Abierto Mexicano de Raquetbol 2018 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IRT Portland Pelham ToC Wrap-Up

Kane wins again.

Congrats to Kane Waselenchuk on his win at the latest International Racquetball Tour pro stop. This represents Kane’s 112th career tourney win and extends his current on-court match winning streak to 70 (good for 3rd longest in history).

Match report in the database: http://www.proracquetballstats.com/cg…/print_results_new.pl…

Despite all the discussion on rankings from the week leading up to this event, Alejandro Landa will retain the #1 ranking for the time being (he did not play this event last year so had zero points to defend) and will hope for a better draw next time. Kane’s showing should improve his current ranking to #4 if I’m calculating the points correctly. The other two major points moves should involve Mario Mercado dropping out of the top 8 (he made the final of this event last year but got upset early in 2018), and Andree Parrilla moving INTO the top 8 despite his early upset to Kane since Andree did not play this event last season and only gains points.

Lets review the event, with comments on notable results (to me) by round:

In the round of 64…no major upsets, but some tough tiebreakers.

– #17 Thomas Carter outlasted Portland local Tim Prigo in a tie-breaker.
Tony Anthony Carson took out fellow Oregonian and podcast maven Dylan Reid 13,10.
– #19 Nicholas Nick Riffel outlasted junior phenom Ricardo Ricky Diaz 11-8 in the breaker after dropping the first 15-14 then handing out a donut in the second.
– Colombian international veteran Set Cubillos Ruiz outlasted tour ref Scott McClellan in a tough tiebreaker 11-8.
– #15 Felipe Camacho was stretched to a tiebreaker by Oregon State Student Sam Bredenbeck.

——————–

In the round of 32…we had some fireworks.
– In what I think is a pretty significant upset, former IRT touring pro Carson took out #9 seed Andree Parrilla 7,12 to advance to the main draw. On the one hand, Carson has more than proven his ability to beat quality players; in this event last year he beat De La Rosa in the 16s and took the first two games off of Murray in the quarters before losing in 5. On the other hand, Parrilla made the semis of the US Open (vanquishing current #1 Landa along the way), had the match-winning point on his racquet before losing to Carson 11-10 in the quarters at Laurel, and has been roughly the 5th or 6th best player over the past calendar year results wise. I watched part of this match after the fact … and it was not as close as the scores suggest. Parrilla could do little with Carson’s drive serve, and I saw a lot of 3-point rallies with Parrilla flailing. Andree took a curiously early loss last weekend at the SLP Open, so it could definitely be a slight end of year down-turn in form for him (I recall something similar happening a couple years back; he suffered from some serious burn out playing both a full WRT schedule, part IRT schedule plus local events in Mexico), but with fewer IRT events on the schedule every event counts.
– Defending champ and #13 seed Charlie Pratt eased past his junior team member Mauro Mauro Daniel Rojas to advance to the main draw.
– #14 seed Adam Manilla took out his buddy Riffel to advance to the main draw.
– #10 Jansen Allen took a close game one 15-14 over reigning outdoor champ Nick Montalbano and then cruised to the win.
– #18 Robert Collins took a tightly-contested match over #15 Camacho in the tie-breaker to advance to his first main draw since March.

————-

In the 16s:

– #1 seed Alex Landa cruised past Jake Bredenbeck 6,12.
– #8 Kane Waselenchuk took out home-town favorite and upset minded Tony Carson 11,4.
– #12 and #13 seeded Bobby David Horn and Charlie Pratt took out higher seeded players Mario Mercado and Sebastian Franco respectively. Upsets by seed, but not by expectations.
– #14 Adam Manilla continued his impressive run of form, taking #3 seed Daniel de La Rosa to a tiebreaker.
– #7 Samuel Murray left nothing in doubt and beat #10 Jansen Allen handily for his first win in their h2h meetings.
– #2 Rocky Carson was stretched to a tiebreaker by #18 Collins in their first-ever top-level meeting. Excellent showing by Collins, who was looking for his second career quarter-final.

——————
In the Quarters…

– Waselenchuk took out #1 seed Landa 9,8 in a streaky match that probably wasn’t as close as the scores indicated. Landa kept it close-ish for the early parts of both games, but (in a similar pattern to the last couple of times they’ve played), Kane dominated the end-game in both games.
– Pratt committed “coach on coach” crime and took out Horn in two close games 10,14. Despite the win, Pratt stands to take a tumble in the rankings because he’ll lose a significant chunk of the points he won at this event last year unless he manages to win again.
– Beltran completely dominated his doubles partner DLR and advanced 8,8. This is his best result since April and should help kick start the slow start to his season.
– Carson controlled Murray with ease 4,10 for his 7th win in 7 times against the Canadian national champ.

This left the tournament definitely trending to the “veteran” status. Kane, Alvaro, Rocky and Charlie basically are the four oldest players on tour, at ages 37, 40, 39 and 32 respectively.

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In the Semis…Alvaro Beltran upset #2 Rocky Carson in an argumentative tie-breaker (neither player was terribly happy with the refereeing), while Kane blasted defending champ Pratt 3,5.

