2018 World Juniors Wrap-Up

Eduardo “Lalo” Portillo finishes off his junior career with an 18U world title.
… as does Montserrat “Montse” Mejia.

The final International Racquetball Federation – IRF event of the season has finished up and new World Junior titlists have been crowned. Congrats to all the winners.

Here’s a review of the four eldest-most age categories (the ones that www.proracquetballstats.com currently tracks) and how the tournaments played out.

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In the Boys 18U (PRS Match report: https://bit.ly/2DyPnRc)…

The two Americans both fought hard but fell at the quarter-final stage. Los Angeles native Dane Elkins took #1 overall seed Fernando Ruiz Michel to a tiebreaker, and Stocktonian Ricardo Ricky Diaz (brother of IRT pro Jose Diaz) played #3 seed Bolivian Gerson Miranda tough, eventually falling 13,12. The two Mexican top seeds both advanced tot he semis with ease.

In the semis, it was Bolivia vs Mexico on both sides of the draw … and it was both Mexican’s advancing to the final to force a rematch of the Mexican Nationals final in May. #4 Eduardo Portillo Rendon took out #1 seeded Fernando Ruiz Michel in two hard fought games, while #2 Sebastian Fernandez cruised past #3 seeded Gerson Miranda.

In the Final, we got a rematch of the Mexican 18U Junior National final from past May (won by Fernandez), the 18U selection event final in Mexico (again won by Fernandez) and a rematch of the 2016 16U World Juniors final (won by Portillo). On this day though, Portillo was the better player, dropping the first game 14 then cruising to the title (14),4,7.

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In the Girls 18U (match report here: https://bit.ly/2AYIYMx)…

The knock-out rounds featured all four top seeds advancing with relative ease into the semis; only #4 Gaby Martinez had more than 3 points scored against her in any quarter-final game, downing Canadian Alexis Iwaasa 9,5.

In the semis, Martinez took out the #1 seeded Mexican Ana Laura Flores with ease 5,3, while #3 Montse Mejia took a close match against #2 Angelica Barrios 14,8.

The Final thus was a rematch of 2017’s 18U world championship (won by Mejia), and of the 2016 16U World championship (won by Martinez), and represents a fitting end to both players’ junior careers. A fantastic match ensued, with Mejia taking the first game 14, dropping the second game 8, then controlling the tiebreaker to down the reigning World Champ and defend her 18U world championship. Final score: 14,(8),6. Martinez is denied a chance at becoming just the second player ever to hold both a Junior and World Adult singles title simultaneously.

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In the Boys 16U (match report here: https://bit.ly/2AYIYMx)…

The two top seeds advanced to the semis with little fan fare, with #1 Jose Carlos Ramos topping Texan Cayden Aikens in two, and #2 Bolivian Diego Garcia Quispe getting an injury fft win. #12 seed Mexican Guillermo Ortega “upset” the #4 seeded Bolivian Adrian Jaldin (though Ortega was the #3 seed entering the round robins) to make the semis. Lastly American #6 seed Sahil Thakur could not capitalize on a one-game lead and fell in a tiebreaker to #3 seed Ecuadorian Juan Sebastian Flores.

In the semis, Ramos topped fellow Mexican Ortega a rematch of the 16U National selection event in August (also won by Ramos), while pre-tourney favorite Garcia pasted Flores 3,2 to advance to the World final.

In the final, Garcia took a dominant win 4,10 over the #1 seed to take the title. Garcia did not drop a game in this tournament, and the 15-10 second game in the finals was the most any player scored on him in this tournament. He’s set to be a force to be reckoned with going forward.

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In the Girls 16U (match report here: https://bit.ly/2qESWg9)…

The top four seeds advanced to the semis, taking out both Canadians (Juliette Parent and Cassie Prentice) as well as the lone remaining American (Annie Roberts).

In the semis, #1 seed Valeria Centellas advanced over the Mexican Guadalupe Griffin 5,10 while #3 Costa Rican Maricruz Ortiz topped the Mexican #1 Maria Fernanda Gutierrez, making for the only of these four finals to feature no Mexican juniors.

In the final, Centellas dropped the first game 9, then dominated the rest of the way, taking the final (9),4,3 to take the world 16U title for Bolivia.

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Quick wrap of Doubles action:
– Boys 18U final featured four of the best singles players in the tourney, as Mexico and Bolivia went at it in a rematch of the scintillating RR match. In the final, the Mexican team of Fernandez and Rodrigo Rodriguez came out on top, getting revenge for their RR loss to the Bolivian team of Fernando Ruiz and Gerson Miranda for the title.

