2019 IRT California Open Preview

Landa is seeded #1 .. but faces a long road in California.

Happy New Year. Just as the hangovers from NYE have abated, we’re back in action on the IRT for one of the tour’s biggest annual stops; the 2019 California Open, held in Canoga Park, CA.

37 Pros are entered, a 20% increase over last year at this event and continuing a healthy trend of improved IRT event participation over the past year and a half of tourneys. There’s also some surprise entrants to this event thanks in part to RYDF sponsorships for distant players.

Top 20 players missing: #9 Mario Mercado didn’t make the cross-country trip. #13 Charlie Pratt continues to be a part-time tour player and also didn’t make the long trip. #16 Thomas Carter misses his first event in a while. So just 3 of the top 20 missing.

Lets preview the qualifying and draw.

Notable Round of 64 matches:
– Diego Garcia Quispe vs Eduardo Portillo Rendon; a fun match-up of the current reigning 18U World Junior champ and 16U World Junior Champ. I think you have to favor the older player. Bummer these two guys couldn’t go against more established tour players to see how far they’ve advanced.
Mauro Daniel Rojas vs Dane Elkins: Northern California versus Southern California, and even though Elkins has the home town advantage Rojas advances here.
Felipe Mercado Sandy vs Felipe Camacho; notable in that I believe this is the first time two players named “Felipe” have met on tour. I might be wrong though. Advantage Camacho here.
John Wolfe vs Erick Cuevas; an interesting match-up of two frequent IRT tour players; this is a good opportunity for both to get a tour win.
Luis R Avila – Nick Riffel; an interesting contrast in styles, as Avila (reigning WOR outdor 3-wall champ) faces off against one of the newer IRT touring regulars.

Possible round of 32s to watch for:
– #16 Gerardo Franco Gonzalez vs #17 Rodrigo Montoya Solis; tough draw for Gerardo Franco here, running into the reigning World Champ Montoya, who enters an IRT event for just the 6th time in the last three seasons.
– #9 David Horn vs Portillo: Horn is the highest ranked player who has to play an extra match and gets a tough but winnable match-up against the quickly improving Portillo. I think Horn still advances here.
– Sebastian Fernandez vs Adam Manilla; fun match-up between the 18U Junior World runner-up in Fernandez and recent Intercollegiate champ Manilla, who has been playing tough on tour this year. Advantage Manilla.
– Rojas vs Camacho; excellent match to see if Rojas can take the next step, heading up against the veteran Camacho, who is a tough out.
– Robert Collins vs Riffel: Collins, who is coming off a great tourney where he took Rocky to a tie-breaker, gets another shot to qualify for a main draw against Riffel. Expect a close match.

Projecting the 16s. Lots of play-in matches, but here’s how I’m seeing the round of 16 playing out.
– #1 Alejandro Alex Landa vs #17 Montoya. Landa is the one who gets screwed by Montoya’s presence, having to play him in the 16s instead of the semis or finals of an event. For those of you who saw my personal top 50, you know that I think these two are neck and neck. Montoya beat him a couple weeks ago, and I like Montoya again here, paving the way for him to make a semi final on the weekend. But expect a battle; Landa doesn’t generally lose easily or quickly.
– #8 Samuel Murray vs #9 Horn: Horn beat Sam the only time they met before (April 2018), but I like Murray’s form over Horn’s right now. 
– #5 Andree Parrilla vs Manilla: Parrilla should advance here, unless he’s looking ahead at his potential quarter final opponent.
– #4 Kane Waselenchuk vs #13 Jake Bredenbeck; an interesting match up for Kane, who goes against the guy who gave him his most recent on-the-court (albeit still involving an injury forfeit) loss. Jake beat Kane in May 2016 in a 5th game default. I wonder if Kane will want to “make amends” here.
– #3 Daniel De La Rosa vs Rojas: DLR gets started against the hard-hitting youngster, but controls the game as he is apt to do and advances.
– #6 Sebastian Franco vs #11 Jose Diaz; hard one to predict here; we know Franco has been nursing an injury and that Diaz has been playing well. I’ll go with Diaz in an upset here.
– #7 Alvaro Beltran vs #10 Jansen Allen; Jansen has beaten Alvaro the last couple times they’ve played on tour … but they havn’t met since Nov 2017. Beltran has had the break to rest up from his typically busy playing schedule and he made the final of the last IRT event, so i’ll give him the nod here.
– #2 Rocky Carson vs Collins: Collins gets a re-match of the round of 16 match from last IRT event; Carson still advances.