In the Final, Kane took the match in two games 6,12 … but the 15-12 game was an hour+ tactical marathon where Beltran held out with excellent play and really made Kane work for the win.
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Next up for the IRT is the ever popular Coast to Coast open in Canoga Park, one of the biggest draws of the year.

IRT Pelham Tourney of Champs Preview

Pratt returns to the scene of his career accomplishment.

IRT Pelham Tourney of Champs Preview

We’re back! The International Racquetball Tour returns to action this coming weekend, returning to Portland and the legendary Multnomah Athletic Club for the 3rd event of the season; the SPC John A. Pelham Memorial Tournament of Champions for 2018.

The r2sports home page for the event is http://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=29358 . The Men’s draw is available right now at IRT’s home page here: www.irt-tour.com.

Being that its Portland, there’s a good Junior component involved with this event with High school brackets. No less than 220 players are entered overall, and the pro draw has a healthy 36 players, including a ton of local players to the Northwest that we don’t normally see in national events. The top 18 players from the IRT tour rankings are present; only Gerardo Franco Gonzalez and Rodrigo Montoya Solis are missing from the top 20 players in the world current rankings.

————————

Lets review the draw. Here’s some interesting round of 64 qualifiers. I thought there were a bunch of compelling first rounders … many more so than normal. Should be a fun tourney.

– #17 seed Thomas Carter vs Tim Prigo: Carter is one of the highest ranked tour vets to not get a bye into the 32s, and gets rewarded with a tough match against local player Prigo, who could upset him and move on.
– Jake Bredenbeck vs Kadim Carrasco: the tour gets a rare appearance from the Bolivian Carrasco, an experienced IRT veteran but who had only appeared in US Opens previously. He’s a hard-hitter, which should make this match-up with fellow slugger Bredenbeck a fun one. Jake takes it and moves on.
– Dylan Reid vs Tony Anthony Carson; an unfortunate match-up for both guys; they literally just played in a lower tier IRT event a few weeks back. Carson is a former full time IRT touring pro who finished in the top 10 four years running, with 3 career semi-finals appearances and is a tough draw for whoever he runs into. Reid is most famous in the rball community for his excellent Podcast series (check it out at this FB page: https://www.facebook.com/racquetballshow/ …. and as a disclaimer I was a guest this past summer talking stats and Kane’s then-retirement). Oh, as for the match, I think Carson takes it (sorry Dylan!) and moves on.
– Experienced Canadian international Tim Landeryou heads south of the border to take on IRT regular Justus Benson. A tough first round for the Texan, as Landeryou could give him trouble.
Ricardo Ricky Diaz vs Nick Riffel: another tough draw for touring regular Riffel; he faces off against the current 18U national champ Diaz. Could go either way.
– The Ref Scott McClellan goes against long-time international Set Cubillos Ruiz in a tight first rounder.

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Here’s some potential round of 32 matches (projecting some winners from 64s) that could be fun:
– #9 Andree Parrilla vs Tony Carson: Parrilla, in case you havn’t been paying attention, is on a tear. He’s 4th in season-to-date rankings and has made a ton of later rounds in events over the past season. Carson will be a tough match, expect a 3-game Parrilla win here.
– #13 Charlie Pratt, the defending champion of this tourney, gets a potential match against Mauro Rojas to make the main draw. Pratt, who serves as the
US Junior National team coach, goes against one of his team members in his attempt to defend his title. Not to mention the points that go with it; Pratt stands to plummet in the rankings after this weekend due to the expiration of his tourney win from last season and his part-time playing status.
– Adam Manilla – Ricky Diaz: a nice match-up between two younger guys on tour. Manilla has been playing well lately, making the Quarters in Laurel with a couple of solid wins.
– #10 seed Jansen Allen goes against New Yorker Nick Montalbano, who makes the cross-country flight for this event.

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Lets talk about the 16s. First a comment for those looking at the seedings and wondering what the heck is going on. Kane Waselenchuk, as was thoroughly discussed and debated in a FB thread off of the IRT’s page last week about rankings and the ranking system, is currently ranked 6th. So why is he seeded 8th in this event? Because of the “flip policy” in the IRT, that regular scrambles the 5-8 seeds so that the 8th ranked player does not consistently have to face the #1 ranked player tourney after tourney. You can read more about it here: http://www.irt-tour.com/current-ranking…/irt-ranking-system/

None the less, its a really tough blow for current #1 player Alejandro Alex Landa , who has to face Kane in the quarters instead of the Finals. Fans get better matches earlier of course … but a situation like this does lend credence to the push for a slightly modified ranking system to account for this. It’s an even worse blow for #9 seeded Parrilla, who now faces an early exit at the hands of a player who he previously met in the finals of an IRT event.

I’m in favor of using a separate system to Seed events versus the one currently Ranking players to help avoid this in the future. If you want to see some alternative ranking systems, see this blog post: http://blog.proracquetballstats.com/index.php/2018/11/27/irt-points-system-alternatives/

Off my soapbox, onto the preview.

