After a down year in 2018 and a website outage that fueled rumors of its demise, the World Racquetball Tour returns to action with its annual event held in conjunction with the most popular amateur event in the land, the 2019 Longhorn Open Racquetball Tournament held on the University of Texas campus in Austin.
Despite falling on the same weekend as the IRT event in Sioux Falls, the WRT pro draw has a solid 22 players, mostly local and Mexico based. We have several WRT regulars and should see a good tournament. As we’ll see below the bottom half of this draw is definitely the tougher side, and whoever comes out of it will have well-earned it.
Here’s a preview of possibly interesting matches by round:
In the 32s… – Texas native and collegiate player Lukas Le takes on Mexican vet Alexi David Cocco Hayes. – Alejandro Almada takes on Louisiana native Joseph Lee in an interesting first rounder. – Underseeded Javier Estrada takes on fellow Mexican Juan Loreto in the first round.
In the 16s, here’s some matches of possible note: – Edson Martinez faces off against long-standing pro Hiroshi Shimizu. Shimizu’s first entry in the database was in an IRT event in March, 2002. – Jordy Alonso takes on the winner of the Hayes/Le match – #4 seed Eduardo Garay Rodriguez takes on the Almada/Lee winner. – #3 seed Justus Benson gets a tough draw in his home-town tourney, having to face Estrada in the 16s. – #7 Alan Natera Chavez kicks off the tourney against another long-playing IRT pro in Shai Manzuri. Shimizu’s first appearance on tour was in 2002? Manzuri’s first was all the way back in Jan 1997, and he continues to represent Argentina internationally to this day. Amazing.
Projecting the Quarters: we could be seeing some good ball here.
– #1 Jaime Martell Neri is set to face #9 Edson Martinez. This is a winnable match for Martell, but the enigmatic Martinez can put losses on players easily enough. – #4 Eduardo Garay versus Jordy Alonso; Alonso is improving, but Garay has nearly arrived, with wins over top WRT and IRT pros and should advance here. – #6 Javier Mar would be my #1 seed if you were seeding this by my rankings; he takes on the equally dangerous #19 seed Javier Estrada. While Estrada has some marquee wins in the past year (Landa, Beltran), Mar is among the world’s elite and should advance. – #2 Alex Cardona takes on #7 Alan Natera. These two are neck and neck in my rankings; Natera getting great wins lately while Cardona’s ranking is slipping due to outside interests. This could go either way; i’ll give it to the former WRT champ on this day.
Projecting the Semis; – Martell v Garay: I like Garay’s game … but I think Martell wins on this day. – Mar vs Cardona: An old-school match-up of two of Mexico’s best. I don’t have them meeting in a pro event since 2015, and a lot has happened since. Mar takes the match on this day.
Final: Mar over Martell.
In the doubles draw, I’m going with a #1 vs #2 final, with Mar making it a double on the weekend paring with Garay to take out Martell/Natera.
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 Cardonafighting 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.
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.
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.
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 Herreraovercame 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.
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.
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 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 Landais 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.
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 Waselenchukat 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.
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.
– 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.
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.
– #7 Ernesto Ochoa got revenge for last week’s quarter-finals loss by thoroughly dominating #2 seed Javier Mar 6,7. Ochoa did not miss on opportunities, made his shots and completely earned this win.
In the Semis:
– #1 Montoya earned a tough close win over #4 Estrada 10,14.
– #7 Ochoa continued his great run, beating #6 Martell in a tiebreaker.
In the final:
– Ochoa took game one over Montoya, thoroughly earning the win with incredible court coverage and crisp shot making. Mid-way through Game 2 ahead 10-6, Montoya hit the side wall awkwardly on his ankle and had to retire. So Ochoa gets the win, but wasn’t able to quite put the exclamation point on the event like he seemed he was capable of.
For me, the events of the last two weekends have now escalated the status of both Estrada and Ochoa into near top-20 realm world-wide. Great playing, great ball.
Also a fun doubles draw, with all the top players teaming up for a solid doubles draw. In the final, the top team of Montoya/Mar had to forfeit after Rodrigo’s injury, defaulting to #3 seeded Natera/Martell. Natera and Martell had easily downed the two aforementioned players on great form (Estrada and Ochoa) in the semis while Montoya/Mar had taken out the excellent doubles players teaming up in Cardona/Martell 11-8.