USA National Singles Preview

Rajsich looking for her 9th straight title this weekend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Men’s Singles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IRT Syosset Tier 1 Preview

IRT back in action.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Projecting the round of 32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Possible Quarters

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

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

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

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

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

Final: Kane over Landa.

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

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Battle of the Alamo IRT Tier 4 and Mixed Pro Doubles wrap-up

Natera the double winner on the weekend in San Antonio.

It was quite a busy weekend for pro racquetball. A 35-man IRT tier 1 draw in Florida was actually missing a slew of quality players, who opted mostly to stay closer to home and compete in the IRT tier 4 draw held in conjunction with the LPRT Battle at the Alamo event in San Antonio, TX.

Because of the quality of the event, and the solid mixed pro doubles event, I thought i’d do a quick review of the draws here.

A note: we do not load lower IRT tier events into the database, but as a fan of the game here’s a draw review.

r2 sports IRT draw: https://www.r2sports.com/tourney/drawsOut/view-bracket.asp…

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A 15-man pro draw; here were the notable results round by round.

In the 16s:
– Erik Garcia won a rematch of the USAR intercollegiate finals earlier this month, topping Texan Alejandro Almada in a tiebreaker. 
Alejandro Alex Cardona whitewashed the youngster Sebastian Longoria 0,0. Sebastian Longoria is playing in his age 17 season, while Cardona is one of the top 15-20 players in the world, so this is hopefully a good learning experience for Sebastian.

In the Quarters:
– #1 seed Gerardo Franco Gonzalez beat #9 seed A.J. Fernandez 4,5.
– #5 Seed Garcia got a very solid win over #4 Ernesto Ochoa in a tiebreaker. I have Ochoa in my top 30, and Garcia just took a big step up based on this win and his performance against Rocky Carson at qualifiers in Feb.
– Perpetually under-seeded Alan Natera Chavez took out #3 Javier Estrada7,7. Natera has wins over Javier Mar and Rodrigo Montoya in the past year and has made the semis of Mexican Nationals two years running … but has never appeared in a Tier 1 IRT event and thus has no points. 
– #7 seed Cardona topped #2 seed, IRT regular Nick Riffel11 and 12. A tough first match-up for Riffel in this event, coming up against the two-time WRT tour winner.

In the semis:
– #1 Franco topped Garcia 3,7, ending the collegiate champ’s run.
– #6 Natera squeaked by Cardona 11-10 in the breaker, probably a good indicator of where both players are right now. I think its probably fair to say the bottom half of this draw was more challenging than the top.

In the final, Natera defended his San Antonio title by wiping out Gerardo Franco 10 and 5. A solid weekend of victories over world top 30 players for Natera, who continues to impress.

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Mixed Pro Doubles.

Interestingly, the LPRT didn’t play ladies pros and instead opted for Mixed Pro doubles. So there was a solid draw of 14 Mixed pro teams that included most of the top LPRT pros playing with (primarily) the Mexican traveling pro players.

In the final, Paola Longoria teamed with Gerardo Franco to face Montse Mejia, who was playing Natera. Mejia and Natera came out on top, making Natera the double winner on the weekend.

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International Racquetball Tour LPRT USA Racquetball Federación Mexicana de Raquetbol

2019 LPRT Battle at the Alamo Preview

Draws: https://www.r2sports.com/portfolio/r2-event.asp?TID=30301

Post Publishing Editor’s note: the draw was remade completely just prior to the begining of play when Frederique Lambert withdrew. So most of the predicted matchups below are now moot. Apologies; I don’t have time to re-write it and re-analyze it.

Like the IRT, the LPRT is back in action this weekend in San Antonio, the 8th year running for an LPRT component at the Battle at the Alamo event.

22 pros entered here, coming on the heels of a huge PARC event in Colombia, which may have dampened attendance a bit. Nonetheless, the top 10 active pros are here, and a good chunk of the ladies ranked 11-20 are here as well, and it looks like a solid draw.

here’s some of the singles matches to watch for:

Round of 32:
– The #16/17 seed match is a good one: Maria Renee Rodríguez taking on Mexican vet Susana Susy Acosta. Rodriguez got a solid win at PARCs representing Guatemala over 6th ranked Mendez but lost in the knockouts early. 
– #11 Adrienne Fisher Haynes takes on Daniela Rico, the current reigning World 14U junior champion. Haynes was the most accomplished female junior in the sports history, winning 10 World Junior titles. Rico won’t get there, but has four more years to extend her record.