– Girls 18U final featured the top Mexican team versus Ecuador. The Mexican team of Ana Laura Flores and Abril Sacristan cruised to a world title.

– Boys 16U also featured Mexico vs Bolivia in the final (like the 16U). The Mexican team had to play just one match to get to the final (getting a bye and an inj-fft), but could not overcome the Bolivian team powered by the singles champ Garcia.

– Girls 16U was Bolivia vs Canada, who ousted the higher seeded Mexican team in the semis. On this day the Bolivians cruised to the title 8,7 over team Canada.

The Girls 16U final was notable for this fact; Bolivian Valeria Centellas won the Adult World doubles championships earlier this year with Yazmine Sabja Aliss and now holds the 16U junior worlds doubles championship … as far as we can tell, this is a first in the international game (having a player hold both the Adult and the junior world title in doubles).

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A quick note: as we’ve clearly been seeing for a while, the balance of power both in Juniors and on the pro tours is clearly no longer with the originating countries of the sport. USA and Canadian players failed to advance to even the semis in either 16U or 18U. Team USA did experience some success; the Americans swept the 14U doubles titles, made the finals of both 14U singles events and American Nikil Prasad won the boys 12U in dominant fashion. But the older levels were completely dominated by Mexico and Bolivia.

2018 World Juniors Knockout Preview

The 2018 30th annual International Racquetball Federation – IRF World Juniors event has been underway since Saturday in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. The round robin matches are now complete and the knockout brackets are set. We’re to the business end of this tourney, so lets preview the draws and make some predictions.

Draws are available at IRF’s website http://www.internationalracquetball.com/ by clicking on the event and then the direct link for draws. Follow the IRF on facebook to get notified of live feeds; Timothy Baghurst is broadcasting all day every day for a week straight and is doing a great job.

Note: we only really track 16U and 18U (for now), so here’s a preview of the 16 and 18U knockout draws for both Boys and Girls. Lots of familiar names in these draws, especially for fans of international racquetball and the growing international game.

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In the Boys 18U, USA 18U champ and pre-tourney #1 seed Ricardo Ricky Diaz lost twice in the RRs, dropping his knock-out seed to #11 Similarly, USA #2 Dane Elkins saw his pre-tourney seed take a hit with two round-robin upsets himself. The two favorites to make the final (the two top Mexicans) Sebastian Fernandez and Eduardo Portillo Rendon both cruised through the round robins to maintain their top four seeds in the knockout phase.

Predictions for the knockouts: I can see some minor upsets in the early rounds, especially with the two now under-seeded Americans, but I still see the top four seeds (the two Bolivians and the two Mexicans) advancing to the semis.

In the semis, I see the two Mexican players advancing over their Bolivian rivals; Portillo over #1 seed Fernandoz Ruiz Michel and Fernandez over #3 Gerson Miranda (which would be a rematch of the 2017 16U world final). This would setup a re-match of the 2018 Mexican Junior 18U final, won by Fernandez in a tiebreaker. I see Fernandez taking this title and becoming a force to be reckoned with on the pro tours soon.

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In the Girls 18U, the top four seeds entering round robin play maintained their seeds into the main draw, and gave us a likely preview of the final on day one. Looking ahead at the draw:
– Look for the two Americans Elyse Duffy and Graciana Wargo to advance to the quarters but run into heavy favorites.
– In the Quarters, the top 3 seeds Ana Laura Flores, Bolivian Angelica Barrios and #3 Montserrat Montse Mejia should advance easily to the semis. #4 seed and current reigning adult World Champion Ana Gabriela Gaby Martinez fell to Mejia in the round robins and has to face #5 seeded Alexis Iwaasa in the quarters.  Martinez beat Iwaasa at this same stage in last year’s World Juniors and should win again.

– In the semis, Martinez should outlast the #1 seeded Flores to setup a rematch with Mejia of the 2017 World 18U girls final (2017 18U match report here: https://bit.ly/2RCPMVu).

– In the final, I predict Martinez returns the favor and captures the first ever double-double world title of Adult and 18U.

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In the Boys 16U, there’s a couple of familiar names in the draw to those following the IRT this year. #2 seeded Diego Garcia Quispe played in both the Laurel event and in the US Open and acquitted himself quite well. I predict he runs to the title, defeating American Sahil Thakur in the semi and #1 seeded Mexican Jose Ramos in the final.

