vargas took a barn-burner over #17 Colombian Eduardo Garay (13),11,7. This match was a contrast in styles: Keller’s drive serve approach is controlled power, with emphasis on the location and efficiency of the drive, while Garay has as much power as anyone on tour. The ball just sounds different off of Garay’s racquet on the drive serve. But, once the ball is in play, Keller’s putting as much pace on it as anyone else. Garay flings himself around the court, with incredible getting ability, while Keller’s length (he’s well over 6-feet tall) enables him to reach a lot of shots and cover a lot of court. This match went on so long that I believe Garay soaked four shirts. Vargas outlasted Garay in the end, but both of these players if playing full time are top 10 material.
  • In the evening’s other latest running match, two players with DC-area ties fought to the end. #9 Mario Mercado split two close games with home-town favorite #24 Zelada, who (like Warigon) plays out of the club and had a large local cheering section. The toll of the earlier match got to MoMo though, as he ran out of gas in the tiebreaker. Mercado efficiently advanced 11-1 to get to the main draw. This match won the award for biggest crowd of the night.
  • #23 Cubillos nearly forfeited his match against #10 Jake Bredenbeck before showing up just before the deadline. Jake seemed distracted as a result in the first game but eventually advanced 11,2.
  • #14 Andres Acuna dispatched Bolivian veteran #19 Kadim Carrasco in two games to advanced to the main draw yet again. Acuna is quietly moving his way up the ranks and putting his name into the discussion for top 10.

Round of 16 Action:

  • #1 Kane Waslenechuk kicked off his tournament with a 1,3 pasting of #16 Keller. I don’t know if Keller was beat from two matches the night before, or if Kane was especially fired up to play. I looked forward to this match and was rather surprised to see it be such a dominant beat-down. If you wondered about the difference between an IRF champ and the Pro champ … well here you go.
  • For the second tournament in a row, #8 Rodrigo Montoya could not advance out of the round of 16 against an opponent he’d normally be favored against. He loses in two straight to #9 Mercado 14,11. This second early loss in as many events to start the season should drop him right back out of the top 8.
  • In a battle of Francos (not related), #5 Sebastian Franco was taken to the edge by #12 Gerardo Franco, eventually advancing 11-9 in the breaker. Sebastian gets past an important hurdle on his home courts.
  • Both #4 Alejandro Landa and #2 Rocky Carson were stretched to tiebreakers in surprising fashion by tour regulars, by lefties Robert Collins and Thomas Carter respectively. Landa in particular has a habit of being a slow starter, something that’s harder and harder to overcome in the 3-game format.
  • In the upset of the round, perhaps the tournament, Costa Rican #1 and #14 seed Andres Acuna continues an impressive year of results by taking out #3 Andree Parrilla 4,(7),7. Parrilla made the final of the first event of the year and had ascended to the #3 ranking, but gets upset early by the solid play of Acuna and will drop back to #4 for the US Open. Meanwhile, Acuna achieves his first ever pro quarterfinal appearance in his 9th season of playing pro events.
  • #6 Samuel Murray staved off an upset attempt from #11 Eduardo Portillo, splitting the first two games by razor thin margins before pulling away in the tiebreaker.

In the quarters…

  • #1 Waselenchuk took out #9 Mercado in two straight forward games 6,8. Even a favorable crowd couldn’t push Mercado forward. Mercado will stay ranked 10th on tour despite the quarter-final finish, but he’s significantly narrowed the gap to the 9th spot on tour.
  • #5 Franco gets a key win on home soil, taking out #4 Landa for just the second time professionally. Sebastian crushed Landa in game one 15-3, but then had to work for it, saving game point before serving out the match 15-14. Franco gets his second semi-final in a row to open the season after making just one semi all last season, a great sign for his battle to retain a top 8 ranking this year. Despite the loss, Landa will regain the #3 seed for the US Open by virtue of Parrilla’s upset early loss.
  • #6 Murray traded 15-3 game blow-outs with #14 Acuna before closing out the match in a tiebreaker. Acuna improves his ranking to #18 with this result, pushing him to his highest ever ranking.
  • #2 Carson met #7 Alvaro Beltran for the 50th time on the pro tour and improved to 28-22 against him, advancing in (what else) a tie-breaker. Thanks to Daniel de la Rosa‘s absence here, Beltran widened his lead over DLR for the 5th ranking on tour and gained a bit on the now-4th ranked Parrilla.