Round of 16:
– #8 Frederique Lambert vs #9 Adriana Riveros; Lambert, Canada’s undisputed #1 female, couldn’t commit the time to play in PARC this year, and her training has driven down her ranking to its current #8 spot. She was the #2 ranked player at the end of the last two seasons running, lest anyone forget. Fred should advance here and give Paola an early QF test.
– #4 Alexandra Herrera versus #13 Brenda Laime Jalil; nothing like lefty versus lefty to make both players uncomfortable. Laime has challenged a bit lately on tour, perhaps a benefit of playing at CSU-Pueblo with fellow touring pros Munoz and Riveros. 
– #7 Nancy Enriquez vs #10 Amaya Cris; they’ve met once; in the 16s of this event last year, an Enriquez 3-game win. Amaya is coming back from a long week at PARC, and may struggle to keep up with the tough Enriquez here.
– #2 Samantha Salas Solis vs #15 Montse Mejia; wow, what a brutal match-up for a round of 16. I have these two players 2nd and 3rd in my world power rankings right now, and they meet here in the 16s. Mejia is coming off an upset loss early in the PARC knockouts to Mendez, while Salas paired with Longoria to dominate the doubles and win her 16th career IRF doubles title. I suspect that the longer pro format favors Salas here, even though in their last meeting Mejia shocked Salas (and then Longoria) to win the 2019 Mexican national title. Salas comes back to win a 5 game battle.

Projected quarters:
– #1 Paola Longoria vs #8 Lambert; an early battle between the top two players over the past 3 seasons. Lambert’s focus hasn’t been on touring, while Paola Longoria just cruised to her 8th PARC title. Longoria runs away with this one.
– #4 Herrera vs #5 Rhonda Rajsich; despite fighting through a lingering knee issue that hampered her in both Bolivia and at PARC, Rajsich still made the quarters of both events with tough wins throughout. She’s also never lost to Herrera, 8-0 lifetime on tour. What happens here? Its been a year and a half since they met, and Herrera has consistently made the semis this season (5 of 7 events; semis or better). I think Herrera may break through here.
– #3 Maria Jose Vargas vs #6 Natalia Mendez Erlwein; these Argentinian countrymates had never met until this year; now they’re slated to play for the third time in 2 months. Their semi finals meeting at PARC was a tough one, with line judges called in early, eventually won by Vargas in the tiebreaker. I sense Vargas continues to have the upper hand over her doubles partner.
– #2 Salas vs #7 Enriquez; Enriquez does have some career wins over Salas … but they were a while ago. Miami 2011, then before than in juniors in 2005. Salas has otherwise held serve, though it took a huge comeback in South Carolina in January for her do to so, winning a5th game tiebreaker. I like Salas here thought.

projected Semis:
– Longoria over Herrera: Longoria is 12-0 lifetime over Herrera and in those 12 wins has only dropped a couple of games. Seems likely to be 13-0.
– Vargas over Salas: a rematch of the Bolivian Open final, won 11-9 in the 5th by Vargas. Salas leads h2h on the LPRT 5-2, but including international competitions its nearly dead even now. I like Vargas’ trend right now, I think she’s the hot hand, and will head to the final.

Projected final: 
– Longoria over Vargas, a rematch of last week’s PARC final and what would be their 34th meeting. Longoria is 32-1 through the first 33 meetings, so odds of a Vargas win seem slim.

That’s it: my predictions look pretty chalky, with only one upset by seed from the quarters on. Hopefully i’m wrong and we have some darkhorse upsets on the weekend.

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A quick note: this event also is an IRT lower tier event …and because of its proximity to Mexico, a ton of solid IRT regulars opted to play here instead of in Florida. There’s 12-13 guys in Texas this weekend who normally would be at the main event, including a couple of top 30 guys in Gerardo Franco Gonzalez and Nick Riffel (who are the top two seeds). It looks to be a very solid draw and we’ll review it separately later on.

2019 Pueblo Athletic Club Shoot-out Wrap-up

Kane drops into a non-Tier 1 and is the double winner.

In addition to Mexican Nationals and High School Nationals, there were a couple of lower-tier IRT events this past weekend. This is a wrap-up of the best of them, the Pueblo Athletic Club Shoot out, a Tier 4 held in Pueblo, CO that featured a few familiar names and a couple of surprising results.

Here’s a wrap-up of the event.

r2sports link: http://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=30460

Reminder: we don’t load non-tier 1 or higher events into the PRS database; this post is just a wrap-up as a fan of the game. I’ll pick up the draw reviews at the latter stages when the familiar pro names start playing each other.

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Men’s Pro Singles:

The draw featured 30 players, and its top 4 seeds were tour regulars that included #1 Kane WaselenchukDavid Horn, defending champ Jake Bredenbeck and Nick Riffel formed the top four seeds. This is notable to me because I can’t recall seeing Kane play in a non Tier-1 IRT tournament in .. well a long time. It may be b/c I don’t generally track non-Tier1 events.

The 5th seed is the dangerous Erik Garcia, who beat touring pro Robert Collins before taking a game off of eventual champ Rocky Carson at the US Singles qualifier event in Tempe last month. The rest of the draw featured mostly local players, with a sprinkling of traveling players w/ enough IRT points to rate a seeding.

In the Quarters. a couple of surprises:
– Erik Garcia got a solid win over touring pro Nick Riffel in a tiebreaker in the 4/5 match. He earns a match against the King in the semis. I’d like to see Garcia play more pro events; he’s got some good results lately and I think he could make some noise on tour.
– Complete unknown (to me) Ruben Baez ousted #3 seed Jake Bredenbeck 10,(5),5. I can’t find Baez playing any match in any format that the PRS database tracks, and he was seeded 27th in this event, traveling up from El Paso to play it. I saw bits and pieces of this match: Baez plays a control game, has a very effective lob serve, and was completely non-plussed by Jake’s power, re-killing power DTL shots and anticipating power-pinches. He earns a match-up against #2 seeded Horn in the semis for his efforts.