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In the Girls 16U…the two Americans Annie Roberts and Erin Slutzky have to play each other in the first knock out round, but the winner plays into the #2 seed Mexican Maria Gutierrez. It may not matter; the #1 overall seed is current reigning World doubles champion Valeria Centellas, who played 18U last year in World Juniors (as a 15 yr old) and still made the semis. I predict Centellas over Gutierrez in the final.

US Open IRT Mens Pro Doubles Wrap-up

Congrats to Alvaro Beltran and Daniel De La Rosa on their US Open Title.

Here’s the match report for the tourney: https://bit.ly/2C188Lc

Here’s a review of the event.

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First off… for racquetball fans of top-level tournament play, you cannot ask for more out of this doubles draw. Out of the 22 matches in this draw, 14 went to tiebreaker.  13 of the first 19 went tiebreaker, including two 11-10 matches. Every time we run another top-end doubles tourney, we seem to get more and more great play. I love this new focus on doubles in the Men’s Pro game.

An opinion from this observer: I wish the doubles qualified into the 16s and not the quarters: if there’s 23 teams entered it does seem unfair to give byes to four teams and force everyone else to play 2 or even 3 qualifiers.  I’m not sure how this decision was arrived at, if its driven by court availability (possibly) or just attempting to protect the top seeds (also a distinct possibility), but the 5th seeds really have a massive disadvantage as compared to the 4th seeds.

Here’s some notable 1st and 2nd round events for me:
– First, we have to start with the unbelievable match we saw in the round of 32; The 5th overall seeds Jake Bredenbeck and Jose Diaz, who together as a team have made 3 finals in the last year, faced off against a team of 17-yr old phenoms in Sebastian Fernandez and Diego Garcia Quispe. Fernandez and Garcia had the 5th seeds completely flummoxed in the tie-breaker, running out to a 10-0 lead. However, Jake and Jose fought back, and saved off at least 8 attempts at match point across several trades of serves and came completely back to win 11-10. An amazing come-back that I can’t quite say i’ve ever seen in the pro game before. A quick note about the two juniors; they played top-level pro rball in this match and made a bunch of statement wins all weekend on the singles side.

– Andres Acuña and Felipe Camacho got a solid win over a tough doubles team of Charlie Pratt and Dylan Reid.

– Semi-regular IRT players Maurice Miller and DC-area native Troy Warigon teamed up to take out two accomplished IRT pros in Andree Parrilla and Gerardo Franco Gonzalez.

– College buddies from Baldwin-Wallace Thomas Carter and Kyle Ulliman shocked the team of Jansen Allen and Nick Montalbano in the first round.

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The round of 16 had all four “seeded” teams end up winning to qualify to the main draw … but all four matches went tiebreaker.
– David Horn and Mauro Daniel Rojas were stretched to 11-9 by the Miller/Warigon team.
– Bredenbeck/Diaz went 11-8 to advance past the Costa Rican team Acuna/Camacho.
– Top Bolivian team Luis Conrrado Moscoso Serrudo and Roland Keller (the 2018 South American Games champs and 2018 Pan Am Games finalists) took out the Baldwin Wallace alumni team 11-0 in the breaker.
– Lastly, the tough Mexican team of Rodrigo Montoya Solís and Javier Mar had to go to extras to top the Denver duo of Adam Manilla and Nick Riffel.

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The Main draw featured some immediate upsets.
– Jose and Jake kept living on the edge, advancing again 11-10 over the Colombian pairing of Sebastian Franco and Mario Mercado.
– the Mexican team of Montoya & Mar took out the #3 seeds Alejandro Alex Landa and Samuel Murray in a tiebreaker.
– The #2 seeds and reigning IRF doubles champs Alvaro Beltran and Daniel De la Rosa ousted the Bolivian pairing of Moscoso/Keller in a rematch of the 2018 IRF Worlds semi final.
– Lastly, the #1 team of Kane Waselenchuk and Ben Croft, who havn’t lost a doubles match together since 2016, advanced over Horn and Rojas.

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In the semis:
– #1 Croft/Waselenchuk ended the Jake/Jose run, advancing 13,6
– #2 Beltran/DLR were pushed to the edge by country-mates Montoya/Mar, advancing with an 11-8 tiebreaker win.

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The Final represented a rematch of several notable pro doubles matches over the past year: this was the final of last year’s US Open, which resulted in an epic match some called “the greatest match ever played.” This was also the final of the World Doubles event in Denver last May, which ended in a controversial call/walking off the court.

On this night in 2018 in Minneapolis though, the Mexicans could do no wrong and took the doubles title by the surprising score of 11 and 6. It has been quite a year so far for Beltran and DLR; they won the Mexican Nationals, tnen won the world doubles title in Costa Rica, then took the 3-wall WOR doubles crown in Vegas just two weeks ago.


