While the International Racquetball Tour was in Austin this past weekend for the Longhorn Open, one of the longer continuously running events in the land was happening back in my neck of the woods, with an IRT Tier 5 draw plus a solid Women’s open draw that saw some great matches and contributed to some great Mixed Open play.
Here’s a wrap-up of the 2020 Wintergreen Classic from Laurel, Md this past weekend.
Seeds when chalk to the semis, where the top four seeds advanced in #1 Maurice Miller, #2 MoMo Zelada, #3 Troy Warigon and #4 David Austin. We saw all these players in action in Laurel when the IRT visited in September, and they were all back here for this event.
Other notables in the draw: LPRT touring pro and Momo’s wife Masiel Rivera Oporto competed in the draw, upset the 5th seed and fell in the quarters. Top east coast junior Dylan Pruitt, who represented the USA playing doubles in the World Juniors last November, was the 6th seed and fell to home-town player Warigon in the qtrs.
In the semis: – #1 Miller defeated New Jersey’s #4 seed Austin 5,7 – #2 Zelada went tie-breaker with #3 Warigon as they often do, with Zelada coming out on top again 11-4.
In the final, Zelada outlasted Miller for the third time in the last year in east coast events, blanking him in the breaker to take the title.
————— Women’s Open:
Virginia’s Kelani Lawrence was the 3rd seed of three LPRT pros in this round robin, but beat both Valeria Centellas and Masiel Rivera in dominant fashion to take the title. It was definitely a statement by Kelani, who has now broken into the LPRT top 20.
Interesting side note: Centellas’ home town in r2sports was listed as Buenos Aires, Argentina. I had heard rumors that she was considering a country switch from Bolivia to Argentina and I wonder if it is now official. This is an interesting development for the international game; Argentina has long been represented by two top LPRT pros in the international game (Maria Jose Vargas and Natalia Mendez, ironically themselves both Bolivian-born and naturalized as well). We’ll see if this gets officially announced at some point.
—————- In Men’s Open Doubles; the 2nd and 3rd seeded singles players Miller and Warigon teamed up to dominate long-time Virginia-based tourney players Ross Weinberg and Raul Berrios in the final. Good showing by the veteran team to oust the #2 seeded youngsters of Pruitt/Austin to advance.
—————- In Mixed Open Doubles: the presence of a number of top women’s players made the Mixed Open draw fabulous.
In one semi, #1 seeds Warigon & Lawrence took out top dc-area doubles players Weinberg and Kristen Junkin Jones, and in the other semi #2 seeds Miller and Centellas defeated Rivera and Pruitt.
In the final, the reigning world doubles champion Centellas helped spur her team to victory, with Miller/Centellas winning a tight two-game match against Warigon/Lawrence.
Congrats to your winners on the weekend: – Singles: Kane Waselenchuk
Kane wins again, without dropping a game and only gave up 13 points in 6 games prior to the final. He secures his 600th professional match win in the process, behind only Cliff Swain all time on the men’s pro tour (see http://rball.pro/133532 for a list of all time match wins on tour).
Kane is now 21-1 on the season, that one loss being a last-minute forfeit out of the season opening Atlanta event.
Thanks to an early loss by #2 Landa and an absence by #3 Carson, Kane maintains his 300+ point lead at top of the standings and looks poised to expand that in the next two weeks.
First off, there were no less than six wbf-ns in the opening two rounds of qualifications. Unfortunately, several of the players who forfeited where guys who I thought could make somewhat deep runs here. I got a little bit of the context of the forfeits; lots of guys signed up quite early (because this is such a popular event), then could not secure funding for affordable flights and had to bail. I’m bummed though for those who wanted to play and couldn’t get to Austin.
That being said, we did see some interesting early round matches:
In the 128s: – #37 Diana-Shai Manzuri downed #28 Justus Benson 10,8. – #38 Alejandro Almada downed #27 Scott McClellan 11-9 in the breaker. I wonder if the match was self-refereed.. (ok, ok, bad joke).
In the 64s: – #20 Javier Mar took out fellow traveling Mexican #36 Juan Loreto in two to advance. Loreto made up for it by making a solid run to the Men’s Open semis. – #19 Adam Manilla was made to work for it from relative unknown Bolivian Miguel A. Arteaga Guzman , winning in the breaker to move on. – #26 Bolivian Kadim Carrasco took out #39 Mexican Edson Martinez in two games 5,11. Solid win for Carrasco.