In the Semis:
– Waselenchuk took out Garcia 8,3. Garcia kept up with the champ briefly, but eventually fell in typical Kane dominance.
– Horn took out the upstart Baez by the close scores of 13,14. Thanks to Matt Melster for streaming this one real-time; I watched part of this match as well to see how Baez matched-up with the different playing style of Horn, one which was much closer seemingly to his own … and as expected this was a very back-and-forth close match throughout.

In the Final, Kane turned up the heat and cruised by Horn 7,0, showing his typical dominance that the rest of the IRT tour sees on a regular basis.

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My take-away here: it isn’t often that a player just shows up without any prior pro experience and plays so well against two of the top 20 players in the world. I hope to see more of Baez in the future.

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Men’s Pro Doubles:

The Pueblo supporters were also blessed to have with them one of the two best doubles teams in the world. Kane teamed up with Ben Croft, and they’ve won more than a few major doubles titles in their day. They were the #1 seed, with Jake & Horn teaming up to be the #2 seeds and Riffel/Garcia being the #3 seeds.

In the semis, Bredenbeck/Horn took out Riffel/Garcia 11-9, while Kane/Ben took out the team with the surprising Baez teamed with Daniel Bautista.

In the Saturday night final, the #1 team did not disappoint and won in two 10,5 over the #2 seeds.

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Women’s Open: there was a small but solid Women’s open draw, with two touring LPRT pros in Carla Muñoz Montesinos and Adriana Riveros, joined in the draw by multi junior world champion Erika Manilla and periodic LPRT tour player Brenda Laime Jalil.

In the semis, Manilla took out #1 seeded Munoz in two solid games 11,12, while Riveros advanced past Laime 6,13.

In the Finals, Manilla made it two upsets in a row, downing Riveros 12,13. Great results for Manilla on the weekend, and I hope to see more of her on the pro tour going forward.

2019 USA National Doubles Preview

Rocky Carson tries to defend his title

The first major National championship for 2019 from the “big 3” (I.e. USA RacquetballRacquetball Canada and Federación Mexicana de Raquetbol) is upon us: USA National Doubles in Tempe, AZ.

R2sports home page for the event: http://www.r2sports.com/tourney/home.asp?TID=30098

Here’s a preview of the Men’s and Women’s National team draws.

——————-.

In the Men’s Doubles draw: 9 teams competing. One half of the defending champ team is missing this year ( Sudsy Monchik), meaning defending champ Rocky Carson has a new partner: he’s playing with Charlie Pratt and they’re seeded #1.

Quarters prediction: 
– #1 Carson/Pratt over the young team of Sebastian Fernandez and Luis R Avila. (a question: how is Fernandez playing USA National doubles … but representing Mexico in juniors and playing in Mexican National Singles as he did in 2018??)
– #4 Adam Manilla / Nick Riffel (aka team Colorado) over #5 Thomas Carter and Fernando Rivera .
– #3 Jake Bredenbeck and partner Jose Diaz, the 2016 champs who got upset in the semis last year, should down the California amateur team of Michael Myers and Tim Hansen.
– #2 David Horn and Mauro Daniel Rojas, who lost in the final last year to earn their #2 seed, face a lefty/right pair in IRT players Robert Collins and Sam Bredenbeck.

In the semis …
– I’ll go with #1 Carson/Pratt over #4 Manilla/Riffel.
– I’m predicting an upset by seed: #3 Bredenbeck/Diaz get revenge for last year’s match-up and down Horn/Rojas at this stage instead.

In the finals: Carson/Pratt earn their National team spot with a win over Jake/Diaz in a brutal tiebreaker.
——————-.
In the Women’s doubles draw; just 5 teams competing. Last year saw somewhat of a changing of the guard, when 11-time champ Aimee Roehler Ruiz got upset in the semis with her partner Janel Tisinger-Ledkinsand 14-time winner Jacqueline Paraiso-Larsson also getting upset in the semis with her partner Erika Manilla.

Lets see how it goes this time.

In the quarters:
– #5 seeded Sister-team of Michelle De La Rosa and Danielle Madduxshould oust #4 seeded Erika Manilla and Hollie Scott.

In the semis:
– #1 and defending champs Kelani Lawrence and Sharon Jackson have their work cut out for them, having to face the (nee) Key Sisters. I’m going to go with Lawrence/Jackson in a tiebreaker to advance back to the finals.
– #3 Ruiz and Tisinger face off against the same team that beat them last year at this juncture: #2 seeded Rhonda Rajsich and Sheryl Lotts. Rajsich & Lotts have been playing together nearly all season in LPRT pro doubles and have been playing tough; I think they’ll use that familiarity with each other to advance past the veteran Ruiz/Tisinger team.

In the final:
– A rematch of last year’s final, won by Lawrence & Jackson 11-8 in the breaker. I think Rajsich/Lotts turn the tide and take the title.