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US Open IRT pro Singles 32 and 16 review, Quarters preview

Today, the Thursday of the US Open, is perhaps my favorite day of pro racquetball all season. Two rounds of top-level pro racquetball on both the men’s and women’s side. Lets take a look at the notable Men’s matches from today and preview the Quarters tomorrow.

IRT round of 32 notable matches.

– Felipe Camacho got a solid win over Thomas Carter in the always-competitive 16-17 match-up, taking the tie-breaker 11-8.
– In his first game back since his retirement talk this past off-season, #3 Kane Waselenchuk took out a player less than half his age, defeating Mexican 18U and current 16U world titlist Sebastian Fernandez in two. The kid is just 17 years old and played fantastically this weekend in both singles and doubles.
– Alvaro Beltran, playing in his 19th US Open, was the first to advance to the 16s on the day, downing country-man Rodrigo Rodriguez, who was making just his second ever IRT appearance.
– Veteran Charlie Pratt ended Bolivian 16U player Diego Garcia Quispe run 12,5 . Just to re-iterate; both Fernandez and Garcia are in their age 17 seasons.
Javier Mar upset #14 Adam Manilla 5,14.
Daniel de la Rosa took out Ricardo Diaz, the reigning US 18U champ, in his IRT debut. A great showing from Diaz on his pro debut beating two very solid IRT semi-regulars in Nick Montalbano and Troy Warigon.
– Huge upset win for Andres Acuña, downing #11 David Horn in a tiebreaker. Two straight one-and-dones in the first two IRT events for Horn, who lost his opener in Laurel as well. Not a great start to the season for Horn, who made a big step forward last year by making his first semi and first final.
Mauro Daniel Rojas stretched #6 seed Sebastian Franco, but the Colombian prevailed 11-8.
– Maurice Miller gave #2 Alex Landa a scare, taking the first game before falling in a tie-breaker.
– Samuel Murray got a fantastic win, holding off the dark horse Luis Conrrado Moscoso Serrudo in a tie-breaker; this was a quarter-finals quality matchup
in the 32s and sends home Moscoso much earlier than last year (when he ran to the quarters in his only prior IRT appearance.

IRT round of 16 notables matches:

– In a surprise to me, #8 Mario Mercado came back from a game down to top current IRF World Champ Rodrigo Montoya Solís. This observer thought Montoya had a good shot at making the finals in this event; I wonder how much Montoya’s recent ankle injury has affected him this week.
– #12 Jose Diaz got perhaps the best win of his career with a tie-breaker win over #5 Beltran.  Some post-game drama; reportedly Diaz was 25 minutes late to this match but was not penalized or forfeited.
Javier Mar more than held his own in losing to #3 Waselenchuk 12,10.
– #10 Andree Parrilla easily handled #7 Murray, perhaps worn out from a brutal earlier victory. Parrilla has now made the quarters in 4 of the last 5 IRT events he’s played, and 7 of the last 11 stretching well into last season; that includes a win and a final too. He’s a dangerous opponent who is one or two more big results from being a protected seed going forward.

Quarter Finals Preview:
6 of the top 8 seeds ended up advancing, setting up some very solid match-ups in the quarters. Run the top-20 tour-wide Head to Head matrix (link here: https://bit.ly/2yf522N) to fire off a new Head-to-Head “Tale of the Tape” report complete with pictures, biographical information and detailed match history for players in the IRT top 20.
– #1 Carson v #8 Mercado: Rocky is 6-0 lifetime against Mercado on the IRT, and despite Mercado’s great win today, I see Rocky making it 7-0. Both are control players, but Rocky will out-control Mario’s control game.
– #4 De La Rosa vs #12 Diaz: DLR is 4-0 against Diaz on the IRT, and is playing really solidly this week. Diaz fights for every point and punches above his weight class though, and won’t go down without a fight.
– #3 Waselenchuk vs #6 Franco: Kane is 2-0 over Franco lifetime, but despite Franco’s crisp play you never bet against the king.
– #2 Landa vs #10 Parrilla: Landa is 2-1 over Parrilla on the IRT, but 6-2 lifetime across multiple tours and Mexican National events. They’ve had close games and blow-outs. Parrilla seems like he’s in every match these days, and quietly he’s made the quarters in 4 of the last 5 events, and 7 of the last 11 pro events, a span that includes a win and a finals appearance. Landa will need to be “on” out of the gate.

Prediction: going chalk; 1,4,3 and 2 into the semis.