In the Semis:

  • #5 Franco pushed #1 Kane on his home courts to make game one close, but Kane dominated game two to advance to the finals 11,7. With this result, Franco jumps to the #7 spot on tour, which means he avoids the likes of Montoya in an 8/9 match-up and avoids Kane in the quarters at the US Open.
  • #2 Carson met #6 Murray for the 11th time professionally and improved to 11-0 over the Canadian #1 11,4. Murray just couldn’t execute shots against Carson in game two and the match slipped away from him quickly. With this semis showing, Murray bumps Montoya for the last of the top 8 protected seeds for the US Open, a significant event that means Murray avoids possible dangerous qualifiers while Montoya may run into a tough player in the 24-25 range on tour.

The final was #1 vs #2 as it normally is; Rocky vs Kane has been the final in eight events over the last two seasons. this was their 80th meeting on tour. And like 76 times before, Kane topped Rocky for the title. But it was an adventurous match: Rocky was on his way to a donut in game one and was assessed a technical towards the end; game one score of 15 to -1. But Carson rebounded to take game 2; it had been nearly 2 years since Rocky took a game off of Kane. But Kane rebounded in the breaker and won -1,(11),4 to take the title.

Its Kane’s 117th career pro win.

Quick Recap of Men’s Open Singles: 4th Seeded Mercado survived a brutal quarter against Eduardo Garay (a rematch of last week’s Colombian National championships, won by Garay) to then cruise to the final over Set Cubillos from the top half (#1 seed Murray withdrew after making the pro semis). The bottom half of the draw went chalk amongst all top seeds, with #2 seed Andres Acuna topping #3 Maurice Miller to make the final. In the final, Acuna took out Mercado 11,9 to turn the tides on their meetings as of late.

Quick Recap of Men’s Open Doubles: it was #1 vs #2, Colombia vs Bolivia in the final, with two quality teams battling it out. #1 Mercado/Garay battled against #2 Keller/Carrasco in the final. There, the #2 seeded Bolivians put a second consecutive Sunday afternoon loss on Mercado, winning the Open Doubles title 7,12


Congrats to Tournament Director Tracy Valentine for all her hard work, thanks to IRT staff Mike Grisz, Dean Baer, Pablo Fajre for all their hard work. Great to meet IRT statistician-in-training JP Edwards, who I hope gets more involved going forward.

Also, a quick shout-out to Kane, who took to the court Thursday night upon arriving to play some pro-am doubles with tournament sponsors. The normal Thursday night sponsor doubles got cancelled, but some boosters had put up money specifically to have a shot at playing with Kane, and kudos to him for taking the court to help with sponsorship efforts.

Next up? 3-Wall championships next weekend in Las Vegas, then the US Open in Minneapolis.

@irt and other links

IRT Syosset Tier 1 Preview

IRT back in action.

Welcome to the final Tier 1 event on the International Racquetball Tour slate for the 2018-19 season, a return to Long Island for the 2019 Syosset Open. Long Island held a long-running IRT stop branded the “New York City” Pro-am, which ran annually from 2003 until 2016, so its great to see the pro tour return to one of its most important clubs.

R2sports home page: https://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=30716

Dean DeAngelo Baer posted the draws in the morning of 5/1/19 onto the IRT’s facebook page; make sure to follow it to get all the latest updates.

There’s a HUGE draw this weekend: 49 players in the IRT draw, which is the largest non-US Open draw we’ve seen on tour since Sept 2014 (see this link for the largest known draw sizes in pro tour history: http://rball.pro/797BF4). Because of the huge number of players, they’re they’re playing a round of 128. to get thing started early thursday.

This may be the most talented non-US Open draw i’ve seen since the days of Pro Nationals in Vegas. 28 of the top 30 IRT players are here (only missing two Bolivians Luis Conrrado Moscoso Serrudo and Diego Garcia Quispe of the top 30), and 36 of the top 40 IRT ranked players are here. Amazing.