Projecting the Quarters: it could be a fun event:
– Montoya-Murray: they’ve met in the past; Murray beat Montoya at the Lewis Drug event last year. So this is not a cut and dried mach. But for me, Montoya is hot and moves on.
– Parrilla-Kane: last time they met was in the semis of the US Open, where Kane won 3,12. Parrilla is a tough out, and can make life miserable for even the likes of Kane. I’d expect another similar match, where one of the two games goes long.
– DLR vs Diaz: they last met in the qtrs of the US Open, a two game win for DLR 10,9. I’d expect a similar result here.
– Carson vs Beltran: these guys have met 48 times on the IRT so far, i think they’ll meet again. They met in the semis of the Portland event and Alvaro advanced in a testy tiebreaker. I’ll gamble and predict he wins again.

Semis: 
– Montoya – Kane: this would be my ideal semi; these guys have met twice, most recently in a very anticipated 2017 season opener that was won by Kane by the lopsided score of 1,0,3 but which also high-lighted what could be for the back end of IRT tourneys if we could get Montoya playing more frequently. 
– DLR-Beltran: another match-up between best buddies and doubles partners. They met in Portland and Beltran dominated him … but then DLR turned around and won the Mexican Open in a draw that featured every top Mexican player (including Beltran) in the game today. I’ll go with DLR here.

Final: Kane over DLR.

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There’s a solid Doubles draw: 10 teams. I like the #1 vs #2 teams to meet (DLR/Beltran and Landa/Murray), but wouldn’t count out the #4 team of Diaz/Jake to make some noise.

Abierto Mexicano de Raquetbol 2018 Wrap-Up

DLR wins the big Mexican Open draw.

Congrats to Daniel De La Rosa his win in the big Men’s draw this past weekend in Monterrey, NL, Mexico, taking down a who’s-who of Mexico racquetball players to win the 2018 Mexican Open.

r2sports link here: http://www.r2sports.com/portfolio/r2-event.asp?TID=29995

In case you missed any of the matches, marquee matches were streamed live by RKT and were well covered in the Streaming Racquet sports facebook group.

Lets review the draw and the notable matches by round:

In the 32s, most every match went as I expected except for…

– Gerardo Franco Gonzalez blasted IRT #5 ranked Sebastian Franco 9,5. That was a long flight for a one-and-done for S.Franco, and is a very solid win for Gerardo.
– Daniel De La Rosa (DLR) played a closer-than-expected match against #31 seed Jordy Alonso winning 11,13.
– Juan Loreto made his opener with Polito Gutierrez a little closer than I would have expected, losing 9,11.
– Erick Cuevas eked out an 11-9 tiebreaker win over Daniel Neri in the 15/18 match-up.
– … But the big upset was Javier Estrada taking out IRT #6 Alvaro Beltran in a tiebreaker. Not an upset by seeding, but certainly a very solid win for Estrada. Beltran looked sluggish on the court … almost as if he was a 40-yr old who in the last 5 days has had to play an hour and a half final against the best player in the world, fly home, rest a day, fly to Monterrey and then play a match against a red-hot Estrada. Lets see if Estrada can build on this win and make a run.

