US National Doubles (with Singles qualifier) Preview

Carson to go for the double this weekend as the #1 seed in both Singles and Doubles. Photo Portland 2019, Photographer Kevin Savory

Welcome to the first major Amateur Nationals event of Fy2020. Its the US National doubles event, being held in Tempe, AZ on the campus of Arizona State University.

This is the 53rd iteration of US National doubles: The first was held in 1968 in Madison, Wisconsin and the first Men’s US national title was won by the team of Simie Fein and Jim White. The Women’s event doesn’t seem to have started until 1972; the first winners I have on record were Jan Pasternak and Kimberly Hill, who won the title in Memphis in 1972.

Click here for a full list of all Men’s titlists: http://rball.pro/8862E4

Click here for a full list of Women’s titlists: http://rball.pro/A7F6CA

Rocky Carson holds the Men’s record for most National Doubles titles; he has 11 titles in 13 appearances. Jacqueline Paraiso-Larsson holds the record on the Women’s side with 14 titles in 15 appearances.

R2 Sports App link: https://www.r2sports.com/tourney/home.asp?TID=31680

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Lets preview the Men’s Doubles draw:

The Men’s draw has 11 teams, highlighted by both of last year’s finalist teams as the #1 and #2 seeds. The big news of course this year is the entry of one team in particular: Alex Landa , the current #2 player on the IRT has entered with 5-time pro tour champ and Hall of Famer Sudsy Monchik.

Landa, who has represented Mexico his entire career, famously was left off the Mexican delegation to the Pan American Games last year despite winning the 2019 Mexican Nationals event. The Mexican federation made this decision based on rather “debatable” guidelines to say the least, and in the aftermath Landa asked for (and was granted) his release from the Mexican team. He’s a dual citizen and has resided in Texas for many years, and quickly was able to obtain clearance to enter in US national events. He’s an accomplished doubles player, currently ranked #3 on the IRT doubles ranking, and is a right-side (forehand) player. He’s teamed a legend and a great left-side (backhand) doubles player in Sudsy to make a pretty formidable team. They’re handed the #5 seed, meaning they’ll have to play through both top seeds to win it.

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Lets preview the Men’s doubles draw:

Round of 16: there’s three play-in round of 16 matches, with some interesting match-ups

– In the 8/9 matchup; an east coast flair: North Carolina native Brent Walters teams with top Virginia player Thomas Gerhardt to take on Maryland native MoMo Zelada and his partner, Hawaiian-turned-NorCal guy Robert Collins: Collins as a lefty gives that team an advantage here over the two east coast veterans.
– The solid #6 team of David ” Bobby” Horn and reigning intercollegiate champ Erik Garcia takes on #11 team of Arizona youngsters Ben Baron and Preston Tribble.
– #7 team of good friends from the east coast Maurice Miller and Troy Warigon take on #10 team Justus Benson and Sam Bredenbeck. Four semi-regular IRT players here battle it out and a ton of hard hitters.

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Projected Qtrs:
– #1 Defending champs Carson and Charlie Pratt Racquetball likely take on Zelada/Collins and should control the floor.
– #5 Monchik/Landa get started against the #4 team of Jansen Allen and Tony Carson, the 2013 champions. Both former top-10 IRT pros, Carson is just coming back from a year-long injury to his achilles heel and had to forfeit out of the last pro event he entered, while Allen has taken a step back from touring full time. This will be a good first test for Monchik/Landa and a tough draw for the former champs.
– #3 Adam Manilla and his college buddy Nick Riffel likely play Horn/Garcia. Manilla as a lefty gives this team a big advantage, but Garcia can be the x-factor here. Look for the upset.
– #2 Jake Bredenbeck and Jose DIAZ likely face the #7 seeds Warigon/Miller and should advance.

Semis:
– I like Monchik/Landa to upset the #1 seeds Carson/Pratt here. My simple theory in predicting doubles matches is to look at the match-up on the right-hand side to predict matches; If there’s a weak link on the court, it often presents on the forehand side of the weaker team. Pratt is by no means a “weak” player, but Landa isn’t #2 in the world by accident. I think Sudsy hangs with Rocky on the backhand and Landa makes the difference on the forehand.
– I like #2 Jake/Diaz to make the final again; they’re just too experienced playing together and too good of a team.

Finals:
– Landa didn’t switch to the USA to not make the team; he’s on a mission in Arizona, and I like them for the upset win.

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Lets preview the Women’s Doubles draw:

Just 6 teams entered here. #1 seed includes one member of last year’s on-the-court champion team in Aimee Roehler Ruiz, who is second all-time to Paraiso-Larseen in career US National doubles titles with 11. She was part of the winning team last year before having the title vacated, but now she’s back with a new partner as the top seed. The #2 seeds from last year (the Key sisters Michelle De La Rosa and Danielle Maddox) are not entered, thus we’ve got a wide-open field.

In the Quarters i’m predicting chalk:
– #4 Jazmín Treviño and Erin Slutzky over #5 Cassie Lee and Fran Transfiguracion
– #3 Hollie Scott and Lexi York over #6 Graci Wargo & Jessica Chen.

In the semis:
– i like the #1 team of Ruiz and Erika Manilla to advance to the final.
– I think the #2 seeds of Kelani Lawrence] and Sheryl Lotts, two LPRT regulars who are impressing this season, will have their hands full with Scott and York but will prevail.

Predicted final: I like Lawrence/Lotts over Ruiz/Manilla. Ruiz’ leftiness helps, but I suspect that the overall talent level of the #2 seeded team will overcome the #1 seeds in the final.

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Singles qualifier Review:

The USA added the singles event to National Doubles in 2016 as part of a revamping of the way the National team is decided. US players now compete in three events to gain “points” towards team qualification; the US Open in October, National doubles in February and National singles in May. One may argue that using US Open pro results is unfair (it is; you’re often playing non-US players while competing towards a US team spot), but it is the only other “major” event we have at the moment.

A reminder: I have captured these non-Nationals events in my staging area, but they are NOT loaded into the database and are not currently queryable. I’ve had requests to add this data for a better head to head representation (especially for Canadians, who have been holding these types of events for years), or to get winners of these past events … but it would take significant retrofitting of the reports to do so, so its back burnered for now.

That being said, its a great draw in Tempe and I look forward to it as a fan.

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Men’s singles draw review:

Some questions have arisen related to the seedings here: if Landa just converted to USA … how is he seeded 2nd? Well that’s because USAR uses their internal rankings and Carson is ahead of Landa. See https://www.usaracquetballevents.com/rankings.asp . The USAR rankings do include basically all pro players, and is driven mostly by head to head match-ups. But, just because playerA beats playerB doesn’t automatically move them ahead; the last time Landa played Carson was in the final of the Nov 2019 Fullerton event, a Landa win … yet he remains behind Rocky until he beats him again.

Here’s some notable matches from the 16s I look forward to:
– 8/9 Erik Garcia vs Maurice Miller should be a great match; I think the collegiate champ moves on.
– 5/12 Zelada vs Pratt is interesting: Zelada doesn’t play every pro event but can hang with the players regularly in the 9-16 range. Pratt used to make noise in nearly every event he entered, but as he winds down from full time touring he’s been taking more and more earlier early round losses; in his last 7 pro stops over the last two years he’s made just 3 main draws.
– 6/11: Collins vs Thomas Carter: love the lefty on lefty matches.
– 7/10: Adam Manilla vs Sam Bredenbeck: could be an interesting match here; can Sam get the upset?

Projected Quarters:
– #1 Carson over #9 Garcia
– #4 Horn over #5 Pratt: Bobby beat Charlie in last year’s US Nationals and recently in a local event on his home court and I think he prevails again.
– #3 Jake Bredenbeck over #6 Carter
– #2 Landa over the Manilla

Semis:
– #1 Carson moves on over Horn; he’s 4-0 lifetime over Bobby.
– #2 Landa tops Jake Bredenbeck; he’s 8-0 lifetime over Jake.

Final: tough one to call; I think Landa is super motivated to win and get a big leg up on qualifying for the team. If this was actually Nationals i’d go with Landa, but here Rocky takes the title since by Sunday I perceive Rocky will be out of doubles while Landa will be shooting for two titles.