US Open IRT Men’s Qualifying Preview

It is upon us: the 23rd Annual US Open of Racquetball, held in Minneapolis, MN. Because of the size of this draw and the fact that it is our sport’s marquee event, I’ll do daily previews instead of talking about the whole tourney at once.

r2sports.com home page for the tourney is here.

Today, we preview the Men’s qualifying draw. There’s 69 players entered, slightly down from last year’s 73-person draw. The top 16 entered players get byes into the round of 32; the rest play two rounds of qualifying on Wednesday to earn their ticket into the main draw play starting Thursday.

This is the strongest draw you’ll likely see all season; 28 of the top 30 ranked IRT players are here (missing out of the singles draw is #25 Sudsy Monchik and #30 Ben Croft, who is only playing doubles this event). And a slew of dangerous international players ranked below the top 30 are here to make waves.

Just as a side note; I have several US Open-specialty queries at the site:
Matrix of all US Open finishes
Draw Sizes for all US Opens: (this year’s draw is solid … but comes nowhere close to the biggest ever pro draw in 2003).
Quarters/Semis/Final for all 22 US Opens
US Open Finish Summary, all players, all 22 events

Now, on to the qualifying preview…

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In the round of 128, here’s some interesting matches to watch out for:
– Dylan Reid, who does the fantastic Racquetball podcast “The Racquetball Show @racquetballshow is entered into the pro draw; he faces off against Canadian Jamie James Slamko in the first round (disclaimer; i’ve been a guest on Dylan’s show … so i can’t speak badly about him )
– Christian Longoria has a fun first rounder against Colombian veteran Andres Gomez.
– Tough Mexican Rodrigo Rodriguez makes just his second ever IRT appearance and faces off against IRT touring player John Wolfe.
– Mexican 18U player Oscar Nieto faces off against frequent IRT player Troy Warigon.
– Fresh off his WOR pro singles title last weekend, Long Island’s Nick Montalbano faces off against one of the Stockton crew; Ricardo Diaz.
– Bolivian 16U phenom Diego Garcia Quispe gets a first round date with fellow youngster from Mexico Erick Cuevas Fernandez. Both are still playing in the 16U ranks internationally.
– German Marcel Czempisz represents Europe for the first time in a while at this event, facing off against the reigning 16U world champ and 18U Mexican National champ in Sebastian Fernandez.
– Two up-and-coming American players face off in Wayne Antone and Kyle Ulliman.

Assuming some results, here’s some notable Round of 64 matches we may see and some highlights of the guys seeded in the 17-32 range who might make some noise this weekend.

– #17 seed Thomas Carter misses out on a protected seed by one slot; he’s fresh off his first ever pro quarter at the first IRT event of the year in Laurel. He should advance over either Daniel Maldonado or David Austin.
– #25 Scott McClellan (the Ref) may struggle to qualify for the main draw against the winner of Sergio Acuna & A.J. Fernandez.
– #24 Rodrigo Montoya Solís has shaken off an ankle injury sustained two weekends ago in the final of the Sonora Open. This is great news for this tourney, as the defending World Champion easily has the talent to advance deep into this draw. If he’s healthy, he has a relatively straight forward path into the quarters, perhaps deeper. He’ll get his first test, likely against Colorado’s Erik Garcia.
– #21 Gerardo Franco Gonzalez gets a brutal draw, with country-man Longoria playing into him. Franco is just 1-3 lifetime in top-level competitions against Longoria and may fall victim to the upset here.
– Montalbano and Warigon could have a good-ole East coast showdown to advance to the main draw; DC vs NY.
– #20 Nick Riffel is the unlucky recipient of a qualifying match against Garcia. I sense an upset here; Garcia played Adam Manilla tough in the pros at Laurel and made the Men’s Open final.
– #19 Javier Mar likely faces off against hard-hitting Bolivian Kadim Carrasco. Mar is a dangerous foe in any pro draw; he advanced to the quarters in last year’s US Open, downing two top 10 pros along the way. He’ll struggle to match that feat this year, playing into the #3 seed Kane Waselenchuk if he advances that far.
– #26 Luis Conrrado Moscoso Serrudo is one of the biggest names to watch this weekend; his ranking is solely based on his quarter finals appearance last US Open, where he played the King quite tough. He’s no unknown to the rball pro community though; he’s got enough international wins at this point to have long since made his name.
– Look for an all-Georgia winner take all and qualify match between Maurice Miller and Austin Cunningham.

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There’s some great racquetball to be had starting bright and early on Wednesday 10/3/18 (8:15am is the first pro qualifying matches).  Look for Facebook Live streaming from the IRT all day.