In the 16s…
– #1 Rodrigo Montoya Solis played a close one against Alejandro Alex Cardona fighting off a furious 2nd game comeback to advance 11,14.
– #9 Eduardo Portillo Rendon got a statement win over WRT regular #8 Jaime Martell Neri 7,8
– #5 Javier Mar took out the veteran Polo Gutierrez 9,10 by playing an aggressive match and turning up the pressure on his opponent.
– #13 Alejandro Alex Landa “upset” #4 seed Alan Natera Chavez 14,3. In the first, Landa stormed back after Natera jumped out to a big lead … then just rolled in the second game, consistently sending Natera the wrong way on serves and just controlling the match.
– #3 Andree Parrilla ended Gerardo Franco’s upset run 3,12.
– #11 Christian Longoria got a solid win over #6 Estrada in a tiebreaker. One of Longoria’s best career wins for me.
– #7 Sebastian Fernandez controlled Edson Martinez for a comfortable 2 game win.
– #2 DLR advanced with ease over Erick Cuevas 4,5.

So 5 of top 8 seeds advance into the quarters.

In the Quarters…
– Montoya handled Portillo, though Lalo certainly improved his performance over the last time they played, going down 7,11. Portillo has made great strides in his game over the past calendar year and could be a force on the pro tours quite soon.
– In the Match of the quarters, two of the worlds best went head to head, with Landa taking out Mar 3,(12),2. Landa dominated the first game with his classical pressure game; he relentlessly drive serves, often puts his opponents in positions where they have to take defensive shots, and is a world-class shot maker/kill shot artist from any point in the court. Mar turned the tables by winning a close one in the second, but Landa turned back up the pressure and ran away with the tiebreaker. In my prediction piece I thought perhaps Landa would get upset here, but he’s playing with a spring in his step that you don’t often see. I think he’s motivated and a threat to win this draw now that he’s gotten past two dangerous opponents.
– Parrilla cruised past Longoria 8,12. Parrilla is a sneaky opponent; he adapts to any playing stile, is a world-class retreiver, and is in good enough shape to outlast most any opponent. He’s still a little inconsistent (he’s had some upsets early in amateur events of late) and got a little unlucky in the Portland draw (having to face Kane in the 16s), but I think he’s headed towards a top 8 IRT season.
– DLR blasted newly matriculated junior Sebastian Fernandez 5,3. Both these guys have similar playing styles, and can look quite “casual” with their serves and demeanor on the court. Fernandez stepped it up, especially at the US Open in October, but clearly has a ways to go to compete with his country’s best.

Its notable that the last 8 of this event included both kids who made the 18U national and junior worlds finals this year; both Portillo and Fernandez seems well equipped to compete with the adults going forward.

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In the Semis, we saw just how great top-level racquetball can be, with two fantastic matches that include (for me) the four best players in the world behind Kane and Rocky.
– Montoya and Landa played a scintillating match, with Montoya edging Landa 15-14 in the first game fittingly on a blistering killshot from deep in the court. Landa jumped way ahead in game 2, leading 10-3 at one point … then Montoya took over, scoring 12 unanswered points to take the match 14,10. Landa and Montoya have now split 4 head-to-head matches in big-time events over the past couple of seasons and the margin between them is razor thin.
– DLR and Parrilla were one point away from the “perfect match,” splitting two games 15-14 before DLR took the tiebreaker 11-9. Parrilla took a slight knock at 8-7 in the breaker, took a few minutes injury time, then traded clutch shots at match point for and against before DLR got a service winner to take the match.

In the final…DLR played a complete game and really shut down Montoya, winning 8.8. DLR was his same consistent self, with a controlled game plan, while Montoya’s game seemed a bit off and that was enough to make for a not-very-close final.