There’s also IRT tour debuts all throughout the qualifying draw, which we’ll highlight in the previews below.

Lets highlight some of the fantastic qualfiying matches to look forward to:

In the round of 128:
– Frequent tour player Nick Riffel takes on Canadian Junior Sean Sauve, fresh of last week’s Racquetball Canada 18U title. Sauve is in his age 17 season and makes his IRT debut.
– New Yorker and reigning Vegas 3-wall champion Nick Montalbano himself gets a Canadian traveler in his opener, going up against Michael Leduc.
– Canadian Pedro Castro plays in his first IRT tourney in more than 6 years and matches up against touring regular Michael Art ER Burn.
– New Jersey top amateur David Austin gets a shot at Colombian international Andres Gomez, fresh off of representing his country at the PARC championships.

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In the round of 64:
– #9 Rodrigo Montoya Solís versus Alan Natera. Man, what a match we have here. Montoya is the highest seed forced to qualify and he runs right into a player who beat him handily at Federación Mexicana de RaquetbolNationals earlier this year. Alan Natera Chavez appears in his first ever IRT Tier 1 event; he won last week’s solid Tier 4 draw in San Antonio and has made the semis of Mexican Nationals two years running. Meanwhile, Montoya has gotten bounced in the round of 16 the last two IRT events, both against opponents he probably should have beaten. This is a coin flip; Natera is hot right now; is that going to be enough to cause the massive upset?

– #24 Javier Mar vs #25 Eduardo Garay Rodriguez; these “consecutive seed” match-ups never seem to disappoint, do they? Mar was your 2017 Mexican National champ and the last time we saw him he was giving Kane fits, losing in the 16s at the US Open 12,10. Garay has multiple wins over top 10 IRT players, including a win over Mercado in Florida last weekend. Mar is favored here in my book but this is a tough starter match.

– #16 Adam Manilla vs #33 Montalbano; A solid match for the 64s between a good infrequent tour player in Montalbano, playing on home turf, versus an up and coming tour regular who has some solid wins on tour this season.

– #22 Andres Andres Acuña vs #27 Maurice Miller; Miller plays his 5th pro event of the season, with some solid performances against regular tour players but no break through wins yet. Acuna had an amazing run to the semis of PARC last month, but then got wiped out by Landa the week after upsetting him in Colombia. These players both play solid, mistake-free ball and this could be a tight match.

– #23 Mauro Daniel Rojas vs #26 Sebastian Fernandez; The 2017 World Junior 18U champ (Rojas) versus the 2017 World Junior 16U champ (Fernandez) (see http://rball.pro/88ADAE for the complete IRF junior world champion matrix). Two of the best young players in the world meet … for the first time, amazingly. Neither has appeared on tour since January, but both had solid wins earlier in the season. I like Fernandez here, on the better track record of top wins.

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Projecting the round of 32

– #9 Montoya vs #24 Mar. So, on the off chance that both Montoya and Mar advance unscathed from very tough round of 64 matches … they get to play each other in a battle royale. This is the 2017 Mexican national champ versus the 2018 champ. These are regular tournament finalists, and who met twice in WRT finals in 2017 (splitting them). This would be another tough one to predict, as Mar can beat practically anyone in the world if he’s “on.” Meanwhile, we know what Montoya, the 2018 International Racquetball Federation – IRF World Champion can do. What a match. Oh, and instead if it was Natera vs Mar (Natera upset Mar as the 32 seed in the 2018 Mexican Nationals), or Montoya vs Garay (last time they faced it was an 11-9 tiebreaker win from the 2018 Longhorn Open), or even Natera vs Garay (who I don’t have a record of playing each other in a sanctioned event), it’ll still be a great match.

– #16 Manilla vs #17 Eduardo Lalo Portillo: 16/17s are always good, and this would be no different, whether it was Manilla or Montalbano. Portillo (the reigning 18U world champ) has really played well this season, with a couple of top-10 wins. I’d favor him here over either possible opponent.