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Women’s singles draw review:

First, can someone explain the seeding in this event to me? Right now, on USAR’s ranking page Kelani Lawrence is ahead of Rhonda Rajsich. Kelani BEAT Rhonda in Nationals last year en route to the title and is the defending champ. How is Kelani not seeded #1? I don’t get it. You may say “oh seeding doesn’t matter you have to beat everyone to win” … but as you’ll see, Kelani now has a significantly harder semis match than the #1 seed has.

Nonetheless, here’s a preview of this draw. Notable early matches to watch:
– 8/9 Wargo vs Chen: young doubles partners square off early.
– 6/11: York vs Slutzky: can the junior Slutzky (just finishing her 16U year and making her adult debut) challenge York?

quarters projection:
– #1 Rajsich over Wargo
– #5 Lotts over #4 Manilla; this should be a great match.
– #3 Scott over #6 York, again doubles partners squaring off.
– #2 Lawrence over #7 Lee.

The rubber meats the road in the semis.

– #1 Rajsich vs #5 Lotts: Rhonda has had a tough pro season so far: four times she’s lost in the 16s, but she’s also made two semis. Lotts has competed well against top-8 players but has yet to break through with a round of 16 win. Rhonda has never lost to Lotts, and this may go deep but Rhonda prevails.
– #2 Lawrence vs #3 Scott: this is a rematch of last year’s final (which is why seeding accuracy is so important); Kelani prevailed there 11-10 but it could have gone either way. Since then, Lawrence has made a concerted effort to play the LPRT more, and has a slew of solid results. I think Lawrence has grown more in the last year as a player than Scott, and prevails here.

Final:

Lawrence and Rajsich again. These two met in US Nationals events in 2016, 2018 and 2019. They’ve also met in this qualifier event every year since it started: 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. So its only fitting that they meet in the 2020 iteration.

In all of these 7 matches, Rhonda is 6-1. But that one win was in last year’s Nationals event. Lawrence got that break through win and hasn’t looked back. Lawrence for the win here too.

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Look for Streaming in the regular places; follow USA Racquetball on Facebook and register for live video notifications. Leo Ray Vasquez on the mike all weekend as usual.

Tags

International Racquetball Tour
LPRT
International Racquetball Federation – IRF
International Racquetball Federation
USA Racquetball
Racquetball Canada
Federación Mexicana de Raquetbol

IRT Lou Bradley Memorial Wrap-Up

Kane dominates in Wisconsin for the win. Photo US Open 2019, Photographer Kevin Savory

Congrats to Kane Waselenchuk on his 122th career IRT Tier 1 title on the weekend. He triumphed over a trio of top Mexican players then blasted Mercado in the final to take the title.

R2 Sports App home page for event: https://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=31897

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Lets review the notable matches in the Singles draw.

Singles Match report in the PRS database: http://rball.pro/EB643C

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In the 64s:
– #25 Sam Bredenbeck eked out a tie-breaker win over #24 Scott McClellan
– Both Kelley brothers (Sam and Joe), travelling from the NJ/PA area, fell in two to traveling pros. Great job supporting the event though, along with all the traveling players.
– #23 Kadim Carrasco] took a close match from #26 Justus Benson.

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In the 32s, we started to see some interesting results.
– As suspected, the 16/17 match was close, with #16 Javier Mar taking out younger countryman #17 Sebastian ‘Patata’ Fernandez] in a tie-breaker.
– #12 Carlos Keller Vargas was stretched by Costa Rican veteran #21 Felipe Camacho, winning two closer games.
– #13 Thomas Carter got revenge from last week, topping #20 Javier Estrada in a breaker to move on. Sold win for Carter to reverse his two-tourney one-and-done streak.
– #11 Mario Mercado Valenzuela held serve against #22 Alan Natera Chavez, winning in two closer games.
– #10 Sebastian Franco was stretched by South American neighbor Carrasco, advancing 14,13.
– #15 Eduardo Garay played a complete match and dominated #18 Adam Manilla 8,8 to move on.

So, the 32s went perfectly chalk; all the seeds from 9-16 advanced into the next round. I think I predicted at least 2-3 upsets here but the seeds prevailed this time around.

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In the 16s:
– #1 Kane Waselenchuk got his tourney started against a tough foe in #16 Mar, but advanced 7,8. We saw a similar pattern in game 2 to a lot of Kane’s games against solid opponents; it was even for a while … then it was 8-8 … then you blink your eye and its 15-8 as Kane turns up the pressure and moves on.
– In a fascinating result, #9 Rodrigo Montoya Solís] dominated #8 Conrrado kevin Moscoso Ortiz Racquetball 12,4 to remain unbeaten against the Bolivian Iris Grand Slam winner and move on.
– #5 Samuel Murray held serve against Keller, moving on after taking a close game one.
– #4 Álvaro Beltrán stifled any chance of another upset at the hands of the lefty Carter (as had happened in December in Portland), cruising to a 4,12 win.
– #3 Andree Parrilla is ready to put this month behind him; the player I thought could make a run to the final here instead was upset in the round of 16 for the third successive week, this time at the hands of Gerardo Franco Gonzalez 11-7 in the breaker. Franco advances to his 4th pro quarter final.
– #6 Lalo Portillo‘s dreams of back to back finals ended early; he was dropped by #11 Mercado in the round of 16s for the 2nd time in three weeks, this time by the overwhelming scoreline of 4,7.
– #10 S.Franco evened up his career h2h line with #7 Jake Bredenbeck, taking him out in two to advance.
– #2 Alex Landa showed little ill-effects from his arm injury of last weekend, advancing over a tough foe in #15 Garay 6,(7),5.

So, three upsets at this stage; the top is nearly chalk 1,9,5,4 in the quarters, while the bottom is 14,11,10,2. I had predicted some upsets here … but none of them came to pass.

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In the Quarters
– #1 Kane topped #9 Montoya to move on, but not with out a bit of controversy. Early in the second game a long rally had the players come together and Kane seemed to almost shove Montoya to get out of the way of a shot. It was kind of reminiscent of the early physical days of the sport. No penalty was given and nothing seemed to come of it … but at the end of the tourney Montoya scored the most points of any player against Kane in a game on the weekend, and seems to be getting incrementally better against the King each time they face each other.
– #4 Alvaro Beltran came from a game down to top Canadian #1 Murray and keep his perfect h2h record alive over him.
– #11 Mercado advanced to his first pro semi since the Bolivian Grand Slam by topping upstart GFranco 13,2. Franco looked frisky in game one … but collapsed once he lost the close opening game.
– #2 Landa made short work of #10 S.Franco 5,5.

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In the Semis; two interesting matches.
– #4 Beltran dominated #1 Kane …. for a quarter of their match. Beltran led 5-0 and 7-3 in the first …. and then didn’t score again. Kane ran off 27 unanswered points from 3-7 down in the first game to win the match 7,0. Just a complete white washing where Kane played textbook ball for most of the match.
– #11 Mercado saved game point in the first and then took a close one from #2 Landa to advance to just his second ever pro final 14,11. He becomes the rare double-digit seed to make a pro final.

In the Finals…. it was one way traffic. Kane crushed Mercado 2,3 to take the title. 5 total points against represents the 2nd most dominant final scoreline in the history of the tour (see http://rball.pro/C1E703 for the full list … not surprisingly Kane owns most of the top scorelines on this report).

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Points Implications of results;

There’s no expiring tier 1 from last season to drop off, but there’s still a lot of movement in the top 20 on tour after this event:
– Parrilla’s 3-tourney swoon finally costs him in the rankings: he’ll drop to #5 behind Beltran.
– DLR’s absence costs him too; despite Moscoso’s early upset exit, he’ll pip Daniel for #6 on tour.
– Montoya and Mercado will both jump over Jake in the tightly bunched set of players in the 10-13 range. Around 30 ranking points separate 10th from 13th and these three players along with Sebastian Franco continue to juggle spots based on tournament results.
– Gerardo Franco jumps to #16, Mar continues to rise up (now #19), and the missing Acuna gets dumped three spots to #21.

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Other Draws:

In the Men’s Open, a solid bracket included several former top-8 IRT players plus a ton of locals. As it turned out, two of the pro quarter-finalists were the 1 and 3 seeds in the Open (and both forfeited out, thinning the draw) and the 8 quarter-finalists ended up being 6 touring internationals plus mid-western top amateurs Lee Meinerz and Anthony Martin.