——————-.
There’s also Singles Qualifying draws this weekend (similar to the Canadian National event from last weekend). Here’s a quick preview for this draw, which will help select the Singles team members who represent USA this year at PARC and (more importantly) at the Pan American Games. A big year for International Racquetball Federation – IRF this year.

On the Men’s Singles side: 14 guys playing and some very interesting match-ups. If you wondered what the IRT would look like without any foreign players … take a look at this draw. 10 of the top 11 ranked Americans on the IRT and ever American in the top 25 (save one; Jansen Allen) is here playing.

In the 16s, we see a number of first round match-ups against IRT touring regulars:
– Diaz takes on Riffel 
– Manilla takes on Justus Benson
– Rojas takes on Carter 
– … and we get a unique brother-on-brother match-up between the Bredenbecks (which I’m sure has happened in local tourneys before, but this is a first for a top-level tourney in PRS).

In the Quarters, I’m projecting these matches:
– #1 Carson over #9 Collins in their third meeting in as many months.
– #5 Diaz over #4 Manilla 
– #3 Horn vs #6 Jake: these guys have met no less than 16 times in the various pro tours: Jake leads h2h 9-7 in my database and won their most recent meeting … which was more than a year ago. Horn’s been struggling with fitness this year, while Jake has been struggling with results. I’ll go with Jake over Horn in this event in a tie-breaker, thinking perhaps Horn still isn’t 100%.
– #2 Pratt over #7 Rojas; they met in December, a straight forward win for Charlie; no reason not to think it’ll happen again.

Projected Semis:
– Carson over Diaz in a typical dog-fight.
– Pratt over Jake in a tactical masterpiece.

Final: doubles partners face off, with Rocky handling Pratt for the title.

————————-
On the Women’s Singles Side, 9 players face off in the Team singles event.

Quarters:
– #1 Rajsich over Manilla (who should advance from the sole play-in)
– #4 Lotts over Scott 
– #3 Lawrence over Adrienne Fisher Haynes in what could be a bit closer than you’d think.
– #2 Jackson over Tisinger in an interesting match … this might be closer than you’d expect from the 2/7 match=up.

Projected Semis:
– Rajsich over her doubles partner Lotts
– Lawrence over her doubles partner Jackson.

Finals: we get the final we were robbed of in this singles event last year, when Lawrence’s flights couldn’t get changed and she had to forfeit. These two also met in the US National singles final in May. Rajsich wins, but Lawrence gets valuable points towards qualifying for IRF events later this year.

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Should be a great tourney!

IRT Lewis Drug Pro-Am Wrap-Up

Kane Wins again.

Congrats to Kane Waselenchuk on his win at the 41st annual International Racquetball Tour Lewis Drug Pro Am this past weekend in Sioux Falls SD.

Click here for the match report in the database: http://rball.pro/6EC5CF

With his latest win, Kane extends some amazing records:
– this is his 114th career pro title, 43 more than the player in 2nd place (Cliff Swain). By way of comparison … Sudsy Monchik won 43 titles in his whole career … and now Kane leads the 2nd place tourney winner by that same amount. See http://rball.pro/B173E8 for more.
– This extends his current match winning streak to 78 matches, 3rd longest ever. See http://rball.pro/8696B9 for more.
– This extends his current GAME winning streak to 64, which is still a long ways from his amazing 113-game winning streak record, now that the tour has gone to best of 2. He’ll need to win the next 7 tourneys w/o dropping a game in order to challenge that record.

Its also notable that Kane has yet to drop a game since the tour went to best-of-three scoring. In fact the closest someone has come in a game has been 12 points. Nobody’s gone any higher.

The results of this event will result in a shake-up of the current rankings. Kane should ascend to #1. Landa will drop to #3, just barely ahead of DLR for now. Parrilla should rise from #8 to #5. Montoya will rise from #18 to #16 … but the next time he enters he should be on the opposite side of the draw from the #1 seed, making it easier for him to advance deeper.

Meanwhile, in terms of Season-to-Date rankings, DLR sits just behind Carson in 3rd place, and would be easily in 2nd had he not missed the first event of the season. Given that DLR has 3 finals on the season and Rocky has just one … DLR is well positioned to ascend to the #2 ranking by the time the season is over.

———————————

Here’s a review of the notable results (to me) by round:

In the 64s…
– North Carolinian and infrequent IRT player Brent Walters played the World Champ Rodrigo Montoya Solis tough, losing 7,13. Good showing by Mr. Walters.
– Racquetball Canada‘s Tanner Prentice took IRT pro Robert Collins to a tie-breaker before falling. His country-man Lee Connell also played an IRT regular tough, falling in two close games to Nick Riffel
– USA Racquetball 18U national champ Ricardo Ricky Diaz played 18U World finalist Sebastian Fernandez tough, falling 12,12.
Charlie Pratt took out Andrew Gleason, who was making his pro debut. This is notable in that Gleason just competed in the 14U (!) division of Junior Worlds, losing in the finals. He still has at least four junior years underneath his belt and played well against a former IRT pro tournament winner in Pratt.

– Biggest upset of the round may have been Sam Bredenbeck taking out #14 Thomas Carter in an 11-9 breaker. Big win for the younger brother of Jake.
– Another upset was Iowan Brad Hansen, playing in his first pro event, taking out #22 Scott McClellan in a tough 11-8 breaker.