– #12 Jake Bredenbeck vs #21 Charlie Pratt; A tough match-up for Jake, running into a criminally under-seeded Pratt, who has more than shown he can beat practically anyone not named Kane. Pratt is fresh off a very good run to the PARC finals, dispatching along the way Mercado, Moscoso and Acuna before running out of gas against Carlos Keller Vargas in the final. These two have played once before; a 2015 US Open Jake victory, but I sense Pratt’s going to neutralize Jake’s power here and move on. Question is, how deep will Pratt run in this event?

– #11 Jose Diaz vs #22 Acuna: I like this as an interesting contrast of styles. Acuna can frustrate shooters, but Diaz is lightening fast on the court and is a shooter. This could go fast Diaz’s way, or could be a 2 hour grind.

– #10 Mario Mercado vs #26 Fernandez. Mercado has been showing time and again this season the perils of dropping out of the top 8, and has suffered four one-and-dones in events this season. Here he’ll face a very tough young player who has the talent to beat him. Expect a dogfight here.

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Projected 16s:
– #1 Kane Waselenchuk over #17 Portillo: they played at the 2017 US Open, and Portillo lost by the respectable scores of 6,9,9. I don’t think these two are *that* close though, but this will be the first test for Kane since his shock loss last weekend. What will we get out of Kane this weekend?

– #9 Montoya over #8 Sebastian Franco; If Montoya can survive the qualifying guantlet, he faces a fresh Franco here. By talent this is Montoya (or Mar) over Franco … but two potentially grueling matches thursday night may drain whoever advances to face Franco friday morning. we’ll see.

– #21 Pratt over #5 Daniel De La Rosa; my first big upset prediction. DLR hasn’t looked himself lately, taking three early losses this season, often by lopsided scores. Meanwhile, when Pratt shows up, he shows up to play, and has shown time and again the tactical mindset to develop a gameplan against any one in the world.

– #4 Andree Parrilla vs #13 David Horn; they met last weekend in Florida in the quarters, a dominant 2,6 win for Parrilla, who seems to be a safe bet to have guaranteed himself a top 4 spot for the season ending standings.

– #3 Alejandro Alex Landa vs #14 Gerardo Franco Gonzalez; Franco has to beat a couple of tour regulars to get here, but once he does Landa likely ends his run easily.

– #6 Alvaro Beltran over #11 Diaz: they’ve split in two match-ups this season; Diaz got him at the UnitedHealthcare US OPEN Racquetball Championshipsbut then Beltran got him in Portland. I like Beltran’s trending lately; in his last 5 tourneys he’s made the Finals of Mexico Nats, Quarters in Chicago, Semis of Bolivia grand slam, Semis of PARC, and the finals of last weekend’s Florida stop, beating Kane along the way. Beltran’s on fire!

– #7 Samuel Murray vs #26 Fernandez: another interesting match-up. After making the final of the season opener in Laurel, Murray has not advanced past the quarters since, and has taken two one-and-done losses to players right in the same talent range as Fernandez. Murray’s in a dog-fight to retain his top 8 protected seeding and needs a result here, but may struggle if Fernandez plays like he can.

– #2 Rocky Carson vs #15 Jansen Allen; Allen was seeded as high as #3 in an event early last season, now he’s seeded 15th, having run into solid players over and again in the early rounds once he lost protected seeding. I think he fights his way through qualifying though here, only to lose to Rocky at this stage.

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Possible Quarters

– #1 Kane vs #9 Montoya; would *love* to see this happen, a lot has to go right for Montoya to make it this far. But if Kane’s not 100% from last weekend, he’ll have problems here.

– #21 Pratt vs #4 Parrilla: I like Pratt’s chances here too. Parrilla is a chameleon, adapting his game style to who he plays. But Pratt’s game style is to find your weakness and exploit it. I don’t believe they’ve ever played. Could be interesting.

– #3 Landa over #6 Beltran: a rematch of last week’s final, a close-but-comfortable Landa win over his long time Mexican rival.

– #2 Carson over #7 Murray: Rocky is 8-0 career h2h over Murray, including a win at the quarters in Chicago. He makes it 9-0 as he tries to overtake Kane for the year end points lead.