———————–
In the 16s:
– #1 seed Alex Landa vs Bredenbeck: these two have met 6 times on the IRT and WRT, and Landa has won all 6 previously. He’ll look to make it 7 for 7 here.
– #8 Kane Waselenchuk vs #9 Parrilla: Kane famously gave Andree a triple donut at the US Open a couple years back … then faced off against him in a final later that season where Parrilla played him pretty tough. You don’t predict against Kane these days … you just predict how close the match will be. Parrilla is a grinder, a tough player to play b/c he gets everything and doesn’t make mistakes. He’s also clever on the court and has the kind of off-speed serve that can do a decent job of forcing awkward shots out of Kane on the service return. Still, Kane advances.
– #5 Mario Mercado vs #12 Bobby David Horn; despite the disparity in seeding, Horn has dominated their h2h meetings historically. He leads 6-1 h2h … So look for an upset here.
– #4 Sebastian Franco vs #13 Pratt: again, don’t look at the rankings/seedings here. Pratt has never lost to Franco, and beat him in the semis of Worlds just this past August. Its Pratt’s home town; i expect him to advance here.
– #3 Daniel de la Rosa vs #14 Manilla: Manilla has been playing well, but probably not well enough to down DLR.
– #6 Alvaro Beltran vs #11 Jose Diaz: these two met in the 16s in Minneapolis in October too … with Diaz pulling out the upset. I think these two are heading in opposite directions and Diaz can win again.
– #7 Samuel Murray vs #10 Jansen Allen: fresh off of his win at Canadian Nationals last week, Murray surprisingly has never beaten Allen in a top level match. Jansen’s now fallen to #10 in the rankings and may struggle to get back into the top 8; can he get another win over Murray to advance here? I’m giving the nod to Murray but wouldn’t be surprised by an upset.
– #2 Rocky Carson vs Camacho: straight forward win for Carson here.

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Possible Quarters:
– Kane over Landa: what should have been the final is instead a quarter. Last time they played, Landa played Kane tough, losing 11,9 in Canoga Park. Lets see how this one goes.
– Pratt over Horn: this is a tough one to predict. Horn has beaten Pratt 2 of the 3 times they’ve played, including the last two. On a neutral court I think i pick Horn. But this is not a neutral court, and Horn has been scuffling lately with two early exits in the first two IRT events. Pratt advances.
– DLR vs Diaz: they met in the quarters of the US Open in October, a 10,9 win for DLR. I sense the same would happen here.
– Carson v Murray; They’ve met 6 times on the IRT, including the final of the Laurel season opener, and Rocky has won all 6 times. He makes it 7 for 7 here.

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My projected Semis and finals:
– Kane over Pratt: Kane ends Pratt’s second straight attempt at a Cinderella run in Portland.
– DLR over Rocky: a repeat of the US Open Semi, a tie-breaker win for DLR. Maybe this is the year DLR takes over #2 from Rocky after all these years (not that Landa wouldn’t have something to say about that).

Project final: Kane over DLR, also a rematch from Minneapolis.

IRT Points System Alternatives

 

Is the current ranking system unfair to Waselenchuk?

On 11/20/18, the 12-month rolling IRT rankings shifted enough points away from last season to account for a pretty monumental set of movements in the rankings table: Alejandro Landa ascended to #1 for the first time ever, while the sports most dominant player Kane Waselenchuk fell to #6.

Kane’s descent was due to two primary factors:

1. he missed a number of events in the second half of the 2017-18 season, and

2. There was a sudden drop in the number of events in the first half of the 2018-19 season.

When the IRT posted the update to facebook, A predictable firestorm of comments arose, criticizing the rankings and the ranking system.  I weighed in, pondering initially why it mattered (other than tourney seeding of course) what the rankings were in November, but many believe a different ranking system is needed.

Here are some Ranking system alternatives with some personal analysis.  I tried to emulate all the solid suggestions on the facebook thread from various players and commenters.  The working spreadsheet is available at Google Spreadsheets here.  I’ll just list the top 10 players ranked though I extended the logic down to the top 20 running players or so throughout the last 2+ seasons.

Important Caveats to the below:

  • I have only included points earned in Tier 1s and Grand Slams.  Some players (especially Landa and Parrilla) in reality have a decent amount more points thanks to success in non-Tier 1 events that still remain on their books.
  • I have also only included the core point totals earned per tournament, not bothering to figure out the slight point additions based on games won for simplicity.  In other words; if you made the semis I gave you 220 points though you may have lost the semis in a breaker and thus really earned 222 or 224 points.
  • There’s a couple of players outside the top 10 with points discrepancies I cannot reconcile with this simplistic logic.  Its likely also due to playing non-tier 1 events.  In the grand scheme of this analysis though, it shouldn’t matter.

Current Ranking System: utilizes a 12-month rolling calendar schedule that expires points the 366th day after the event occurs on an automatic basis.  It also drops all low results to “baseline” the rankings at 9 events.   More is available describing the logic at this IRT link and at the Current online rankings.

The exact rankings as of 11/20/18 that started all of this:

playerPointsRank
Landa, Alejandro2116.31
Carson, Rocky2112.182
De La Rosa, Daniel1986.163
Franco, Sebastian1674.154
Murray, Samuel1628.035
Waselenchuk, Kane1500.426
Mercado, Mario1496.027
Beltran, Alvaro1490.018
Parrilla, Andree1432.159
Allen, Jansen1152.0210

Issue with this system: Kane is too low given he’s currently riding a 66 match winning streak, penalizes players too much for missing time with injury.