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There was also a very healthy Doubles draw, featuring all the top players. Unfortunately, the current World IRF doubles champ team of Beltran & DLR forfeited out (presumably b/c Beltran lost in the first round of singles, but that’s an assumption), robbing the draw of a great team. Nonetheless, the other 3 top seeds all advanced to the semis. There:

– Landa/Gutierrez downed Cardona/GFranco, who were the beneficiaries of the forfeit loss of the top team. They were made to work for it though, winning two close games 13 and 14.
– Mar/Montoya faced Parrilla/Edson Martinez and also advanced in two closer games 13,11.

In the final, Mar/Montoya run away with the first game 15-3, and held on the second to win in two.

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Also, congrats to Paola Longoria for taking the small Women’s draw over three of her LPRT top 10 compatriots.

In the semis, Longoria put a dominating win on the current 18U Junior World champ Montse Mejia 7,2, while Alexandra Herrera overcame a first game loss to donut Nancy Enriquez in the second and then take the tiebreaker 11-5.

In the Final, Longoria ran away from Herrera by the same scores that she downed Montserrat by: 7 and 2.

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Summary of the event: a fantastic inaugural event if it becomes a regular fixture on the circuit. You couldn’t ask for much more in terms of domestic talent. I’d have loved to see the rest of the top IRT touring players there; imagine a 50 person pro draw with the breadth of the IRT players showing up and making every round of 16 match even more competitive. Hope to see more from RKT going forward.

Abierto Mexicano de Raquetbol 2018 Preview

There’s a break in the pro schedule this weekend. That wasn’t always meant to be the case, as this weekend’s huge tournament in San Nicholas (Monterrey), Mexico was initially scheduled to be an IRT event. The RKT/Federación Mexicana de Raquetbol and the IRT parted organizational ways … but the event is still huge. There’s a 32-man Open draw that’s a literally who’s who of Mexican racquetball today.

Just about the only top Mexican players I don’t see here is Ernesto Ochoa, who’s been red-hot this year with a bunch of good wins, and the Garay brothers.

Here’s the r2sports link: http://www.r2sports.com/portfolio/r2-event.asp?TID=29995

Here’s a preview of the draw, which I’m really looking forward to:

First, a comment on the seeding. Much like the IRT has to go with its ranking system to seed tournaments, the RKT/FMR is clearly using its own internal country ranking system to seed this event. The top 2 seeds are also the finalists from the Worlds selection event in June, and the rest of the top 8 seems to be drawn from either that event or Mexican Nationals from February. That means that current IRT #1 Alex Landa is seeded a ridiculous #13, and the finalist from last weekend’s IRT event Alvaro Beltran is an even more ridiculous #27. But it also means we have pretty compelling matches from the round of 32 on-wards.

Here’s some round of 32 matches to watch for:
Polo Polito Gutierrez goes against Juan Loreto. Gutierrez in his prime was one of the most dangerous players in the world, routinely making waves in the few IRT events he entered. He’s back from an elbow injury and is always a threat to advance deep into a draw.
– Sebastian Franco versus Gerardo Franco Gonzalez; they’ve met four times in pro events that I track so they have some familiarity. Franco is in-arguably a top 8 player in the world, won an IRT event last year .. and is the #19 seed here. Tough draw for Gerardo Franco in the opener.
– Beltran versus Javier Estrada; easily the best match of the first round. Estrada made semis of Mexican Nationals in 2017, beat Landa in Worlds selection event in 2018, played Montoya tough the last couple times they’ve played .. he’s a darn good player. Despite the star power, this would not be a huge upset if Estrada beats Beltran here. Unfortunately this is a quarters match, not a round of 32. I’ll give it to Beltran, given how he played last weekend in Portland.
Daniel Neri vs Erick Cuevas Fernandez; 15/18 match-ups are always fun and this one could be tight. I’ll give the slight nod to Neri.
– Daniel De La Rosa goes up against Jordy Alonso in the opener, a tough draw for Mr. Alonso.