Possible Semis:
– Kane over Pratt; Kane’s 9-0 career over Pratt, and has never dropped a game. If he’s good, 10-0 here.
– Landa over Rocky: Landa is just 3-7 lifetime vs Rocky, but beat him handily last week 5,7 at this stage and seems like he’s on a roll.

Final: Kane over Landa.

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We’ll see how close my predictions come … if Kane’s still ailing from last weekend, we could really see some surprises coming out of the top of this draw. Pratt to the finals? Montoya finally making a run to an IRT final? What about Parrilla? Can’t wait.

Follow the IRT on facebook and sign up for live video feeds.

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.

IRT Laurel Season Opener preview

(Editor’s Note! I’ve modified this post in the predictions section: after its publication Kane withdrew and the rankings/seedings flipped Kane and Landa, so I’ve corrected the text to account for this).

Welcome to the 2018-19 International Racquetball Tour season!

The draw is up for the first event so lets talk about it.  Click here for the r2sports.com Tournament link.  Or, if you cannot read this link, go to www.irt-tour.com and click on the link directly from the home page. Or wait til Thursday when the brackets for the whole tourney are released in full on r2sports.com.

After a summer of angst over the status of 12-time champ Kane Waselenchuk, the sports most dominant player is in the first draw of the season and will be looking to extend his current on-court winning streak of 61 matches, which was interrupted for months last season by a knee injury that eventually cost him the year end title. However, after the draws were posted; Kane reportedly suffered injuries in a car accident and withdrew. He’ll remain in the draw and a lucky qualifier will get a bye into the quarters.

This is the first ever Men’s pro event held at the well-known (to Mid-Atlantic tournament players anyway) Sportfit Laurel club, which currently also hosts the annual LPRT Christmas classic and which has hosted an annual event called the Wintergreen Classic in Jan/February for more than 30 years. This is also the first time the Men’s pro tour has played in Maryland since the early 1990s, when the Merritt Security club outside of Baltimore used to host one of the VCI challenger series events every year. It is also the first time the Men’s tour has returned to the Washington DC area since 2003, and as a DC-area resident i’m obviously excited to be able to *drive* to see the Men’s pros for the first time in 15 years.

The Laurel club is unique for its court construction. They are panel courts, but a construction design choice spaced out the support beams a bit too far, leaving the courts being quite “slow,” even for panel courts. I wonder if this will be a source of frustration for players, especially those who are used to playing faster, concrete courts or who are used to playing at elevation.

One other personal note about the club: Sportfit Laurel was the first racquetball club where I ever played. I joined in early 1994 and played there until moving to Northern Virginia in December 1997. It has long held a large, vibrant racquetball community and was an awesome place to learn how to play.

I’ll be at the club Thursday night (Hurricane willing) for all of qualifying and look forward to catching up with the community.

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Enough about the club and my personal history there; Lets take a quick look at the draw: There’s 40 players entered, a healthy draw that is the largest non-US Open draw since Sept 2014 and portends well for the depth on tour this year.

Top 20 IRT players missing: three: #4 Daniel De La Rosa, #5 Alvaro Beltran, and #12 Charlie Pratt. Beltran and Pratt were in the draw as of Monday but were late withdrawals (Beltran to injury, Pratt to the Hurricane). These two missing top 8 players gives Sebastian Franco a #4 seed, a career best and a potential semi against Rocky Carson, a good early test for the defending champ.

Interesting international players attending: Andres Acuña and Sergio Acuna from Costa Rica, Jordy Alonso, Set Cubillos Ruiz, Erick Cuevas Fernandez, and lastly Bolivian Diego Garcia, a 16U player who made the semis of worlds this year who is coming up on a RYDF sponsorship to get a taste of the IRT in person. He could be the next best thing from the racquetball-mad country of Bolivia and he could be an interesting watch.

East coast top players entered who we don’t normally see elsewhere: David Austin, Geoff Heskett, Maurice MillerNick Montalbano, Troy Moore, Pedro MeruviaJamal HarrisBrent Walters and semi-regular IRT tour player Troy Warigon, who is the only pro entered who plays out of the Laurel club (that technically may not be totally true; I think Sebastian Franco also plays out of Laurel but don’t quote me on that).