Alternative #1: just use Season To Date Rankings.  The current season has had just two events thanks to several events held in the fall of last year falling off the schedule.  The current Season-to-date rankings are:

PlayerPointsRank
Carson, Rocky8401
Waselenchuk, Kane8002
De La Rosa, Daniel6003
Parrilla, Andree5904
Landa, Alejandro5205
Franco, Sebastian5206
Murray, Samuel4807
Mercado, Mario3908
Diaz, Jose3909
Bredenbeck, Jake27010

So, the top of this table looks normal enough: Rocky Carson is above Kane, but Kane missed the first event of the year.   Thanks to a hot start and a semis appearance at the US Open, Andree Parrilla is ranked 4th season-to-date.  Alvaro Beltran, a mainstay in the top 10 for a decade, is nowhere to be seen (he missed the first event, and was upset early in the second event of the season).  Landa drops to #5 here even though he has the most wins on tour outside of Kane in the last two years.

Issue with this system: not enough data, too much recency bias.


Alternative #2: Rank based just on last 9 events played.  This system excludes any missed events and totals the points from the last 9 times the player got on the court.  In some cases, we had to go back to the beginning of the 2016-17 season to get 9 events.

PlayerPointsRank
Waselenchuk, Kane43001
Carson, Rocky24002
Landa, Alejandro23003
De La Rosa, Daniel22304
Franco, Sebastian17605
Parrilla, Andree17406
Pratt, Charlie16707
Murray, Samuel16208
Beltran, Alvaro15409
Mercado, Mario149010

This system obviously shows how dominant Kane is; by giving everyone the benefit of the doubt and removing all their missed events, all players are showing their absolute best possible results.  Two notably high players here are again Parrilla (who we had to dip well into the 2016-17 season to get the 9th played event) and Charlie Pratt, who required us to go back more than two calendar years to find enough played events to qualify.  Even then some top 20 players don’t have 9 events played (specifically guys like Rodrigo Montoya and Javier Mar).

Issues with this system: does not reward “touring” players, over-rewards players who miss a number of events, goes back “too far” to get results in some cases.


Alternative #3:  Just rank based on the last 9 running events, eliminating Calendar dates.

PlayerPointsRank
Carson, Rocky21001
Landa, Alejandro20802
De La Rosa, Daniel19203
Murray, Samuel16204
Franco, Sebastian16105
Waselenchuk, Kane15006
Mercado, Mario14907
Beltran, Alvaro13908
Parrilla, Andree13209
Allen, Jansen117010

This system keeps tournaments hanging on irrespective of the date, so should address the complaints about “not having tournaments to defend points.”  So to get the last 9 running Tier 1s and/or Grand Slams we just sum the points dating back to the 11/2/2017 event.

However, this ranking almost exactly mirrors the Current rankings.  Rocky and Landa are flipped at the top, Sebastian Franco and Samuel Murray are flipped at the 4/5 spot, and Kane is still at #6.   In fact, the players in spots #7 through #18 are also identical in this system to the current 12-month rolling calendar.  Why?  Because all these players are playing nearly all the events, rarely missing events, and thus the point totals are basically the same.

Issue with this system: Does not address the issue; Still penalizes Kane for missing so much time in early 2018.


Alternative #4: Total Points, running 2-year calendar.  This system is basically the same system as is in place now, except it uses a 2-year rolling calendar instead of one.  I dropped each player’s two lowest scores (to emulate dropping just one low score for the current 12-month calendar season) and then ranked them:

Playertotal PointsRank
Carson, Rocky48901
Waselenchuk, Kane47002
Beltran, Alvaro31603
Landa, Alejandro31104
De La Rosa, Daniel27505
Franco, Sebastian25706
Murray, Samuel24907
Parrilla, Andree21908
Mercado, Mario18209
Allen, Jansen157010

I think this is actually a pretty good ranking, taking into account results in events played plus tour event participation.  Rocky is 1, Kane is 2, so Kane’s missed time penalizes him slightly but not overtly so.  Its important to remember, not only did Kane miss the four events to injury in early 2018, he’s also missed four OTHER events in the last two running calendar years for various reasons.  For similar reasons (missed events), both Landa and Parrilla are lower than they might be, while Beltran may be slightly higher than he should be, based on recent rankings.

Issue with this system: none really for me.


Alternative #5: Keeping points for tourneys that drop off Calendar.  Kane noted he’s dropped so far because there’s been a lack of tournaments this fall for him to “defend” points from last season.  So I adjusted the points sums to go back further in time to capture more tournaments.  The numbers below basically are a sum of all points earned from every tournament that happened past the 2017 US Open, totaling 11 events in all:

PlayerPointsRank
Carson, Rocky27001
Landa, Alejandro23002
Waselenchuk, Kane23003
De La Rosa, Daniel22304
Franco, Sebastian19805
Murray, Samuel18606
Beltran, Alvaro16907
Mercado, Mario16408
Allen, Jansen14809
Parrilla, Andree132010

In this system, Rocky is #1, then Kane and Landa are tied for #2 (I put Landa 2nd because throughout all of this Landa has a number of points from non-Tier 1 events that slightly elevate his ranking over his peers).   The rest of the rankings 4-20 more or less mirror the current rankings that expire points after the 365th day.