In the qtrs:
– SFranco topped Meinerz 8,11
– Fernandez crushed Garay 4,1 to advance.
– Camacho got a walkover when Mercado withdrew.
– Portillo topped Martin 8,4

In the semis:
– Fernandez walks over Franco
– Portillo crushes Camacho 2,3

In the final, a familiar battle. Mexican nationals Fernandez and Portillo are a year apart and often met in the back end of junior nationals and junior worlds events. Some of their recent match history includes these notable finals:
– Portillo d Fernandez in the 16U World junior finals in 2016
– Fernandez d Portillo in the Mexican 18U natioanls final in 2018
– then, 3 months later the two met in the 18U junior worlds final, Portillo’s last junior event, and Portillo won.

So how about on this day? They played a back and forth match eventually won by Patata Fernandez (4),7,8.

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In the Men’s Open Doubles, in the absence of an official IRT pro doubles draw we saw a 15-team bracket headlined by the reigning Pan Am Games gold medalists Mar/Montoya. Also in the doubles draws were a couple of old friends from the East Coast, Brent Walters and Russ Bruns, both of whom have strong ties to the Virginia Racquetball scene.

In the end though, the top two seeds, both all-Mexican traveling teams, advanced to the final. #1 Montoya/Mar, one of the best teams in the world and the reigning Pan American Games gold medalists, ended up topping Natera/Estrada in two tight games for the title.

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Next up?

The IRT takes a break until mid-march when they return to Chicago. Meanwhile, USA National Doubles is next weekend, featuring a juicy pairing of 5-time pro champ Sudsy Monchik teaming up with IRT #2 Landa, who has to represent the USA.

In fact, there’s almost nothing going on that we’d normally track in February; I may have to come up with some fun ideas to discuss during the break.

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International Racquetball Tour
International Racquetball Federation – IRF
International Racquetball Federation
USA Racquetball
Racquetball Canada
Federación Mexicana de Raquetbol
Federación Boliviana De Raquetbol – Febora
Federación Boliviana de Racquetball
Racquetball Colombia
Federacion Colombiana de Racquetball
Federación Costarricense de Racquetball

IRT 2020 22nd Annual Lou Bradley Memorial Preview

Portillo shocked the tour with his run last week; can he repeat it? Photo US Open 2019, Photographer Kevin Savory

Welcome to the last event of the 2020 IRT mid-west swing, and its a special one. “The Lou,” a long-running IRT satellite in Sun Prairie, WI (outside of Madison), has stepped up this year for the first time to become a Tier 1 event.

This represents the first time the IRT has had a full tier 1 in the state of Wisconsin since 2004, and this is the first time ever going anywhere except Milwaukee within the state for a major event.

Fun fact: the very first US Amateur Nationals event was held in Milwaukee in 1968. The first major racquetball tournament ever held, won by Bill Schultz over Hall of Famer Bill Schmidtke in the final.

R2 Sports App link: https://www.r2sports.com/portfolio/r2-event.asp?TID=31897

There’s 34 players in this singles draw. There’s not a pro doubles draw but there is a healthy Men’s Open draw filled with top players that will be fun to watch.

The draw is missing two major names: #3 Rocky Carson picked up an injury (or perhaps came back a bit too soon from his Dec 2019 surgery) and misses the event. This is pretty notable; in 20 years on tour full time this is just the third event he’s missed. Also missing the draw is last week’s champ #6 Daniel De La Rosa (also reportedly out with a knock), which has to be a bummer b/c he’s been playing some of the best ball of his career this month.

Other top 20 players missing: #14 David ” Bobby” Horn (who has stated he’s stepping back from touring for financial reasons), and #18 Andres Acuña, who may be heading back to his home country to help with a big tourney starting up next week.

is it a flip draw? Yes. The 5th-8th seeds are:
– Moscoso: ranked 7th, 5th highest seed in draw, seeded 8th
– Murray: ranked 8th, 6th highest seed in draw, seeded 5th
– Portillo: ranked 9th, 7th highest seed in draw, seeded 6th
– Bredenbeck: ranked 10th, 8th highest seed in draw, seeded 7th.

Obviously, Moscoso is hardest done by, flipped into the #8 spot meaning a meeting with Kane in the quarters. Jake would have been in the same quarter he got flipped into anyway without the missing top seeds. Portillo gets a big break and is in line to face #3 seed Parrilla, who he beat recently. Biggest benefactor has to be Murray, who gets out of a Kane quarter and instead feeds into #4 Beltran (who he’s never beaten, but has been playing close).

A comment about the impact of 3 straight events; it seems to have taken a toll on some the tour’s older full-time players:
– Kane (age 38): missed the middle event
– Rocky (age 40): missed 2 of the 3 events
– Landa (age 31) fft’d out of Lewis, wonder if he’s still showing any ill effects of the injury this weekend.

Of course that being said the tour’s oldest regular (Beltran, age 41) has made all three and shown no ill effects, so maybe its more coincidence and less causation.

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Lets preview the draw. Here’s some notable qualifying matches that i’m looking forward to:

In the round of 64:
– #28 Minnesota native Lee Meinerz takes on former top-10 touring vet Costa Rican #21 Felipe Camacho. I like what I saw from Meinerz last week; he can give Camacho a match here for sure. He puts pressure on the ball on every shot and could push for an upset.
– #22 Mexican Alan Natera Chavez takes on #27 Anthony Martin in a solid first rounder. Natera lost out to Pratt in the 64s last weekend but will shoot for a better result this weekend.
– #23 Bolivian Kadim Carrasco takes on #26 American Justus Benson in the opener; 21-yr old Texan Benson has gone one-and-done in four straight tourneys and will be looking to break that streak here.

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Projecting the 32s:
– #16 Javier Mar likely takes on #17 Sebastian ‘Patata’ Fernandez in a very tasty match between two solid players. Somehow Fernandez gets exactly the 17th seed for the second straight event, meaning he has to play that extra match before facing a top opponent. Last week he qualified into the #1 seed; this time around he won’t be favored to repeat the feat. Mar slots into the brutal #16 seed, meaning that with a win he faces Kane in the first round of the main draw instead of the quarters (as he did in last year’s US Open) or later. A great match either way to see where Fernandez’ game is these days.
– #13 Thomas Carter likely takes on #20 Javier Estrada for the second week running. Estrada took him out in a breaker last week; will we see a different result here?
– #11 Mario Mercado Valenzuela likely vs #22 Natera; Both these players were taken out last week by the same guy (Charlie Pratt Racquetball): now they slate to face off for a spot in the main draw. Mercado’s season has been hit and miss: he’s got solid wins and surprising losses. its anyone’s guess here.
– #15 Eduardo Garay likely takes on #18 Adam Manilla. Manilla surprised everyone with his run in Austin and has committed to the tour full time; he has his hands full though with Colombian Garay, who beat Landa in Austin two weeks ago and is moving up in the world.

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Projecting the round of 16:
– #1 Kane Waselenchuk takes on the Mar/Fernandez winner; Kane took last week off and should be refreshed as compared to either player here, who are doing play-ins and working on two-three straight weeks of play.
– #8 Luis Conrrado Moscoso Serrudo vs #9 Rodrigo Montoya Solís]; Great match for the 16s. Montoya beat Moscoso in both 2018 Worlds (en route to the gold medal) and in the 2019 Pan Am games (en route to the gold medal). Both matches were close. Both are hard hitters, with great diving abilities. Moscoso has a slight knock sustained in Austin that still seemed to be bothering his mobility on the court in Sioux Falls. I’ll favor Montoya here.
– #5 Samuel Murray likely vs #12 Carlos Keller Vargas: another intriguing match; Murray knocked Keller out of the 2019 Pan Am games in the quarters, but Keller upset Murray in the 32s of the US Open (a big loss in the season’s biggest event for a top 8 seed). I like Murray here.
– #4 Alvaro Beltran likely vs #20 Estrada: These two met just last week at this same gate, an 8,9 win for Beltran. Can Estrada flip the script in a week’s time? Is three straight weeks and a ton of court time too much for the 41-yr old Beltran?
– #3 Andree Parrilla likely vs #14 Gerardo Franco Gonzalez; Parrilla has not been enjoying the mid-west swing so far: two one-and dones in a row in Austin and Sioux Falls. He’s now been beaten in the 16s three times this season: he had just one upset prior to the quarters the entirety of last season. If he wants to keep his top 4 seed, he needs to be making semis regularly. First up: an old WRT adversary in Franco. Parrilla is 4-0 against him in the old tour; they havn’t met professionally since 2017. I suspect Andree advances.
– #6 Lalo Portillo vs the Natera/Mercado winner. Match-ups matter: Portillo has a couple of wins over Natera in RKT local events in the last year, but lost to Mercado two weeks ago in Austin. Which Portillo shows up this week? The guy who looked absolutely dominant in a run to the finals last week? Or the guy who lost three straight round of 16 openers in Nov, Dec and Jan? I’m going to go with the former and project another run here for the youngster.
– #7 Jake Bredenbeck vs #10 Sebastian Franco; they’ve met 7 times in pro/IRF events over the years: Jake leads 4-3 and won their most recent skirmish; a RR affair at the 2019 Pan Am Games in Peru. I like Jake here; he’s been playing more consistent all season, while Franco has been missing events and taking upset losses.
– #2 Alex Landa vs #15 Garay. How hurt is Landa? He was really struggling against Murray last week before retiring. Next week is US Nationals, where he’s playing with Sudsy Monchik in an attempt to qualify for the US team … which I have to think is pretty darn important to him given all that transpired with the Mexican federation last year. Meanwhile, Garay is tough and just beat an un-injured Landa in Austin two weeks ago. I sense another upset here, whether its Garay beating him on the level or Landa protecting his arm.