—————- In the 32s, we started to see some fireworks. – #24 Alan Natera Chavez downed #9 Jake Bredenbeck in two games 12,8. The giant-killer in Natera surfaces again and takes out the highest unprotected seed in the draw. – #20 Mar continued his run, taking out #13 Carlos Keller Vargas in two. This is Keller’s earliest exit this season but it comes at the hand of a player who’s probably one of the top 6-7 players in the world irrespective of seeding. – #19 Manilla gets a walk-over into the main draw thanks to #14 Gerardo Franco Gonzalezs no-show. – #11 Mario Mercado Valenzuela had to come from a game down to top local Texan #38 Alejandro Almada in the breaker. Almada was the 38th seeded player out of 39 players in this draw thanks to the fact that its his first ever IRT Tier 1 stop. He had played a slew of WRT events as he matriculated out of the junior ranks, where he won a number of Mexican and World junior titles. He’s currently a student at U-Texas, thus he’s playing on his home courts, and he’s the two-time runner-up at USAR Intercollegiates. He’s also got solid wins in non-Tier 1 IRT events on his resume, and we hope to see more of him. – #23 Javier Estrada went big-game hunting and took out #10 Sebastian Franco 13,7. Estrada played up to his potential and advanced. – #18 Eduardo Garay topped #15 Thomas Carter in two close games to advanced into the main draw for the 7th time in his young career.
So, the round of 32 saw the #9, #10, #13, #14, and #15 seeds fall to lower seeded players. What would we see in the 16s?
—————- In the 16s … even more fireworks
– #1 Kane Waselenchuk got his tourney started by crushing Costa Rican #16 Andres Acuña 3,2. They met at this gate earlier this year in Arizona with similar results. – #8 Conrrado kevin Moscoso Ortiz Racquetball took out the upset minded #24 Natera 14,9 to setup the highly anticipated quarter. – #5 Canadian Samuel Murray was pushed by #12 David Horn but prevailed in a breaker. – #4 Alvaro Beltran surprised this observer and turned the tides on his younger Mexican rival for the first time in a while, topping #20 Mar in a tiebreaker. I can’t recall the last time Beltran got the better of Mar on the court. – In a huge upset, #19 Manilla took out #3 Andree Parrilla 6,9. Manilla advances to his 4th pro quarterfinal, and gets easily the best win of his career. He’ll face a player in Mercado in the quarters who he has beaten multiple times, and he has to like his chances of advancing to the semis for the first time. – #11 Mercado topped #6 Lalo Portillo to give the young Mexican his third straight one-and-done since achieving a top8 seed. A solid showing by the Colombian to get the wins he needed. – #7 Daniel De La Rosa trounced #23 Estrada 6,4, avenging a loss to his Mexican rival in the Black Gold cup this past summer and getting DLR a solid win to advance. – In the round’s biggest upset though, #18 Garay took out the #2 player on tour Alex Landa 6,(12),1. Garay served lights out in game one, frustrating Landa. They played a closer game 2, with Landa pulling away at the end to force the breaker. But Garay’s ability to put power pinches away and force a lot of 3-shot rallies and pecked away to suddenly dominate and win the breaker 11-1.
Fun fact; there is a radar gun on the court, and Garay/Landa were routinely putting serves and kill shots in the upper 140 ranges. Cannot wait to see what kind of speeds we see in the Kane-Conrrado quarter.
Seed report in the 16s: top of the draw is chalk 1,8,5,4. Bottom? Instead of 3,6,7,2 its 19,11,7,18. We could be seeing a double digit seed in the final for the first time since Moscoso sprinted to the US Open final as a 15th seed last October.
—————- In the Quarters:
– Fans were robbed of the anticipated Kane vs Conrrado match: Conrrado picked up an injury in his round of 16 match and could barely move from the onset of his match against Kane. On the match’s first serve, he could barely put weight on his leg as he moved towards the ball, and looked to be in considerable pain. Curiously, he chose not to forfeit, but to play the entire match, giving up ace after ace and eventually losing 4,1. Lets just hope its not a serious injury, given that he’s slated to play and compete in the next two events back to back. – #4 Beltran held serve and topped #5 Murray for the third time in his career and second time this season, moving on to the semis. – #19 Manilla indeed took care of business against #11 Mercado, a player he’s beaten numerous times, dominating and winning 8,9 to achieve his first ever pro semi final. – #7 DLR made short work of #18 Garay, advancing 6,8 and controlling the match. Garay showed none of the dominance that enabled him to frustrate Landa, and DLR puts himself into a position to be the favorite for the final. He also advances to just his second semi on the season; is this the event that allows Daniel to get his season back on track?