I like this option too; it seems to address the issue of tournaments falling off the calendar in a rather simple way.

Issue with this system: i’m not sure this system would “protect” any players besides Kane who go out with injury.  Kane wins a lot of points per event played and can “make up” several tournaments worth of points for a normal tour player each time.  If someone ranked in the 10-15 range missed a significant amount of time … they’d be buried in the rankings.


Other Alternatives explored:

  • I looked at average points earned in tournaments for each player for a one-year and two-year rolling period.  The problem with using an average is that missed tournaments basically destroy the average.  Kane ranks just 9th in average tourney points earned in the last calendar year, while Landa drops to 5th if you extend that average to two years.  Both results do not seem valid.

Conclusion: I think the simplest solution may just be to expand the system from a rolling 1-year to a rolling 2-year calendar (Alternative #4).  This will smooth out periods of absence for Kane and reward a longer period of excellence overall.

This suggestion also has the added benefit of representing a simple additional burden on the tour (and John Scott) to maintain.  Any more complex system might be too much of a burden to maintain in an ongoing fashion.

However … I do believe that the end of season rankings should only take into account the points earned in that season.   It would make no sense to have last season’s results impact this season’s end-of-season rankings.  So perhaps this is all just an exercise to find a better “seeding” system that does a better job of smoothing out the rankings to better indicate at any given point in time who is ranked where.  I am not advocating at this time to really change the way the rankings are done for the purposes of declaring a season-ending champ.

If you have different suggestions, I can run other scenarios as well.  Feel free to comment or drop me a line.

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.

——————–
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.

—————–
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.

—————–
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.

——————–

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.

——————-
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 Men’s Singles Quarters Review, Semis preview

International Racquetball Tour UnitedHealthcare US OPEN Racquetball Championships

As with the ladies, 3 of the 4 top seeds advanced to the Men’s singles semis at the season’s major, and the fourth player to advance was no surprise entrant, having won one IRT event last season and made the finals of another. Lets review the quarters and project the semis and finals.

– #1 Rocky Carson downed #8 Mario Mercado in two games with ease. Mercado did well to advance here, ousting IRF World champion Rodrigo Montoya Solís in the 16s, who many considered a dark horse to go deep at this tourney. But in Carson, Mercado ran into the master of the control game.

– #4 Daniel De La Rosa took out upset-minded #12 Jose Diaz in two straight. De La Rosa ends up eliminating both Diaz’s in this event, putting and end to the Stockton clan’s tournament here.

– #3 Kane Waselenchuk made a statement in his win over #6 Sebastian Franco 6,1. After getting pushed in the 16s by Javier Mar, Kane came out swinging and Franco had no answers on this day.

– #10 Andree Parrilla provided the sole upset in the quarter finals, downing #2 Alex Landa in a tie-breaker. This is not as big of an upset as it seems; these two have played many times at the top levels of racquetball and Parrilla has had more than his fair share of wins.

Semis prediction:
– Carson holds a 15-8 h2h career lead over DLR … but the last time they faced off (Jan 2018) DLR crushed him. Of course … that was Rocky’s first tournament back after knee surgery so that result needs an asterisk. Still, DLR has looked great this tourney and knows how to beat Rocky, so look for a DLR win to advance to the finals.

– Kane and Parrilla famously met int he 2016 US Open round of 16, where Kane handed Andree a triple donut. At the time it was seen as a referendum on the fledgling WRT tour’s place in the racquetball heirarchy, but it is also worth nothing that Parrilla was a few days past his 20th birthday at that point and was a baby in terms of ability. The next time they met was an IRT Final a few months later. Kane is 6-0 against Andree h2h but they havn’t faced each other in more than a year. Meanwhile, Parrilla has been on a great run of form and can hang with anybody. I look for a decently entertaining game with Kane winning in 2, but by no means a blow out.

Final prediction: Kane over DLR in their 16th top-level meeting.

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.

IRT 2018 US Open Qualifying Review and Round of 32 and 16 Preview

We’re through two rounds of (often grueling) qualifying and are to the main draw. Here’s some thoughts about notable matches or surprises (to me) from qualifying and a look ahead at the first two rounds of the main draw.

r2sports main draw link here.

Qualifying Results of note:
– #17 Seed Thomas Carter(aka, the highest seed forced to qualify) lost the first game 0 before recovering to advance to the main draw.
Dylan Reid took a solid 11-8 win over veteran Guatemalan Edwin Galicia.
Scott “the Ref” McClellan fought back from dropping the first game to advance to the main draw.
– Daniel Maldonado saved match point in game 2 before advancing in breaker over David Austin.
Ricardo Diaz got a solid win over WOR Vegas singles titlist Nick Montalbano.
Jay Munoz got a win over Set Cubillos Ruiz in his IRT debut
– Ohio’s Kyle Ulliman got a solid W over Wayne Antone IV.
– Costa Rican Alexander Pirie took a solid win over Austin Cunningham.
Mauro Daniel Rojas had to work to get past IRT veteran Hiroshi Shimizu, who first played on the IRT tour in 2002. When Rojas was 4.
– Touring pro Robert Collins got a close 2-game win over long-time IRT player Alejandro Herrera Azcarate to advance to the main draw.