– #10 Jansen Allen reportedly fell ill and withdrew from the event after the draw was published, giving local player John Goth a walkover into the 32s. This was the first time Allen has missed an event since the 2012-13 season, and it breaks a consecutive appearance streak of 64 matches, the 12th longest ever such streak in the pro tour history.

 Gerardo Franco Gonzalez was stretched to a tiebreaker by long-time IRF veteran Alejandro Herrera Azcarate, eventually eking out an 11-9 win.

—————————

In the 32s:
– Montoya made quick work of Collins in the 16/17 match to setup the anticipated rematch against #1 Alex Landa on Friday.
– #9 Mario Mercado was the unlucky tour vet forced to play former IRT pro Tony Anthony Carson in qualifying … and indeed he lost in two quick games.
– Teenager Sebastian Fernandez got a career win, topping the veteran Charlie Pratt in a tiebreaker. In case you were wondering why we marvel at the continued success of Fernandez … he’s still got one year left of junior racquetball! He’s just now entering his age 18 season, having won Mexican 18U junior nationals over Eduardo Portillo Rendon but then losing in the Junior World finals to Portillo later in 2018. 
– Adam Manilla played a tough, close match against Mauro Daniel Rojas and advanced 11,14.
Sam Bredenbeck got his second “career best” win in a row, downing another IRT touring player in Nick Riffel 12,13. 
John Goth got a solid win over Canadian Tim Landeryou 13,7 to advance and face Jose Diaz. We havn’t seen Goth on the IRT since 2013, and not in a pro event in more than a year, but he’s definitely a solid player and will be a tough out for Jose (who lost to him in the 2012 US Nationals).
Gerardo Franco got a solid win in the #15/#18 seed match over veteran Felipe Camacho to advance to another main draw. I often wonder about players like Franco, who get “stuck” right in that 15-18 Seed range on tour and thus constantly play right into the #1 and #2 seeds. He’ll likely need a stunning round of 16 win to get out of that range and start playing into “easier” opponents in the main draws.

Qualifying summary: only three of the eight “seeded” players in qualifying advanced (#11, #13 and #16 seeds), but several of the upsets we saw by seeding were definitely not upsets by talent. We should see some great main draw matches.

——————————-

In the 16s:
– Landa and Montoya went head to head and it was as close as it could be: 11-10 in the tiebreaker. Montoya came out on top this time, beating the #1 seed and defending champ in the 16s. This represents one of the earliest exits for a #1 seed in the last decade or so, thanks to unfortunate seeding. 
– Alvaro Beltran handled the upset-minded Tony Carson in 2.
– Samuel Murray blitzed the 18yr old Fernandez 7,1, ending any shot at further upsets by the teen-ager.
– Daniel De La Rosa played a closer-than-he may have liked match against Manilla, advancing 13,10.
– Kane Waselenchuk made quick work of the younger Bredenbeck in his first main draw match 5,2
– Andree Parrilla got his first h2h win over Jake Bredenbeck by the odd-looking scores of 14,(14),0.
– #7 Jose Diaz continued his strong season by advancing to the quarters over the tough amateur John Goth.
– #2 Rocky Carson outlasted Gerardo Franco 10,4.

Last event, I predicted Montoya would beat Landa at this stage, and the reverse happened. This time, I predicted a Landa win at this juncture … and the reverse happened. These two are so close; any given sunday either one can beat the other.

————————
In the Quarters…
– #16 Montoya downed country-man Beltran in two to advance to the semis.
– #4 DLR took out Canadian Murray in two
– #3 Waselenchuk beat Parrilla in a rematch of the quarters from last event, this time by the more respectable scores of 8,11
– #2 Carson took out #7 Diaz in two.

———————
The semis were two interesting match-ups:
– DLR absolutely trounced Montoya in two games 1,4. This was a pretty shocking result for me, given their history. Here’s some of the match-ups between them in the last year:
o Montoya beat DLR in the Men’s Mexico National final in Feb 2018 3,12
o DLR then beat Montoya in the Worlds selection event final in June 0,8 (but I wonder about that score, since both qualified for Worlds by virtue of making that final).
o DLR took out Montoya in the final of the Dec 2018 Mexican Open.

So, it looks like DLR has Montoya’s number for now. We can only hope we continue to see Montoya in IRT draws.
– Kane beat Rocky for the 74th time in 77 meetings to advance to the final.

—————-
The final represented the third meeting between Kane and DLR for a tourney title this season, establishing a clear trend of some movement in the eventual season ending rankings. Unfortunately, all the momentum DLR gained in his excellent run to the final was for naught, as he came out very flat against the ever-consistent Kane and was wiped out in the final 4,2. This represented one of the most one-sided finals in the history of the pro tour, tied for the 2nd worst finals beating (in two or three game formats).

—————-
In the doubles …. the top team in the world (Beltran & DLR) got upset in controversial fashion in the semis, losing to eventual winners Montoya/Parrilla 11-10 in a match ended with an avoidable hinder call. They beat #2 seeded Landa/Murray in a close final 11,11 to take the crown.