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Projected Qtrs:
– #1 Kane over #9 Montoya: Kane’s 3-0 against the young world champ … but their most recent meeting in Portland in Dec was closer than it had been before. I sense a pattern in kane’s “close” matches; when a top player is playing well, they’ll hang with Kane for most of each game .. you’ll see scores like 8-8 or 10-9 … then poof, Kane hits another gear and suddenly its 15-10 game over. Its tough to play flawless racquetball for two straight hours against the GOAT; how close can Montoya come this time?
– Beltran/Estrada winner vs Murray; Which ever Mexican advances, i’ll favor over the big Canadian. It’ll be either Beltran (who’s never lost to Murray), or Estrada (who, if he beats Beltran it means he’s “on” this week and will be tough to stop).
– Parrilla over Portillo: I don’t think Parrilla is going to get upset three tourneys in a row; he’s never lost to Portillo in an IRT or WRT event (but did lost to him last year in SLP local event). But it’d be quite a statement if Lalo made another run.
– Garay over Jake/SFranco; if Garay tops Landa, no reason not to think he’d also get a win here.

I know I keep predicting wins for Estrada and Garay in particular; something about their games really strikes me as solid. Maybe i’m crazy, but both players have power, athleticism, good wins on their resumes and are growing tourney by tourney. What can I say, i’m a sucker for upsets.

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Semis:
– Kane over Estrada
– Parrilla over Garay

Finals: Kane over Parrilla.

Andree has come an awful long way from the 0,0,0 beating he took in the US Open 2016 at the hands of the king. Parrilla took a game from Kane in Syosset last season (though, to be fair Kane was nursing a hand injury), and was dominated in their most recent meeting (Portland semis). Look for Andree to find unique ways to keep this close but for Kane to pull away.

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Look for Streaming in the regular places; follow the IRT on facebook and sign up to get notifications when they go Live.
Look for Dean DeAngelo Baer, Favio Soto, Pablo Fajre and the IRTLive crew all weekend on the mike, calling the shots!

Tags

International Racquetball Tour
International Racquetball Federation – IRF
International Racquetball Federation
USA Racquetball
Racquetball Canada
Federación Mexicana de Raquetbol
Federación Boliviana De Raquetbol – Febora
Federación Boliviana de Racquetball
Racquetball Colombia
Federacion Colombiana de Racquetball
Federación Costarricense de Racquetball

IRT 2020 Longhorn Open Preview

Moscoso is back in the States. Photo US Open 2019, Photographer Kevin Savory

One of the sports biggest amateur events has added the IRT men to its slate of competitors, making for a massive tournament in Austin this coming weekend. No less than 457 players are entered into this weekend’s Longhorn Open, with a healthy 39-man pro draw.

The IRT returns to the state of Texas for the first time since March of 2018 … and to Austin for the first time since Feb 2003. Its also the first time the tour’s #1 player Kane Waselenchuk has been able to play a “home” event since Oct 2015.

R2 Sports App link: https://www.r2sports.com/tourney/home.asp?TID=31338

In the 39 man singles draw, we have the hoped-for strong Mexican player contingent, which is going to make for some *great* preliminary rounds and some fascinating match-ups. We are missing some key names though from the draw:
– #3 Rocky Carson announced on FB last week that he’s decided to skip this event to give his surgically repaired knee a bit more time to heal. He had a small knee op done in mid-Dec and isn’t quite ready to go yet.
– #9 Rodrigo Montoya Solís also missing.

These two absences jump #10 Lalo Portillo into the top 8 … and then thanks to the flip seeding this event he secures a lofty #6 seed. FYI, in case you’re wondering why the 5-8 seeds look odd, the flip seeding has resulted in slightly altered seedings versus rankings this event:
– #5 seeded Samuel Murray is ranked 8th at current
– #6 seeded Portillo is ranked 10th as noted above
– #7 seeded Daniel De La Rosa is ranked 6th at current
– #8 seeded Conrrado Moscoso is ranked 7th at current.

The more apparent and obvious implication of the flip is the possible Moscoso-Waselenchuk match-up in the quarters.

Other top 30 players missing in this event are #18 Sebastian ‘Patata’ Fernandez, #27 Sam Bredenbeck and #29 Jansen Allen, the longtime touring pro who misses an event that’s drive-able from his home outside of Dallas.

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Lets preview the draw. Here’s some notable qualifying matches that i’m looking forward to:

In the round of 128:
– #32 vs #33: Christian Longoria vs Andres Gomez; tough first rounder for the Colombian; Longoria is sneaky good and could be pressing for a main draw spot.
– #28 Justus Benson vs #37 Diana-Shai Manzuri; Manzuri continues to represent Argentina internationally well into his 40s, and will be a tough out for the regular tour player Benson. A home-state match-up for two Texas residents.
– #26 Kadim Carrasco vs #39 Edson Martinez: Martinez is seeded 39th of 39 players here, but he’s not the 39th best player in this draw. He’s made the quarters of this event twice in the last three years (albeit, when it was an WRT event). This could be a close match.

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In the round of 64:
– #33 Longoria vs #17 Robert Collins; Collins just misses out on the bye into the 32s, and may run into a player who can top him in Longoria.
– #20 Javier Mar vs #29 Alejandro Cardona; what a brutal match for these two. Mar is one of the top 6-7 players in the world, and Cardona isn’t far behind him. This is a quarter-final quality match happening way too early. I like Mar to move on and make a deep run here, as he frequently does during his rare IRT appearances.
– #19 Adam Manilla versus #30 Ernesto Ochoa; a great “show me” match-up between an IRT touring regular and an up and coming Mexican player with a ton of impressive wins on his resume. I like Ochoa for the upset.
– #23 Javier Estrada versus the Carrasco/Martinez winner; Estrada had a number of quality wins in the latter part of 2019, including two wins over Javier Mar. But he’s proven to be inconsistent. His last IRT appearance featured a win over Horn to make the main draw. Can he repeat here?

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Projecting the 32s: here’s some possible matchups, though the depth of this draw could make for some upsets and make these predictions moot:
– #9 Jake Bredenbeck vs #24 Alan Natera Chavez; Natera is another wild-card; he’s made the semis of Mexican Nationals two years running and has a ton of high-level wins, but he also can take curious losses. Which Natera will show up here? He can handle Jake’s power for sure; will that be enough? Jake looks to build on a solid pro season so far, which features no main draws missed and a semis appearance in Portland.
– #12 David ” Bobby” Horn vs #21 Jose Diaz; fly all the way to Texas to play the guy who lives down the road. Horn/Diaz know each other’s game pretty well, both being NorCal players frequenting the “209.” Who will have the upper hand on the day? I’m going to flip a coin and go with Diaz.
– #13 Carlos Keller Vargas vs #20 Mar: tough one for Keller; these two met at the US Open and Mar advanced. I think Keller’s streak of making the round of 16 ends here.
– #30 Ochoa vs #14 Gerardo Franco Gonzalez; Ochao downed Franco the last time they played last year in an RKT event; i think he wins again.
– #10 Sebastian Franco vs #23 Estrada: This could be a great match-up; I think these two are pretty close talent wise and if both are on their games, expect a dog-fight. I’ll go with Estrada here.
– #15 Thomas Carter vs #18 Eduardo Garay: Garay if he’s on his game can overpower Carter here, despite the Ohioan’s good play as of late.