Special Mention in the draw; former top-10 touring pro Dan Fowler is entered into the draw, looking to appear in a Men’s pro event for the first time in nearly 10 years. His last on-court pro appearance was in January 2009, and he stopped touring professionally in Oct 2004. Fowler and his wife Doreen Fowler (herself a former touring ladies pro) are both DC-area residents, have a long history of giving lessons and clinics in the Suburban Maryland area, and currently own and run a health club in Suburban MD. Its great to see Fowler back on tour even if its just for one event.

One other Special Mention: New Jersey legend Mitch “Captain Charisma” Posner is attending … he’s entered into Pros … and 60+. I’m sure he’ll be decked out in his trademark all-Red for his pro match.

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Lets get to previewing the draw:

Qualifying match-ups: here’s the Thursday night matches to look forward to:
– Gerardo Franco v Alonso: tough opener for both Mexicans, who fly an awful long way to play each other. Alonso owns a 2-0 h2h lead over Franco on the WRT, but it was Franco who had two top-10 wins on the IRT last season to leave an impression. could be pretty close.
– Garcia-Adam Manilla; this could be a shocker; Garcia is an unknown junior from Bolivia who could be a sleeper. Possibly a tough opener for Manilla, or perhaps a cake-walk facing a youngster who is an awful long way from home.
– Felipe Camacho – Fowler: an interesting match between the veteran IRT player Camacho and the former top-10 player Fowler. Can the retired veteran return to his top 10 form for a night? If so Camacho may be in trouble.
– Heskett – Thomas Carter: its a cross-state match-up of PIttsburgh area-based Heskett and Philadelphia area-native Carter. And its a golden ticket into the quarters so expect a heavily contested match.
– Robert Collins – Walters; a tough match up of regional top player Walters and IRT veteran Collins; could be an upset here.

Round of 32 interesting potential match-ups
– b vs Mauro Daniel Rojas; a tough round of 32 for both players; Rojas has been touring regularly since graduating from Juniors and has had a number of really tough early round match-ups
– Garcia-Cuevas Fernandez: an intriguing match=up of younger international players … which may not happen since both face tough first rounders against regular touring vets; this could easily be Manilla-Wolfe instead.

Round of 16 projections:
– Carson over Alonso
– Bobby Horn vs Andree Parrilla; 8/9 is always tight; Horn owns h2h 3-1 across IRT, WRT and IRF. Advantage Horn.
Mario Mercado – Garcia: Mercado ends the cinderella run of the 16 yr old.
– S. Franco over Acuna: this IRF-style match between two veteran int’l players should be an easy victory for the “home town” Franco.
– Carter over Kane in a walkover
– Bredenbeck over Samuel Murray; first big upset; Bredenbeck has beaten Murray before and has the power to keep up with him. Jake is better than his seeding and ranking and will take a big step forward this tourney towards improving both.
Jose Diaz over Jansen Allen ; Diaz beat Allen in two in April but they’re 2-2 h2h on the IRT: I expect a close Diaz win for the upset.
Alejandro Landa over Walters: Landa’s been given a clear path to the finals and may not be stopped.

Quarters projections
– Carson-Horn: Horn has never beaten Carson, but Horn has also never been better. He’ll look to draw upon his international summer and his increased training to topple the 2017-18 champ.
– Franco over Mercado: these two country-men have never met officially in any capacity that I track, though i’m certain they’ve played a thousand times both hailing from Cali, Colombia. I’ll go with Franco.
– Bredenbeck over Carter: Jake’s string of unlucky draws ends here.
– Landa- Diaz: Landa handles the Stocktonian

Semis and Finals predictions: I’ve gone pretty much chalk: 1-4 versus 3-2.
– Carson over Franco; he’s 8-0 lifetime over Sebastian and has had the summer to recover from his knee operation.
– Landa-Bredenbeck; wow, interesting match of contrasting styles here. Landa is 5-0 lifetime over Jake and has historically done a good job of mitigating Jake’s power game. I’ll predict he makes it 6-0 here.

Final: Carson over Alex Landa

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Welcome to the new season! Can’t wait to see some racquetball!