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Projections for Round of 16 match-ups:
– #1 Rodrigo Montoya Solis vs #16 Alex Cardona; this is a semis or finals on the WRT but the round of 16 here. Cardona leads h2h 4-2 but they havn’t met in a year. The current World champ Montoya should advance here based on form but i’m sure he’d have hoped for an easier early round match than this.
– #8 Jaime Martell Neri vs #9 Eduardo Lalo Portillo; a fun match between the current world 18U junior champ Portillo and one of the top ranked WRT players who has a WRT win on his 2018 resume. Portillo has the chops to win this match, having taken out top WRT pros in the past. Martell has been playing solid in non-pro events lately, making the finals in San Antonio last weekend. I’ll go with the youngster in a tie-breaker.
– #5 Javier Mar vs Polo Gutierrez: wow, what a great match this could be. Contrast in styles: Mar plays a control, tactically focused game while Polo’s unconventional but incredibly accurate swing throws players off. I like the way Mar is playing these days; he looked great against Kane Waselenchuk at the US Open and made two finals in two attempts in big local Mexican events, both times dropping the championship to Montoya. This will be a good test of how far Polo is back from injury.a
– #4 Alan Natera Chavez vs #13 Landa: man, tough match-up for Natera, coming off a nice win in San Antonio last weekend but having to face up against the current #1 ranked player in the world. Natera has literally never played an IRT event, but does have some WRT history and made the semis of Mexican Nationals in February. Landa has had some puzzling losses in big-time Mexican events lately (he lost in the 16s at both Mexican Nats and the Worlds selection event this year) but should win here.
– #3 Andree Parrilla vs Sebastian Franco: they have a couple of meetings h2h but they’re from several years ago. In the meantime, both have become first-time IRT winners. Andree Parrilla has been up and down lately; making the semis of the US Open but then getting upset early at SLP Open in November. I favor Parrilla.
– #6 Estrada/Beltran winner vs Christian Longoria; I think Longoria is an underdog to either player advancing here.
– #7 Sebastian Fernandez versus #10 Edson Martinez; Fernandez was the world junior 18U runner up, capping off a decorated juniors career both domestically and internationally. He also has had a number of sterling wins on both pro tours and is favored here against the mercurial Martinez.
– #2 DLR vs Neri: DLR, unlike a lot of his top-ranked compatriots, gets no surprises in either the 32s or the 16s.

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Projecting the Quarters. I’ll be the first to admit that the above projections may be totally wrong. Mexican events tend to have upsets, crazy upsets. So take the following with a grain of salt.

– #1 Montoya vs #9 Portillo: a meeting of the current reigning World Adult and World Junior champs could await. These two met a few weeks ago in the SLP open and Montoya won handily 2,2. I see another win here for the #1 seed.
– #5 Mar vs #13 Landa: Mar-Landa would be fantastic if it comes to pass. These two met in the finals of the 2017 Mexican Nationals (won by Mar, though Landa then went and won the Pan American Championships later that summer). I like Mar here; he’s in good form and plays Landa well. However, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if this was Natera vs Polo. Just a tough quarter.
– #3 Parrilla vs Beltran: Parilla and Beltran have gone back and forth, last meeting in Sarasota in April. I think Parrilla takes this one.
– #2 DLR vs #7 Sebastian Fernandez: They’ve met once, in Mexican nationals in February, a straight-forward DLR win. I like the way DLR is playing (despite his early loss to doubles-partner Beltran in Portland last weekend). DLR in 2.

Semis prediction:
– Montoya over Mar for the 3rd time in the last couple of months
– Parrilla over DLR; they havn’t met in a while, but Parrilla has some wins over DLR in the past.

Final: Montoya over Parrilla; these two have met a number of times over the years, in both juniors and adult competitions. They’re the same rball year, and met in Mexican junior finals in 16U and 18U. Montoya had the early upper-hand, and has taken their matchups as of late. It’d be a great final if it comes to pass, and i’d favor Montoya.