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round of 16:
– #1 Kane over Acuna
– #8 Moscoso over #9 Jake
– #5 Samuel Murray over #21 Diaz
– #20 Mar over #4 Alvaro Beltran; Beltran gets one of the few qualifiers who I think can beat him. Mar pipped Beltran in the 2016 Mexican nationals to take a natioanl team spot from him, and since then Mar has continued to exude class.
– #3 Andree Parrilla over #30 Ochao; Ochoa has beaten Parrilla in the past (San Luis Potosi in 2018), but Parrilla needs to take advantage of his seeding to try to make a run to the final. i think he’ll move on here.
– #11 Mario Mercado over #6 Portillo: Portillo has run into talented players and one-and-dones the last two tournaments at this stage, and he runs into another one in Mercado. Mercado has the patience to beat the youngster Portillo and will move on with a tactical approach.
– #23 Estrada over #7 Daniel De La Rosa: I don’t think DLR’s heart is in it right now; i think he’s vulnerable to upset and a fired up guy like Estrada, who beat DLR the last time they played, could spell a one-and-done for the pickleball pro.
– #2 Alex Landa vs #18 Garay: Garay’s power won’t phase Landa, who’s putting together his best season and has shown little in the way of cracks in the armor.

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Projected Qtrs:
– #1 Kane vs #8 Moscoso: the US Open final rematch, a scintillating match on the sport’s biggest stage that showed the world what we could be in store for, if only the Bolivian played the tour full time. They met a few weeks later in teh semis of Arizona and Kane issued a schooling 10,2. What may happy here? Has Conrrado fixed his foot fault issues? Can he press the King?
– #20 Mar over #5 Murray; they’ve played a few times, and I don’t think Mar has ever lost to the Canadian #1.
– #3 Parrilla over #11 Mercado
– #2 Landa over #23 Estrada; Estrada’s magic runs out, though notably i don’t have a meeting between these two in the database. Would love to see these two face off.

Semis and Finals:
– Kane over Mar
– Landa over Parrilla

Finals; Kane over Landa.

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No pro doubles this event, but the Men’s Open is a full 32 strong, headlined by a slew of touring players. Since Portillo is ranked outside the top 10, he’s “allowed” to enter the Men’s Open draw despite being the 6th pro seed, and he’s the favorite in that draw. But there’s a slew of top local and Mexican players also in that draw, making it as compelling to the neutrals as the pro draw.

I also wanted to point out that there’s 52 players in the Men’s A draw. 52. There weren’t 52 combined men in Open, Elite AND A at the 2019 US Nationals event. Its no wonder the USAR is moving its Nationals event to this part of the country.

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Look for Streaming in the regular places; can’t wait for this event!

International Racquetball Tour
USA Racquetball
Racquetball Canada
Federación Mexicana de Raquetbol
Federación Boliviana De Raquetbol – Febora
Federación Boliviana de Racquetball
Racquetball Colombia
Federacion Colombiana de Racquetball
Federación Costarricense de Racquetball

2019 Arizona IRT Pro-Am Wrap-Up

Kane wins again. Photo US Open 2019 by Kevin Savory

Congrats to Kane Waselenchuk on his win in Tempe this past weekend. Notable facts and stats on the win:

– 119th title
– W/L now 552-53 for his career, 13-1 for the current season
– He increases his lead at the top of the rankings to more than 800 points over #2 Carson (that’s two Tier 1 wins worth of points, btw).

Match Report in the database: http://rball.pro/DCB7BC

r2sports link for the event: https://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=30719

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Here’s a re-cap of notable matches by round:

In the 128s:
– only one upset by seed: Arizona’s Preston Tribble took out Oregon’s Jim Douglas in two.

In the 64s, some upsets:
– Texan Ruben Baez took out Chilean veteran international Francisco Troncoso 11-9 in the breaker.
– IRT regular Justus Benson fell to top Virginia amateur Thomas Gerhardt 9,8. Solid night of qualifying for Gerhardt, who wins both Thursday matches to move into the 32s in (and I had to check this twice) his first ever IRT Tier 1 appearance. Local players to the east coast know him well as one of the top players in Virginia and a frequent local area tournament participant; can he keep the run going in the next round?
– Similarly to Gerhardt, Utah amateur Anthony Martin also took out a regular IRT touring pro in Nick Riffel 9,8 to move on. Solid win for Martin, who earns a spot against #11 Jake (and a spot on the live streaming) on Friday morning.

In the 32s, a couple of surprises:
– Colombian Set Cubillos Ruiz got perhaps his best ever career win, playing solid ball to oust #12 Sebastian Fernandez in a breaker. After taking a close first game, Fernandez came out on fire in game two to win it 15-3 … but then couldn’t keep up the pressure as Cubillos really earned it.

– #14 Thomas Carter played two solid games to oust #30 Gerhardt in two 12,9. Great showing by Gerhardt in his tour debut.

– #15 Bolivian Carlos Keller Vargas was taken to the limit in game one against Costa Rican veteran #18 Felipe Camacho, then ran away in game two to advance 14,4.

– The final round of 32 to complete featured a close match that may have surprised some observers: relative unknown player Ruben Baez, making his IRT Tier 1 debut, took it to the #9 seed David ” Bobby” Horn, beating him in game one before running out of gas in the tiebreaker to fall (14),10,3. Baez’s USAR ranking, per the comment box, is #626. He certainly doesn’t play like the 626th ranked player in the land.

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Round of 16 observations: just one upset by seed, but some solid matches.

– #17 Andres Acuña really pushed #1 Kane Waselenchuk , nearly taking game two from him before falling 8,14. As I’ve mentioned in this space a lot over the past few months, Acuna’s game has improved by leaps and bounds in the past year, he made his first pro quarter in Laurel in Sept, and I think he can continue to rise.

– #9 Horn could not follow-up on his solid Bay Club win, falling to #8 Samuel Murray in two.

– #5 Conra Moscoso Ortiz‘s first match since the US Open was up against the surprising Colombian Cubillos, a nice all-South American match-up. Moscoso made short work of Cubillos though, winning 4,6 to move on.

– #14 Carter played pretty well to push #3 Alex Landa, falling in two 11,11.

– #6 Andree Parrilla continued his recent head-to-head dominance over his long-time WRT rival #11 Jake Bredenbeck, advancing 9,11.

– In the round’s sole upset by seed, #10 Eduardo Portillo Rendon took out home-town favorite #6 Daniel De La Rosa in two close games 13,12. They met in Atlanta earlier in the season, but Portillo was able to turn the tide here. He advances to just his second ever pro quarter final, while DLR surprisingly is one-and-done in his home-town tournament (one that I thought he’d leverage the crowd support to make a finals run). This win is nearly enough to put Portillo into the top 10 for the first time, while DLR continues his uneven start to the new season.

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In the Qtrs:
– Kane committed canuck-on-canuck crime, defeating his country-man Murray comprehensively 5,4

– #5 seed Moscoso was stretched to a tiebreaker by #4 Álvaro Beltrán before advancing.

– #3 Landa turned the tide on a recent trend of losing to #6 Parrilla head to head, completely dominating their quarter final and advancing 3,7.

– But the story of this event happened in the final quarter; #10 Portillo, playing in just his 2nd pro qtr … took out #2 Rocky Carson in two games 10,8 to reach his first ever pro semi. Portillo finished last season ranked 17th while playing the tour part time, but has consistently made the main draws of the last seven pro events he’s entered to push his ranking to the cusp of the top 10.

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In the semis;
– We got our highly anticipated re-match of the US Open final in the top half, with Kane and Moscoso going at it. Far fewer FFs this time from Moscoso, who introduced a new motion and clearly has worked on his footwork. It did not help; Kane does what he typically does against good opponents who hang with him for portions of game 1; he hung in there til about 10-10, then ran off 5 straight to take the first game. Demoralized about missing out on chances, Mosocos got wiped out in game two to lose 10,2. Kane is still the master, even if you watch Conrrado’s game plan and see a possible pathway forward for him at some point in the future. With this result, Moscoso will move up to 7th in the tour rankings despite only having points from four events.

– #3 Landa made fast work of the youngster Lalo, ending his run 5,9 to advance to his 5th ever IRT pro final. With this result, Portillo should move up to 9th on tour, putting himself in position to get a top8 seed if one of the existing top 8 misses an event.