Click here for the doubles match report: http://rball.pro/3F25F9

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Another excellent Lewis Drug event in the books! Next up for the IRT is a popular Tier 2 in Wisconsin in two weeks time, but we don’t have another Tier1 scheduled for two months.

IRT 41st Lewis Drug Pro-Am Preview

Landa returns to Sioux Falls to defend his first ever Pro title.

Hello racquetball fans! This coming weekend is what has now become the 2nd biggest International Racquetball Tour event of the season and is the reported longest running Pro event in the land; the Lewis Drug Pro-Am held in Sioux Falls, SD. Thanks to the long-standing generosity of the sponsors, this event generally features the richest and best draws outside of the US Open.

r2sports.com home page for the event is here.

Quick note: keep IRT CEO John Scott in your thoughts; he underwent some emergency surgical procedures in the past couple of weeks and is recuperating at home.

This year, the event falls right on the same weekend as the massive annual Longhorn Open, which has a WRT event that unfortunately drew away a few of the names that may have considered entering. Nonetheless, there’s a solid draw of 39 pros entered into Lewis.

Ranking implications of this event: after months of kvetching about the IRT ranking system and the implications of Kane’s four missed events in the spring of 2017-18 season, this event likely rectifies the situation. This is the first event from last spring that Kane missed, meaning he has zero points to “defend” from the Lewis Drug event last season. Therefore, he has no where to go but up. Meanwhile, current #1 Landa won this event last year and therefore has 400 points to defend. If Kane wins … irrespective of who makes the final Kane should ascend back to #1 ranking. He will have gained more points than either of the two guys ahead of him could earn.

The only top 20 pros missing are #6 Sebastian Franco (on his Honeymoon as per IRT press release) and #10 Bobby David Horn, who was ill at the California Open, has been fighting through some injuries all season and seems to be taking off the weekend to recuperate for the busy spring schedule. These two absences give Jose Diaz his first ever top 8 seeding, which immediately gets “switched” to a #7 seed for the tourney.

Notable players we don’t regularly see in the draw include former IRT touring pro Tony Anthony Carson, who made waves in the Portland event earlier this season and will be a tough out. #18 ranked and reigning International Racquetball Federation World champ Rodrigo Montoya Solis is in the draw, hoping for a better result. Unfortunately he’s seeded 16th, which has him playing right into #1 Alex Landa yet again. We’ll cover that in the predictions. World 18U runner-up Sebastian Fernandez is back after making waves in Canoga Park. US Open Men’s Open champ Alejandro Herrera Azcarate has made the trip up from Miami for this tourney and is playing doubles with none other than US Open tourney director and rball legend Doug Ganim. Lastly the geographic proximity to Canada has drawn down some of 
Canada’s top players too, including Tim LanderyouLee Connell and Tanner Prentice.

Lets preview the draw. Here’s some round of 64 matches of interest:
– #21 Sebastian Fernandez goes up against fellow 18U recent graduate and current US Junior National champ Ricardo Ricky Diaz. Tough draw for Diaz, who runs into a guy who has been really making waves on tour so far this season.
– #20 Mauro Daniel Rojas vs Christian Longoria; a great first round match between contrasting styles; the shot-making control game of Longoria versus Rojas’ power. 
– #13 Adam Manilla vs Timmy Hansen; Manilla plays the youngster Timmy Hansen, who enters a pro tourney for the first time. Hansen is the reigning US 14U national champ and makes up one half of a potentially pretty darn good Father/Son team with his dad Tim Hansen (one of the most decorated amateur players of all time and USAR hall-of-fame inductee).
– #19 Nick Riffel vs Lee Connell: Connell has been playing Canadian National events since Riffel was in grade school; we’ll see if the veteran can handle the newbie.
– #11 Jake Bredenbeck vs Cesar Castillo; Castillo enters a pro tournament for the first time since 2015; he’s a long-time international representative of Venezuela, last playing for his country in the 2017 Bolivarian games. 
– #10 Jansen Allen gets a tough 1st round draw in Sioux Falls native John Goth. Goth only has a few major tourneys on his resume over the past few years … but rolled to the US National final in 2012 and has taken out touring pros like Sebastian Franco and Christian Longoria in recent WRT events. This could be a tough one for IRT regular Allen.
– #15 Felipe Camacho matches up against Matthew Ivar Majxner, a tough player who has been playing pro events since the late 1990s.
– #18 Gerardo Franco Gonzalez faces the always-tough Alejandro Herrera, last seen taking the Men’s Open draw in Minneapolis and who played Robbie Collins tough in the pro draw in Minneapolis before losing. Herrera plays with pace, and Franco will need to adjust.