Of course, if the semis were instead Montoya-Landa and DLR-Beltran, it could be a completely different final; I like Landa over Montoya and Beltran over DLR right now, and Landa taking it. These guys all play each other constantly, and there’s a lot of match-up based play.

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Coincidentally, if you had asked me to seed this tourney here’s how I would have seeded it:
– 1-8: Landa, Montoya, DLR, Parrilla, Mar, Beltran, Polo, Sebastian Franco
– 9-16: Natera, Estrada, Cardona, Martell, Gerardo Franco, Portillo, Sebastian Fernandez and Jordy Alonso.

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There is a small Ladies Open event coincidentally; four of the top Mexican women are present and face off in a simple single elimination draw.
– Paola Longoria faces junior world champion Montse Mejia in one semi
– LPRT #4 Alexandra Herrera faces LPRT #6 Nancy Enriquez.

I’ll go with Longoria and Herrera in the final with a Paola win.

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Enjoy the matches! Follow FMR and RKT for streaming, or join the Racquet streaming group that JT Rball does a great job of keeping up to date.

San Luis Potosi Open Wrap-Up

Montoya

Another Thanksgiving weekend event happened south of the border; the San Luis Potosi Open in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. An excellent draw of the top Mexican players were there and battled it out. Thanks to Pro Kennex’ Mike Michael Martinez for getting me the draw and keeping me up to date on this event, which was one of the few non-R2sports.com driven tourneys we see these days.

Picking it up at the round of 16, here’s how the event went:

-#1 seed Rodrigo Montoya Solis over a qualifier (I can’t quite read his name on the draw sheet) 11,10.
– Current 18U Junior World champion and #8 seed Eduardo Portillo Rendon over #9 Seed Eduardo Garay Rodriguez 14,13 (this one is available on Facebook if you follow Portillo: he live streamed it).
– #5 seed Javier Estrada over #12 seeded IRT semi-regular Jordy Alonso 3,4
– #4 Seed Christian Longoria (brother of Paola Longoria) over #13 Alan Palomino 1,2
– #3 Javier Mar, who we last saw giving Kane Waselenchuk a heck of a game in the round of 16 at the US Open, downed #14 Rodrigo Nino Loma 1,3
– #6 Edson Martinez beat #11 Carlos Bacmeister 4,11
– #7 Ernesto Ochoa, who has had a great year and has really shot up my personal rankings, beat semi regular IRT touring vet Erick Cuevas Fernandez.
– #2 Andree Parrilla downed qualifier Elias Nieto 9,11.

In the Quarters, some upsets by seeds:
– Montoya easily beat Portillo 2,2; the 2015 Junior World 18U Champ showed the 2018 Junior World 18U champ where he needs to be.
– Estrada upset Longoria 4,11. Estrada has had a number of excellent wins so far this year and continues his rise up the Mexican ranks.
– Mar downed Martinez 6,12.
– Ochoa beat Parrilla for the second time this year 10,14. A pretty big upset by seeds and by world ranking, but Ochoa has more than proven he’s on-fire in 2018. Parrilla made the semis of the US Open, the quarters of the IRT season opener, and pretty much is a threat to make the quarters or better now at every pro event he enters, but Ochoa was better this day.

In the Semis:
– Montoya went tiebreaker to beat Estrada (13),2,6.
– Mar ended Ochoa’s run 9,3. These two met in the quarters of the Sonora Open earlier this year, with Ochoa winning en route to the title.

A Great final; a re-match of the Gran Torneo Del San Isidro tourney from earlier this fall. There, Montoya got a walk-over win. Today thought Montoya won in two 9,11.

Next up in Mexico should be the Abierto Mexicano de Raquetbol 2018 the second weekend of December. It was set to be an IRT-affiliated event but the two organizing bodies broke off the agreement a few weeks ago. The poster in the r2sports site shows Montoya, Waselenchuk and Longoria so i’m curious to see who shows up.

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!