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In the final, Kane demoralized Landa, put away mistakes on the service return with clinical precision, and dominated the match to win 4,7. He improves to 15-1 against Landa head to head (the sole loss was a fft/no-show).

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Points ramifications: based on my points projections, here’s the ramifications of this weekend on the tour rankings:
– Moscoso and Murray swap places at 7,8
– Portillo improves from 12 to 9
– By virtue of Portillo’s move, he pushes Montoya, Franco and Horn each down one slot.
– Collin’s moves up 2 spots from 18 to 16
– Acuna jumps up 4 spots to #22.
– Cubillos improves 10 spots from 39 to 29.

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Next up; the IRT moves to Fullerton for the Los Compadres Auto Sales Open, which should get a pretty solid draw. There’s also a big Costa Rican tourney, which may pull away the likes of Acuna and Camacho to compete on home soil

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International Racquetball Tour
USA Racquetball
Racquetball Canada
Federación Mexicana de Raquetbol
Federación Boliviana de Racquetball
Federación Costarricense de Racquetball
Fecoracquet Fecoracquet

2019 Arizona IRT Pro-Am Preview

R2Sports link: https://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=30719

The IRT has released the draws for this coming weekend’s Arizona IRT Pro-Am, so its time to do a preview!

(to see the released draws before they’re available on R2, follow the IRT on facebook where they’ve been posted as of Noon Tuesday 10/22/19).

The IRT returns to Arizona for the first time in many years; the tournament is being held on the campus of Arizona State University, which has become a popular spot to host major tournaments. ASU’s campus in Tempe has held USAR National doubles every year since 2005, has hosted a slew of USAR intercollegiates championships in that same time (including 2019’s tournament), and hosted the USAR National singles event in 2017.

But, its been a while since we’ve seen either pro tour head to Arizona at all. The last time a tier 1 Men’s event was in Arizona was in May 2003, when the school hosted the season ending Pro Nationals event. For some historical context of that event and season: Huczek beat Alvaro Beltran in the final, it was the last event in Mannino sole year end title, and the top 4 seeded players in the event were all were upset in the quarters (Mannino, Swain, Waselenchuk and Ellis). Waselenchuk lost to Carson … one of the three career wins Rocky has on his long-time nemesis. Before 2003, you have to go all the way back to the mid 1990s, when a regular tour stop was held in Phoenix for several seasons, and before that the mid 1980s when the Arizona Pro-Am featured winners like Hogan and Brett Harnett.

The Ladies tour hasn’t been to Arizona in more than decade itself; in Feb 2008 the WPRO Fireball Pro-Am featured a final
between the 1 and 2 seeds, as Rhonda downed Cheryl on her way to the 2008 year end title (Longoria was just starting on tour and finished 6th that season).

So, great to have pro racquetball back in Arizona. Thanks to tournament director Jim Winterton for his efforts and sponsorship.

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The Men’s draw has 37 players, a good mix of southwest-locals and traveling regulars. Who is missing this weekend? The top 8 players are here, including Bolivian Conrrado kevin Moscoso Ortiz Racquetball, who moved up to being ranked 8th on the back of his US Open final appearance. However both the 9th and 10th ranked players (Rodrigo Montoya Solís and Sebastian Franco) are missing. Other top 20 players missing include #13 Mario Mercado,
#15 Gerardo Franco Gonzalez, and #16 Jose Diaz. Diaz missed the first two events on the year, both east-coast based, perhaps for travel related issues. But now he misses a west-coast event; are we seeing him stepping back officially from touring? Perhaps so. Along the same note, former top 8 player Mercado has now slipped to 13, and former top 8 player Jansen Allen is now outside the top 20.

Also missing from this draw are a slew of players from Mexican hot-beds like Juarez and Chihuahua; both of which are easy drives to Tempe. I would have initially expected, like we used to see with WRT events in the south western part of the country, a junket of carpooling of Mexican players heading to the event. But, unfortunately, there are a couple competing events this weekend (an IRT Tier 4 in El Paso,Texas State Singles & Doubles, but most notably, a big RKT tournament in Mexico City). The Mexican event’s top 8 seeds (GFranco,
Mar, Estrada, Natera, Ochoa, Cardona, Nieto, and Cuevas) are all IRT regulars these days and players who would be pushing for the 16s or the quarters if they were here. Furthermore the El Paso event pulled two other top Mexican players (Eduardo Garay Rodriguez and Jaime Martell Neri) away from the Arizona event. We’ll do quick previews/wrap-ups of those events later this week, but if you’re wondering where these guys are … well there’s your answer.

The Arizona draw does the “flip” seeding, so the 5-8 seeds are jumbled. 5th ranked Parrilla is seeded 6th, 6th ranked DLR is seeded 7th, 7th ranked Murray is seeded 8th, and 8th ranked Moscoso is seeded 5th. Probably goes without saying that this flip most benefits Moscoso, who achieves a top 8 rank and seed for the first time in his career and avoids Kane until a possible semi-final meeting, and most penalizes Murray, who is forced into Kane’s quarter.

One last thing worth noting: the IRT has listened to fan requests with the streaming schedule and will be streaming significantly more matches this weekend. Check out the match times on the bracket; the streaming schedule allows for double the matches to be shown at each round throughout the weekend. The plan is to stream no less than 8 qualifying matches on Friday, then have staggered start times Saturday to show more of the 16s before streaming all the qtrs/semis/finals as normal.

Broadcast schedule; 8 friday, 5 sat, 1 sun. That’s a lot of matches for us fans, and a lot for Mr. Dean DeAngelo Baer to call … but is awesome for those of us remote.

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Lets preview the draw highlighting matches that I think are compelling.

In the 128s: five play-in matches to get to the 32s, mostly with Texas/Arizona locals battling it out, but also including traveling
players like Jim Douglas (Oregon) and Thomas Gerhardt (from VA).

In the 64s:
– Ruben Baez takes on Chilean veteran Francisco Troncoso. So, in case you don’t know who Baez is … he played in the Pueblo lower tier IRT event in March, entered as the 27th seed, beat Jake Bredenbeck in the quarters and lost to Horn in the semis 13,14. He’s a very solid player
who can make waves in this event if he plays the way he did in Pueblo and gets the right match-ups.

– Set Cubillos Ruiz continues his challenging travel schedule by returning to the states just a few days after competing in (and winning) the Barranquilla Open in his home country of Colombia, right on the back of competing in the US Open, to take on a play-in winner between Douglas and Arizona’s Preston Tribble.

– Gerhardt vs Justus Benson: Gerhardt is a tough player from Virginia who frequently competes in both indoor and outdoor venues: if he gets past Arizona’s Coy Jay Rogers, he can make life difficult for Benson. Justus is coming off of two straight one-and-dones in IRT events, including a loss in Laurel to Pennsylvania amateur Geoff Heskett, and needs to get his season going.

– Nick Riffel vs Anthony Martin: Martin is a Utah local with just a couple of results on his resume; he played the Atlanta IRT
event earlier this season and took Gerardo Franco to a breaker. This might be a closer match than IRT touring regular Riffel wants at this juncture.

– The younger Bredenbeck brother Sam Bredenbeck gets a solid opener against infrequent IRT participant Daniel Neri; Bredenbeck has some really solid results lately, with wins over IRT regulars like Carter and Riffel at the 2019 Lewis Drug.

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In the 32s:
– #16 Adam Manilla takes on #17 Andrés Acuña; great match between two solid up and coming young players. I like Acuna here; he’s on a roll and has been improving at every stop.

– #9 David ” Bobby” Horn takes on Baez in a re-match of the CSU-Pueblo shootout semis that was so close. Can Baez turn the table here? Horn missed the first two events of the season with injury, played solidly at the US Open and then took a dominant win on his home court two weekends ago to win the Bay Club Open over a solid draw that included a win over Charlie Pratt in the final. I expect a close match here.

– #14 Thomas Carter takes on the winner beween Gerhardt and Benson; Carter’s been playing solid lately, with a win over Diaz at the US Open and taking two very good players to breakers in losses (Keller and Carson). I like Carter to move on here.

– #10 Lalo Portillo takes on the younger Bredenbeck; Eduardo is now in the top 10 and he’s earned it. He’ll move on here despite the challenge from the improving Bredenbeck.