————-
Round of 32 matches to watch for:

– #9 Jansen Allen v #24 Rodrigo Montoya Solís; though this may be an upset by seed, few consider Montoya the underdog here. The big question for rball fans is the state of his ankle. Allen is no slouch and if Montoya is hobbled we’ll know pretty quickly.

– #12 Jose Diaz vs #23 Gerardo Franco Gonzalez; both players are capable of upsets and this should be an interesting contrast in playing styles.

– #13 Charlie Pratt vs Diego Garcia Quispe; great matchup of youth versus experience. Pratt’s cerebral playing style will likely control the youngster in this match … but Garcia plays like a veteran. Still amazing that a 16U player has made it this far already.

– #14 Adam Manilla vs #19 Javier Mar; upset alert here. Manilla went deep in the tour’s first event, making the quarters … but Mar has WRT titles and Mexican national titles and a run to the US Open quarters last year. Which Mar will show up though? Manilla has his hands full here.

– #6 Sebastian Franco vs #27 Mauro Rojas; Rojas beat Franco once before on the IRT, two years ago in Kansas … when he was just 16. Now freshly graduated from Juniors he’s been saddled with tough draws as he plays the tour full time. I like his game; he hits the ball really heavy and its just a matter of time before he gets a breakthrough win.

– #7 Samuel Murray vs #26 Luis Conrrado Moscoso Serrudo; tough break for Murray, who made the final of the first IRT event of the season. Like with Allen-Montoya, this will look like an upset by seed but Moscoso has more than established himself as one of the world’s top players by now irrespective of his IRT points.

Round of 16s that look interesting, if results go as I think they will:

– #24 Montoya – #8 Mario Mercado; Despite their international experience and long juniors history (they’re the same junior year, both born in 1996), I don’t have these two ever meeting in a senior event. If Montoya is healthy, he’ll be favored.

– #4 Daniel De La Rosa v #13 Pratt ; Pratt has wins over DLR in the past, and can play him tough. This could be a very tactical, strategic match.

– #26 Moscoso vs #10 Andree Parrilla; they met in the US Open last year, a 5-game brutal 11-8 win for the Bolivian. Parrilla plays everyone tough; there are no easy losses to Parrilla, who scraps and scrapes every point. Look for another marathon.

—————

We’ll be back Friday to preview the Q/S/Finals.

IRT Season Opener in Laurel Wrap-up

Rocky Carson takes the season’s first pro stop.

The first event of the new International Racquetball Tour is in the books; lets recap the event. Great turn-out to watch matches Thursday night; we thought there might have been 150 people present at peak capacity watching matches.

R2sports link for the tourney.

The draw was impacted late in the game, when a points shuffle resulted in Alejandro Landa overtaking Kane Waselenchuk for #2 on tour, and then Kane withdrawing after the draws had been finalized due to a car accident. This meant 3 of the top 8 players were out … but 16 of the top 20 and 22 of the top 30 were present, representing a very solid draw.

Match Report here for this event at www.proracquetballstats.com

Congrats to Rocky Carson on his win. This is his 26th IRT tier 1/GS win; he is now just 3 titles behind Jack Huczek for 5th all-time on tour.  Click here for a list of most titles won on tour.

Here’s a review of the matches I found notable per round, highlighting upsets and tough wins.

In the 64s:

  • Gerardo Franco got a solid win over country-man Jordy Alonso, a player he hadn’t beaten on the professional ranks before.
  • Atlanta native Maurice Miller got a good win over veteran Colombian Set Cubillos.
  • Adam Manilla outlasted the 16-yr old Bolivian phenom Diego Garcia in a tie-breaker; Garcia played quite well for his pro debut and went on to make the Open finals in a very deep draw, taking Acuna to a tiebreaker.
  • Felipe Camacho beat home town favorite Dan Fowler despite the local rooting interest.
  • Legendary New Jersey player Mitch Posner managed to score a point, losing to Andres Acuna 1,0.
  • Playing on his home court, Troy Warigon took a tight match 14,14 over Costa Rican Sergio Acuna.
  • Robert Collins took out another local favorite, North Carolina’s Brent Walters 14,12.
  • Long Island’s Nick Montalbano beat “the Ref” Scott McClellan in two.

In the 32s:

  • Gerardo Franco continued his run, topping Nick Riffel to qualify for the main draw.
  • Andree Parrilla won the last match of the night Thursday night, ending at nearly 11pm, topping Miller in a solid 11,8 win featuring back and forth action.
  • Andres Acuña topped fellow veteran IRF player Camacho 11,6 to advance to the main draw.
  • In one of the best matches of the night, Jake Bredenbeck topped Stocktonian Mauro Rojas in two tight games 14,11. These two big hitters blasted balls at each other all match and Jake came out on top. Look out for Rojas, who just graduated from 18U; he has every much the power as Jake and could surprise a top 8 player soon.
  • The longest match of the 32s may have been Thomas Carter outlasting Texan Justus Benson in a tie-breaker that lasted an hour and a half. His prize? A walk-over into his first career quarter-final.
  • Jose Diaz took out local favorite Warigon in two games … and had to do it despite the largest crowd of the night rooting against him the whole way.
  • Montalbano continued his good run, topping another IRT touring vet in Collins to advance to the main draw. Montalbano becomes the only non-touring pro/local player to advance to the main draw at this event.