Projecting to the 32s:
– Montoya over Robert Collins; tough draw for Collins, who has had a solid season, but I see a Montoya win here.
– #9 Mario Mercado vs Tony Carson: missing out on the bye comes back to haunt Mercado, who runs into former touring pro Carson, who has the wherewithall to advance here. I see a Carson win and Mercado’s tough season continuing.
Charlie Pratt versus Sebastian Fernandez: wow, tough match up here. Pratt has experience on his side but these two play a very similar game; all about control. I give the cerebral Pratt the advantage here over the youngster.
– Manilla vs Rojas: I like Rojas here, out-pacing the lefty Manilla in what should be a shoot out of power players swinging out of their shoes.
– Carter vs Riffel: these two buddies have met three times on tour, with Riffel taking two of them. I think Riffel wins again and advances to the main draw.
– Jake over the Ref Scott McClellan; at some point the Ref will force his way into making … someone else ref his back-of-the-tournament matches 🙂
– Allen vs Landeryou: I like this match-up; i think this could be a pretty tight game. I like Allen’s game lately; he has not been an easy out, but Landeryou’s game could frustrate.
– Franco over Camacho: assuming we don’t see a surprise upset, I like Gerardo Franco in this match. He’s got the game and has the capabilities to do a break through.

Main Draw: round of 16.
– #1 Landa vs #16 Montoya: for the 2nd straight event, and for the third time in two months, we get Landa v Montoya. Last time, I predicted the upset, and instead Landa cruised to the semis. This time … i’m predicting Landa returns to the site of his first ever pro victory energized and takes a 2 game win. A semis-quality match-up in the 16s yet again.
– #8 Alvaro Beltran v Tony Carson: Carson has beaten DLR and Parrilla the last two IRT events he’s entered; he can beat Beltran. But … they’ve met 6 times on the IRT and Beltran has won all 6. I’ll go with a tiebreaker win for Alvaro Beltran.
– #5 Samuel Murray v #12 Pratt: last time they played was at the 2018 Worlds, where Pratt waxed Murray in two. Can he repeat the favor? I think he can; since making the final in the season opener, Murray has four early exits in a row in pro events, including two round of 16 upsets. Pratt can make it another early exit here.
– #4 Daniel De La Rosa vs Rojas: DLR converts back to Racquetball from Pickleball and downs the youngster Rojas in the 16s for the 2nd tourney in a row.
– #3 Kane Waselenchuk gets his first match likely against Riffel and makes quick work of the youngster to advance.
– #6 Andree Parrilla vs #11 Jake Bredenbeck: these two have met a few times … and Jake has never lost to Andree. They havn’t met in a year and a half though, and in that time Parrilla has taken a big step ahead. I think Parrilla advances.
– #7 Jose Diaz vs #10 Allen: they’ve met 5 times and have gone back and forth; Allen got him in their most recent meeting in Laurel. This is an excellent opportunity for Allen to regain some of his momentum and get back to the quarters. Expect a tough match here. I’m not sure who I favor. I liked what I saw out of Allen in the last event; we’ll go with the Texan here.
– #2 Rocky Carson vs Gerardo Franco: they met in Laurel earlier this season and Rocky pasted him. No reason to expect a different result here.

Projected Quarters:
– #1 Landa over #8 Beltran: Landa has his number and has had it for a while.
– #4 DLR over #12 Pratt: they met at the US Open, a tight but 2-game win for DLR. I like the way DLR is trending this season … he seems like he’s been much more consistent this season than last. After missing the first event, he’s made two finals and a quarter and is a good bet to make at least the semis here.
– #3 Kane over #6 Andree: a rematch of the quarters from California, a 3,5 beat-down. No concrete courts in Sioux Falls, so perhaps Parrilla can keep it close, but expect a 2-game win for the King.
– #2 Rocky vs #10 Allen: they’ve played 13 times … and Rocky has won 13 times. Expect 14 for 14 here.

Semis:
– #1 Landa vs #4 DLR: these two met at the Lewis Drug in 2017 semis and in the 2018 finals (an 11-10 Landa win for his first ever pro title)… so its only fitting if they meet again in 2019. Landa has beaten him h2h 3 straight times now, but they’re always battles. Can DLR turn the tide? I’d like to see Kane vs Landa in the final but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was Kane-DLR again.
– #3 Kane vs #2 Rocky; they’ve met 76 times (!) … but if they meet here it’ll be the first time they’ve faced off in a match that was NOT a final since 2009. That’s 10 years of match-ups for tourney titles. Nonetheless, Kane makes it 74-3.

Finals: Kane over Landa. Or maybe DLR. Or perhaps Montoya if I get my predictions way wrong.

——————–
There’s also a solid Doubles draw for only the third official IRT doubles event of the year., with 10 teams playing and the regular suspects (Beltran/DLR, Landa/Murray, Montoya/Parrilla). Beltran & DLR are unvanquished in nearly a year of doubles competition and remain the team to beat.

2019 IRT California Open Wrap-up

Kane Wins again.

Congrats to Kane Waselenchuk for winning the 2019 International Racquetball Tour California Open. With the win, he captures his 113th career Tier1/Grand Slam event, extends his current match winning streak to 74 matches (3rd longest ever streak), and extends his current game winning streak to 48. He’s yet to drop a game since the tour went to best of 3.

With this win, he rises to #3 in the tour rankings; this was the event in which he got injured last season, so from here until May he’s got no points to defend and should pretty quickly rise up the rankings. He’s got 300+ point advantage in season-to-date rankings already and is well positioned to claim another year end title.

r2sports link for event: http://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=29824

Proracquetballstats.com Match report for the event is here.

