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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

—————–
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.

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.

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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.

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

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.

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.

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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.

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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!