In the 16s:

  •  #1 Rocky Carson advanced with ease over G. Franco.
  • #9 Parrilla surprised #8 David Horn, showing no signs of fatigue from his two-match qualifying late into the previous night, winning in 2 to force a Carson showdown.
  •  Manilla earned his third ever quarter, topping DC-area resident and #5 seed Mario Mercado 11-10. Great tourney for Manilla, who I thought was a candidate to get upset in the 64s … serves me right for picking against him; now he’s in the 8s.
  • #4 Sebastian Franco cruised into the quarters, topping Acuna.
  • #14 Carter got his walk-over over #3 Waselenchuk and his first career quarter finals appearance.
  • #6 Samuel Murray had a solid win over Bredenbeck, advancing in two games 13,7. I thought this had upset potential, especially after Murray’s struggles at Worlds, but this was a solid win.
  • #7 Jansen Allen held off Jose Diaz’s upset attempt to get to the quarters.
  • #2 Landa advanced easily over Montalbano, ending the local player’s run.

In the Quarters…

  • #9 seed Parrilla had the match on his racquet at 10-10 in the breaker, and blew a game-winning pass into the ground. #1 Carson took advantage and won the ensuing rally to advance by the skin of his teeth.
  • #4 Franco ended Manilla’s excellent tourney 9,4.
  • #6 Murray outclassed Carter 2,11 to advance to the semis.
  • #2 Landa overcame a big 1st game deficit to the cruise over #7 Allen.

The semis thus represent a “chalk” draw of remaining pros, featuring #1, #2, #6 and #4 seeds.

  • In the upper semi, #1 Carson rebounded from his near defeat in the quarters to trounce home-town favorite #4 Sebastian Franco in two.
  • In the other semi, #6 Murray secured his first pro win over #2 Landa, and also his first ever pro Tier 1 final, with a solid tiebreaker victory over his frequent doubles partner.

In the final, Carson and Murray met for the 6th time professionally …. and Carson made it 6-6 with a solid 2-game victory to claim the season’s first title and extend his grip on the #1 ranking on tour.


Next up for the tour is the US Open. I had a great time Thursday night meeting players and talking stats with the IRT staff. I got some great, great suggestions for site augmentation and hope to spare some time coming up to develop and add some awesome new functionality. Stay tuned for announcements here to that end.

IRT Laurel Season Opener preview

(Editor’s Note! I’ve modified this post in the predictions section: after its publication Kane withdrew and the rankings/seedings flipped Kane and Landa, so I’ve corrected the text to account for this).

Welcome to the 2018-19 International Racquetball Tour season!

The draw is up for the first event so lets talk about it.  Click here for the r2sports.com Tournament link.  Or, if you cannot read this link, go to www.irt-tour.com and click on the link directly from the home page. Or wait til Thursday when the brackets for the whole tourney are released in full on r2sports.com.

After a summer of angst over the status of 12-time champ Kane Waselenchuk, the sports most dominant player is in the first draw of the season and will be looking to extend his current on-court winning streak of 61 matches, which was interrupted for months last season by a knee injury that eventually cost him the year end title. However, after the draws were posted; Kane reportedly suffered injuries in a car accident and withdrew. He’ll remain in the draw and a lucky qualifier will get a bye into the quarters.

This is the first ever Men’s pro event held at the well-known (to Mid-Atlantic tournament players anyway) Sportfit Laurel club, which currently also hosts the annual LPRT Christmas classic and which has hosted an annual event called the Wintergreen Classic in Jan/February for more than 30 years. This is also the first time the Men’s pro tour has played in Maryland since the early 1990s, when the Merritt Security club outside of Baltimore used to host one of the VCI challenger series events every year. It is also the first time the Men’s tour has returned to the Washington DC area since 2003, and as a DC-area resident i’m obviously excited to be able to *drive* to see the Men’s pros for the first time in 15 years.

The Laurel club is unique for its court construction. They are panel courts, but a construction design choice spaced out the support beams a bit too far, leaving the courts being quite “slow,” even for panel courts. I wonder if this will be a source of frustration for players, especially those who are used to playing faster, concrete courts or who are used to playing at elevation.

One other personal note about the club: Sportfit Laurel was the first racquetball club where I ever played. I joined in early 1994 and played there until moving to Northern Virginia in December 1997. It has long held a large, vibrant racquetball community and was an awesome place to learn how to play.

I’ll be at the club Thursday night (Hurricane willing) for all of qualifying and look forward to catching up with the community.

———————————–

Enough about the club and my personal history there; Lets take a quick look at the draw: There’s 40 players entered, a healthy draw that is the largest non-US Open draw since Sept 2014 and portends well for the depth on tour this year.