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Projecting the 16s: Assuming qualifying goes as I expect, here’s some interesting 16s to look for

– #8 Samuel Murray vs #9 Horn: 8/9 is always tough, and these players have split their 3 meetings somewhat evenly. Horn won their most recent meeting, in Florida in April, in two close games. I’ll go with Horn backing up his excellent win in Pleasanton with the upset here to move into the qtrs.

– #5 Conra Moscoso Ortiz vs #12 Sebastian Fernandez: another brutal draw for the teenager Fernandez, who had to play former top 5 touring pro Marco Rojas in the first round of the Bay Open and lost in a breaker, and now funnels into the red-hot Moscoso, fresh off of a solid run to the US Open finals. This is the hard part about being a player ranked in the teens: you have to start getting wins over top 8 players to move into the top 8, and every draw is an uphill battle.

– #6 Andree Parrilla vs #11 Jake Bredenbeck: a great throw-back match-up between two long time WRT players. They’ve met 6 times in top level events: Jake won their first 3 meetings (all in the 2015 time-frame), while Andree has won the last three meetings (all in the 2019 calendar year). The matches are always close, so I’ll predict another Parrilla tie-breaker win. After a solid opening to the season, Parrilla has lost two winnable matches in Laurel and the US Open to see his ranking (which had peaked at #3) slip a bit, and he needs to be making semis regularly to take the next step.

– #7 Daniel De La Rosa vs #10 Portillo: These two met in Atlanta in Sept, and DLR advanced in a tie-breaker. Portillo has been rapidly moving up the rankings, but has also now exited at this juncture (the round of 16) in seven straight IRT events. He needs a high-profile win over a top 8 player. But, is DLR the right guy? This event is essentially a home event for him, hailing from Mexico but now living in Arizona the next town over from Tempe. He’ll have family cheering him on and could be primed for a solid run.

– #2 Rocky Carson vs #15 Carlos Keller Vargas: wow, two straight brutal round of 16 draws for Carson, who gets no benefit from the #2 seed in having to play a solid international player in Keller who has more than a few titles to his credit. They’ve played twice: at the 2011 Pan Am games and at the 2019 Bolivian grand slam, both two-game quarter final wins for Carson. So advantage Rocky … but Keller ran through this list of names to take the 2019 Pan American Racquetball Championships title: Coby Iwaasa, Horn, Beltran and Pratt. So if he gets hot, he can get wins.

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Possible Qtrs:
– #1 Kane Waselenchuk over #9 Horn; they’ve only played a handful of times, All Kane wins. Their last meeting was in Florida in April 2018, Kane’s first event back after his knee injury, and Horn played a solid game against the hobbling and distracted Kane before losing in two. Kane’s got his focus back now, and will try not to look past this match at his possible semis opponent.

– #5 Moscoso over #4 Beltran: they’ve met twice; once a dominant Beltran win at the 2015 Pan Am games, the other a dominant Moscoso win at the Bolivian grand slam earlier this year. I think we’re more likely to see the latter result than the former here; Moscoso has the same shooter mentality as Beltran, but can drive serve with the best of them, keeping Beltran from setting his feet and likely leading to a lot of 3-point rallies on his serve.

– #3 Alex Landa vs #6 Parrilla: Landa has had a nice start to his season; two semis and a quarter, to maintain his #3 ranking for now. But Parrilla matches up well here: he’s beaten Landa 5 of the last 6 times they’ve faced each other going back several years. Parrilla’s playing style matches up well with Landa, he can hang with his shots and can retrieve well. I look for Landa to hold serve, but barely. And an upset here would not surprise me.

– #2 Carson vs #7 DLR: Carson waxed a possible disinterested DLR in their last meeting (the season finale in Sarasota in April), but DLR had three straight defeats of Rocky before that and could be looking at this as a way to get his season back on track. Meanwhile, Rocky needs to rebound from his round of 16 loss on the sport’s biggest stage; he’s still safely in the #2 spot, but needs to continue to make finals to stay there. I like DLR here in the upset.

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Projected Semis:

– #1 Waselenchuk vs #5 Moscoso; well, this is what the people want. I think it may happen. A rematch of the US Open final, which featured a tight back and forth game 1 before Kane ran away with it in game 2. What did Moscoso take from that match? Hopefully he took away the need to work on his serving motion so that foot faults don’t dominate the conversation surrounding his game. A more consistent serving game with first/drive serves pacing his game will do wonders to help him drive the conversation against Kane. I still think Kane has the upper hand, but cannot wait to see this possible match-up if it happens.

– #7 DLR vs #3 Landa: two old adversaries meet again; i’ve got them meeting 13 times across pro and Mexican Nationals events over the years, with Landa holding a 6-5 advantage overall. Landa’s won their last 5 meetings … but those include two 11-10 wins (including the quarters in Atlanta in September). Point is this: these guys play close every time, they know each other’s game, and there’s just a knife’s edge between them. I will go with DLR getting the slightest of home court advantages and moving to the final.

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My predicted final: Kane over DLR. DLR’s sole win over Kane was in the ill-fated 2018 California Open, when Kane hurt his knee the round prior to DLR’s meeting and withdrew with the injury that ended up costing him 4 months and the 2017-18 title. They havn’t played since the final of the Lewis Drug in January, a 4,2 shellacking by Kane to take the high profile Sioux falls event. I like DLR showing some spunk in this match, perhaps with flashes of brilliance at times, but Kane winning in the end.

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As always, follow IRT for streaming options throughout the weekend, say high to Dean Baer online, and support pro racquetball 🙂

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IRT Men’s Qualifying wrap-up and round of 32 preview

Jaime Martel lis the higest seeded player to qualify for the 2019 main draw. Photo via Roby Partovich/US Open 2015

We’re down to the top 32, having played 2-3 rounds of qualifiers Wednesday to whittle the field from 94.

here’s the matches I found notable or upset-worthy from Wednesday’s marathon qualifying.

In the 256s:
– fellow Virginian Rich Benderoth took a tiebreaker win over Erik Solter. Shout out to Rich, who regularly spanked me a decade ago when I used to actually play this sport. Unfortunately he injured himself in the process and forfeited his next round.

– USA 18U junior Lucas Shoemaker gets a win in his professional debut, downing Bolivian Vladimir Fernando Salas in a tie-breaker.

– Colorado native Jacob Kingsford gets a win in his debut pro/national level event over Ecuadorian Fabian Cuesta].

– An intra-Dallas inter-generational battle was taken by the veteran; Diana-Shai Manzuri took out Lukas Le 5,6 to advance.

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In the 128s:
– Andrew Gale took out IRT regular Nick Riffel in a tie-breaker; very solid win for the veteran player Gale, who first played in the US Open in 2006.

– Francisco Reyes took out IRT touring regular Justus Benson 6,12.

– Erik Garcia took out the tough Mexican Christian Longoria by the scores of 10,2.

– Troy Warigon dominated rematch of a qualifier in Laurel two weeks ago against Yacouba Keita, advancing by the dominant scores of 3,1.

– Sam Bredenbeck took out Colombian international Andres Gomez in two solid games.

– Sebastian Fernandez himself still an 18U junior, was stretched to a tiebreaker by a fellow Mexican junior (albeit a younger one) in Guillermo Ortega before advancing.

– Pennsylvania amateur Joe Kelley stretched Alan Natera Chavez to a tiebreaker before the Mexican advanced.

– Former top WRT pro Jaime Martell Neri took out 20th ranked Costa Rican Felipe Camacho.

– In a battle of two IRT veterans, Colombian Alejandro Herrera Azcarate took out Japanese legend Hiroshi Shimizu in two close games to advance.

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In the 64s.

– Kansas amateur Bradley Rogers upset the highest ranked player in qualifying, 17th seeded Robert Collins 12,8 to earn a main draw berth. Rogers gets his best win on tour in four years.

– Javier Estrada advanced over Bolivian junior phenom Diego Garcia Quispe, who had to retire mid-game2 with injury. The two were playing close though, with the score 13-14 at the point of injury.

– Javier Mar dominated Ernesto Ochoa 13,5 to advance to the main draw and a meeting with his doubles partner. Tough draw for Ochoa, who was making his IRT Tier 1 debut here after putting up some very impressive results in 2019.

– Bolivian vet Kadim Carrasco was pushed to a tiebreaker by Colombian Set Cubillos Ruiz before advancing.

– Big upset of a dark horse candidate for me: Colombian Francisco Reyes Gomez upset Natera in a tiebreaker to advance. We don’t know much about Reyes; he’s got a few US Open appearances in the past but this is probably his best career win.