Lets review the draw, with comments on notable (to me) results.

In the round of 64:
– In the battle of reigning world Junior champs, the elder 18U champ Eduardo Portillo Rendon outlasted 16U champ Diego Garcia Quispe 12,11. Garcia showed a lot of power, with a sneaky fast serve, but Portillo’s smooth approach kept him just ahead of the Bolivian.
– Mexican Junior Oscar Nieto Valadez snuck by the Ref Scott McClellan 11-10. Nieto made the Mexican National 16U final in 2017 … then seems to have missed the 2018 Nationals and Selection events. But he’s still got a year of juniors and looks like a pretty solid player.
Robert Collins took out Sebastian Longoria in 2 straight … which isn’t normally notable except that Longoria is just 16 years old. He lost in the final of the Jr Worlds 14U in Minneapolis in 2017. 
Nick Riffel outlasted outdoor champ  Luis R Avila 11-8 in the breaker, in a close match between two solid players.

In the round of 32, we had some surprises:
– Rodrigo Montoya Solis cruised past Gerardo Franco Gonzalez 9,6, setting up a match against #1 Alejandro Alex Landa .
– Portillo took out #9 seeded David Horn 11,13. This is a pretty significant result for me, demonstrating how far Portillo has come in the past year. Its also another early loss for Horn on the season, who now in four events has lost in the 32s twice and the 16s once. Reports are that Horn was under the weather, contributing to his loss, and he forfeited out of doubles after this result.
– Sebastian Fernandez took out Adam Manilla 8,12. Also a notable result, in that its another 18-yr old taking out a pretty experienced IRT touring pro. Both Portillo and Fernandez are flexing their muscles on tour right now.
– Nieto took Jake Bredenbeck to a tiebreaker before falling 11-3. Not a bad result for a kid playing in his age 18 season.
Mauro Daniel Rojas took out veteran Felipe Camacho 11-6 in a breaker. Very good result for Rojas.
– In the 15/18 match-up, Robert Collins earned another match against Rocky with a solid 2-game win over Riffel.

In the round of 16…
– The highly anticipated match between #1 Alejandro Landa and IRF world Champ Montoya, the fans were not disappointed. Landa came out on top after dropping the first and racing away with the second. Landa dominated the tiebreaker, jumping out to a 9-2 lead, then held on for a 11-6 win. These two matched up in the Mexico City Open in Dec and Montoya came out on top; this time it was Landa. 
– With his greatest ever IRT victory, Portillo downed #8 seeded Samuel Murray 14,14. 
– Andree Parrilla held off the other 18U champion in the draw Fernandez, holding on for an 11,13 win.
– Kane Waselenchuk left nothing to chance, dominating Bredenbeck 8,3
– Daniel De La Rosa cruised past the youngster Rojas 4,13
– Jose Diaz indeed got the upset of Sebastian Franco in a tie-breaker, continuing his fantastic season. Diaz now has two quarter-final appearances on the new season and is on track to break into the top 8 based on performance.
– Alvaro Beltran held off the solid Jansen Allen in a tie-breaker.
Rocky Carson left nothing to chance, giving Collins a donut en route to a 2-game win.

In the Quarters…
– Landa pounded the 18U champ Portillo 3,5, ending his tournament quickly. Still, this is easily Portillo’s best ever IRT event (prior career best was a round of 32 exit at the 2017 US Open).
– Waselenchuk made quick work of Parrilla, ironically by the same 3,5 score as Landa’s win. Kane’s serves were just outstanding, Parrilla could do little with his match all night, and to add insult to injury Kane hit splats from down the line positions at 39 feet and rolled out between-the-legs shots. Just unfair.
– DLR outlasted Diaz in a back and forth tiebreaker.
– Carson got revenge and came from a game down to beat Beltran.

In the Semis:
– Kane gave #1 Landa a donut before he caught his breath, then outlasted him in the second to advance to the final 0,9.
– DLR won a fantastic 11-10 tiebreaker over Rocky Carson, a scintillating match where each player had multiple shots at match point.

In the Final, DLR was making shots and was pressing Kane most of the way, but in a common refrain Kane controlled the end game like a chess master, and quickly turned a game that was close up until the 8-8 or 10-10 range into a 15-8 or 15-10 game win. DLR tried some unconventional (to say the least) tactics to try to throw Kane’s service game off, to some success it should be said, and really experimented with his service game, but it was to no avail. A sharp Kane and concrete walls proved to be unstoppable.

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In the doubles draw, it came down to #1 vs #2. In the end, DLR rebounded from his singles loss to team with Beltran to top #2 seeded Landa/Murray in two straight. These two teams are separating themselves this year, playing together nearly every event and making a name for themselves (along with the Kane/Ben Croft team) as the best in the world.

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We have a rare break in the schedule; nothing on the books for the weekend of 1/13/19. But the following weekend we have the great annual Lewis Drug Pro-Am in South Dakota and the equally good Longhorn Open in Austin. I’ll publish some content in the interim related to some new reports and bug fixes i’ve been working on.

2019 IRT California Open Preview

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

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

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

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

Lets preview the qualifying and draw.

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

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

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

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

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

Final: Kane over DLR.

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