Top 20 IRT players missing: three: #4 Daniel De La Rosa, #5 Alvaro Beltran, and #12 Charlie Pratt. Beltran and Pratt were in the draw as of Monday but were late withdrawals (Beltran to injury, Pratt to the Hurricane). These two missing top 8 players gives Sebastian Franco a #4 seed, a career best and a potential semi against Rocky Carson, a good early test for the defending champ.

Interesting international players attending: Andres Acuña and Sergio Acuna from Costa Rica, Jordy Alonso, Set Cubillos Ruiz, Erick Cuevas Fernandez, and lastly Bolivian Diego Garcia, a 16U player who made the semis of worlds this year who is coming up on a RYDF sponsorship to get a taste of the IRT in person. He could be the next best thing from the racquetball-mad country of Bolivia and he could be an interesting watch.

East coast top players entered who we don’t normally see elsewhere: David Austin, Geoff Heskett, Maurice MillerNick Montalbano, Troy Moore, Pedro MeruviaJamal HarrisBrent Walters and semi-regular IRT tour player Troy Warigon, who is the only pro entered who plays out of the Laurel club (that technically may not be totally true; I think Sebastian Franco also plays out of Laurel but don’t quote me on that).

Special Mention in the draw; former top-10 touring pro Dan Fowler is entered into the draw, looking to appear in a Men’s pro event for the first time in nearly 10 years. His last on-court pro appearance was in January 2009, and he stopped touring professionally in Oct 2004. Fowler and his wife Doreen Fowler (herself a former touring ladies pro) are both DC-area residents, have a long history of giving lessons and clinics in the Suburban Maryland area, and currently own and run a health club in Suburban MD. Its great to see Fowler back on tour even if its just for one event.

One other Special Mention: New Jersey legend Mitch “Captain Charisma” Posner is attending … he’s entered into Pros … and 60+. I’m sure he’ll be decked out in his trademark all-Red for his pro match.

——————————————
Lets get to previewing the draw:

Qualifying match-ups: here’s the Thursday night matches to look forward to:
– Gerardo Franco v Alonso: tough opener for both Mexicans, who fly an awful long way to play each other. Alonso owns a 2-0 h2h lead over Franco on the WRT, but it was Franco who had two top-10 wins on the IRT last season to leave an impression. could be pretty close.
– Garcia-Adam Manilla; this could be a shocker; Garcia is an unknown junior from Bolivia who could be a sleeper. Possibly a tough opener for Manilla, or perhaps a cake-walk facing a youngster who is an awful long way from home.
– Felipe Camacho – Fowler: an interesting match between the veteran IRT player Camacho and the former top-10 player Fowler. Can the retired veteran return to his top 10 form for a night? If so Camacho may be in trouble.
– Heskett – Thomas Carter: its a cross-state match-up of PIttsburgh area-based Heskett and Philadelphia area-native Carter. And its a golden ticket into the quarters so expect a heavily contested match.
– Robert Collins – Walters; a tough match up of regional top player Walters and IRT veteran Collins; could be an upset here.

Round of 32 interesting potential match-ups
– b vs Mauro Daniel Rojas; a tough round of 32 for both players; Rojas has been touring regularly since graduating from Juniors and has had a number of really tough early round match-ups
– Garcia-Cuevas Fernandez: an intriguing match=up of younger international players … which may not happen since both face tough first rounders against regular touring vets; this could easily be Manilla-Wolfe instead.

Round of 16 projections:
– Carson over Alonso
– Bobby Horn vs Andree Parrilla; 8/9 is always tight; Horn owns h2h 3-1 across IRT, WRT and IRF. Advantage Horn.
Mario Mercado – Garcia: Mercado ends the cinderella run of the 16 yr old.
– S. Franco over Acuna: this IRF-style match between two veteran int’l players should be an easy victory for the “home town” Franco.
– Carter over Kane in a walkover
– Bredenbeck over Samuel Murray; first big upset; Bredenbeck has beaten Murray before and has the power to keep up with him. Jake is better than his seeding and ranking and will take a big step forward this tourney towards improving both.
Jose Diaz over Jansen Allen ; Diaz beat Allen in two in April but they’re 2-2 h2h on the IRT: I expect a close Diaz win for the upset.
Alejandro Landa over Walters: Landa’s been given a clear path to the finals and may not be stopped.

Quarters projections
– Carson-Horn: Horn has never beaten Carson, but Horn has also never been better. He’ll look to draw upon his international summer and his increased training to topple the 2017-18 champ.
– Franco over Mercado: these two country-men have never met officially in any capacity that I track, though i’m certain they’ve played a thousand times both hailing from Cali, Colombia. I’ll go with Franco.
– Bredenbeck over Carter: Jake’s string of unlucky draws ends here.
– Landa- Diaz: Landa handles the Stocktonian

Semis and Finals predictions: I’ve gone pretty much chalk: 1-4 versus 3-2.
– Carson over Franco; he’s 8-0 lifetime over Sebastian and has had the summer to recover from his knee operation.
– Landa-Bredenbeck; wow, interesting match of contrasting styles here. Landa is 5-0 lifetime over Jake and has historically done a good job of mitigating Jake’s power game. I’ll predict he makes it 6-0 here.

Final: Carson over Alex Landa

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Welcome to the new season! Can’t wait to see some racquetball!