– Martel gets a great win to advance into the main draw, topping Garcia 14,6.

– Eduardo Garay Rodriguez held serve and topped MoMo Zelada 11,9 to advance into the main draw.

– Maurice Miller ended Gale’s upset run to qualify.

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now for the 32s. And there’s some amazing matches today. Here’s what i’m looking for:

– #1 Kane Waselenchuk vs #33 Estrada: Estrada made a statement at the Black Gold cup, topping 4 top 10 players to take the title. Well, now he can measure up against the worlds best for a status check.

– #9 Rodrigo Montoya Solis vs #24 Mar: these two ran into each other in the round of 32 at the Syosset open as well; just a function of unlucky seeding. Mar took that last meeting en route to a quarter final appearance. Expect a close match between these doubles partners that know each other’s game pretty well.

– #8 Samuel Murray vs #25 Keller: pay no attention to the seedings here: this is a battle of two evenly matched players. They met in the 16s of the Pan Am Games in Lima, a tie-breaker win for the Canadian. But Keller is no easy out; he’s an experienced, accomplished international player with two PARC titles on his resume

#13 David Horn​ vs #77 Martell; This is an interesting matchup between two long stalwards of the WRT. These two met 9 times on the old WRT, with Horn leading 5-4 h2h but Jaime Martell Racquetball​ taking the most recent meeting (May 2018 in Atlanta). This could go either way; Horn has missed time with an injury this season; is he 100%? He’ll need to be to beat his long time rival. (post-publishing correction; initially I had Martell playing into Landa here; my staging tables were incorrect and hence this correction after publishing).

– #14 Lalo Portillo vs #19 Charlie Pratt; Watch out for the upset here; every time Pratt enters a draw he makes noise. Pratt could lose here to the rapidly improving Portillo, or he could run to the semis. Expect a tactical battle here.

– #6 Daniel De La Rosa vs #27 Garay: I like this match; Garay’s power versus DLR’s guile. Daniel won’t be surprised by Garay’s pop; they met in teh 2016 Mexican nationals prior to Garay’s re-flagging and he advanced in a tiebreaker. I like DLR here but I think it goes breaker.

– #10 Mario Mercado vs #23 Sebastian Fernandez; this is a fascinating match-up between Mercado, who despite having (in my opinion) improving results on the court lately is treading water from a rankings perspective thanks to rising pressure of up and coming players, and Fernandez, who seems set to jump straight from 18U into the pro ranks and make a splash. I think this goes down to the wire with the veteran advancing.

– #15 Luis Conrrado Moscoso Serrudo vs #18 Andres Acuña; this should be another barn burner; they’ve met four times in IRF junior and senior events and 3 times it has gone breaker. All four are Moscoso wins … but Acuna always make sit hard on the Bolivian number one.

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We’ll circle back for the 16s once the 32s are done.

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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.

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2019 Valentine Open Preview

Rocky Carson looks to go back to back. Photo courtesy of Rocky’s twitter @rockycarsonRB

The IRT returns to Laurel, MD for the second year in a row for the 2019 Valentine Open, named after its tournament director Tracie D Valentine and her daughter Imanii Valentine. The tour is back at one of the legendary east coast venues of Sportfit Laurel for this event.

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

Lets preview the draw. there’s 33 players entered this year including a ton of internationals and some MD/VA/PA locals. As noted last week, there’s some movement in the top 8, notably Parrilla taking over 3rd and Montoya moving into 7th … but the “flip” seeding is in place here so the 5-8 seeds are jumbled from their normal spots.

Missing top players: The biggest name missing is #6 Daniel De La Rosa who misses the event sandwiched in between 3-wall in Vegas and a major pickleball event, so he may have had to take a schedule break. We’re also missing a lot of tour regulars from last season in the 11-20 range, including #11 Jose Diaz, #13 David ” Bobby” Horn, and #18-20 Charlie PrattJansen Allen and Felipe Camacho. Two tourneys missed in a row for these guys: it look like maybe there’s a changing of the guard on tour.

Here’s some round of 64 matches to watch for:

– MoMo Zelada versus Kyle Ulliman: Zelada plays on his home courts and gets the traveling Ulliman, who returns to Laurel for the 2nd year in a row. Could be a tight one.
– MD native Jamal Harris takes on The Ref, Scott McClellan in an opener. Hopefully McClellan doesn’t have any avoidables taken away from him… (inside joke on a FB discussion after last event).
– Veteran Bolivian Kadim Carrasco takes on 18U local player Dylan Pruitt also playing on his home courts.
– Justus Benson takes on a tough lefty from Pennsylvania Geoff Heskett.

Projecting the 32s:
– #16 Eduardo Garay Rodriguez vs #17 Carlos Keller Vargas; 16/17 matches are always tough, and this South American battle will be no different. Garay was just crowned Colombian Champ, while Keller is the 2-time reigning Pan American Racquetball Championships winner. I like Garay in a tie-breaker and I like seeing him make a push on tour early.
– #9 Mario Mercado vs #24 Zelada: just another night at the club for these two native Bolivians, who both lived in the DC area for a while and got more than a few local tournament match-ups. Mercado has been playing solid lately and will look to advance.
– #14 Andres Acuña vs #19 Carrasco: another international flavor match between two guys who have never managed to meet.
– #15 Thomas Carter vs #18 Benson: Just like the 16/17, the 15/18 meeting will be tight as well. I like Carter here to return to the 16s in Laurel.

Projecting the Main draw: assuming seeds hold in the qualifiers, here’s some fun 16s to look for:
– #1 Kane Waselenchuk vs #16 Garay: I can’t wait to see Kane taking on a good young hard hitting player like Garay. If its Keller instead, we’re talking about a solid tactician unmoved by power play given how much he plays @Luis Luis Conrrado Moscoso Serrudo back home. Either way, a great round of 16 that’s likely on the show/streaming court.
– #8 Rodrigo Montoya Solis vs #9 Mercado; Montoya missed a chance in the 8/9 match last tourney … now he gets a match against a guy who beat him in Lima just a few weeks ago. Look for a solid match but Montoya to advance.
– #6 Samuel Murray vs #11 Lalo Portillo; upset warning: Portillo beat Murray in California in Jan 2019 and has done nothing but improve since. Portillo continues his push for the top 10.
– #7 Alvaro Beltran vs #10 Jake Bredenbeck; A nice match-up; Bredenbeck was nursing an injury earlier this summer that reportedly kept him out of the season opener; if he’s not 100% he’ll struggle to beat Beltran, who continues to impress even as he approaches his 41st birthday.

Projected Quarters:
– #1 Kane vs #8 Montoya: would love to see this one; power v power. Montoya has just two meeting with Kane, both pretty dominant wins for the World #1.
– #4 Alex Landa vs #5 Sebastian Franco; Franco gets Landa on his (Franco’s) home courts. Franco made the semis last year and will be looking for an upset; these two always seem to play tight, and Franco beat Landa to win his sole pro title. Watch out for the upset here.
– #3 Andree Parrilla vs #6 Murray; if Murray gets past Portillo, he runs into a tough one in Parrilla, who lost 11-10 in the quarters last year in Laurel and won’t want to lose his #3 ranking at this juncture.
– #2 Rocky Carson vs #7 Beltran. These two have met no less than 49 times on tour; they’re more than familiar with each other and played a rather testy tiebreaker in their last meeting in January. This is no cakewalk for Carson. Combined age: more than 81 years between the two of them.

Semis:
– Kane over Landa: these two seem to play the same way each time: Landa keeps it close up to about 10-10, then Kane breaks away for a 15-10 win. Look for a two game victory with the scores like 10,8
– Carson over Parrilla: So here’s the interesting match up. These two met in the quarters of this event last year, and Parrilla had match point on his racquet and blew a simple cross court into the ground before losing 11-10. Then they didn’t play again until last weekend’s Atlanta final (a 13,8 win for Rocky). I like Andree’s chances here of pushing for a tie-breaker on these slower courts but won’t predict a win.

Final: Kane over Rocky, yet again.

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That’s how I see it for this weekend. I’ll be at the club all day thursday to take in the 64s and 32s before jetting back home. Hope to see you out there, and maybe we’ll do some test broadcasting later thursday night.

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IRT Atlanta Open Preview

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

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

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

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

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Lets preview the singles draw first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Men’s Doubles preview

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

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

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

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

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

International Racquetball Tour
International Racquetball Federation – IRF