————— In the Semis: – #1 Kane absolutely blasted #4 Beltran 1,2 to advance to the final. Kane is set to possibly challenge his own record of “Most dominant tourney win.” He’s given up 13 points in 6 games thus far through three rounds. I think its safe to say he likes these courts … or likes playing in front of his home crowd. – #7 DLR ended the cinderella run of #19 Manilla, but not before it looked like Adam might get another big win. Manilla took the first game 15-13, but then DLR got out to a dominant lead in game two to control it 15-7. In the breaker DLR continued his adjustments and cruised to an 11-2 breaker win and advanced to his first final of the season. We miss out on the first lefty-lefty final in more than a decade on tour.
————— In the Finals: – Kane was pushed for the only time all tournament by DLR, who ran off stretches of consecutive points at times that had fans remembering the days when it was a foregone conclusion that he was the “next big thing” in the sport. Kane was down big in game 2 before mounting a crushing comeback and eventual win 9,10.
—————- Points Implications of results
Thanks to the results on the weekend, here’s what I think will happen points-wise. There was an event from last season that expires 1/19/20, so this event will just replace those points like for like. This analysis doesn’t include the Tier 5s going on this past weekend in Laurel, MD, but the points earned there won’t appreciably change any rankings for any top players.
– Moscoso will move from #7 to #6 despite earning fewer points than DLR. Daniel drops to #7, his lowest ranking since the 2013-14 season, despite his finals appearance thanks to treading water with 2019’s expiring points. – Montoya will drop from 9th to 13th, which is kind of a bummer for him since he missed the event to accept an award for his accomplishments from his home city of Chihuahua. – Garay jumps up from 21 to 17 on the back of his qtr appearance. – Interestingly, Manilla’s big weekend only moves him up one spot thanks to a big gulf of points between him and the players right above him previously. But, another qtr appearance could jump him up a few slots based on his closing that gap. – Diaz drops 6 spots from 24 to 30 with his absence this weekend, further evidence of his touring status.
—————- Doubles and other draws from the weekend:
No pro doubles on the weekend. But a recurring pro doubles team in Keller/Carrasco teamed up to win the Open doubles over two Texans in Manzuri and Mascorro.
In the Men’s open draw, Lalo Portillo topped a solid field with an on-the-court win over Natera and a walk-over win in the final to take the title.
In the Women’s Open, #1 seed Maria Renee Rodríguez took out #2 seeded Linda Tyler in the final between two regular LPRT players.
—————— Next up? The Men turn right around and head to Sioux Falls, while the ladies head to South Carolina for the big Grand Slam. A busy weekend of rball coming up!
One of the sports biggest amateur events has added the IRT men to its slate of competitors, making for a massive tournament in Austin this coming weekend. No less than 457 players are entered into this weekend’s Longhorn Open, with a healthy 39-man pro draw.
The IRT returns to the state of Texas for the first time since March of 2018 … and to Austin for the first time since Feb 2003. Its also the first time the tour’s #1 player Kane Waselenchuk has been able to play a “home” event since Oct 2015.
In the 39 man singles draw, we have the hoped-for strong Mexican player contingent, which is going to make for some *great* preliminary rounds and some fascinating match-ups. We are missing some key names though from the draw: – #3 Rocky Carson announced on FB last week that he’s decided to skip this event to give his surgically repaired knee a bit more time to heal. He had a small knee op done in mid-Dec and isn’t quite ready to go yet. – #9 Rodrigo Montoya Solís also missing.
These two absences jump #10 Lalo Portillo into the top 8 … and then thanks to the flip seeding this event he secures a lofty #6 seed. FYI, in case you’re wondering why the 5-8 seeds look odd, the flip seeding has resulted in slightly altered seedings versus rankings this event: – #5 seeded Samuel Murray is ranked 8th at current – #6 seeded Portillo is ranked 10th as noted above – #7 seeded Daniel De La Rosa is ranked 6th at current – #8 seeded Conrrado Moscoso is ranked 7th at current.
The more apparent and obvious implication of the flip is the possible Moscoso-Waselenchuk match-up in the quarters.
Other top 30 players missing in this event are #18 Sebastian ‘Patata’ Fernandez, #27 Sam Bredenbeck and #29 Jansen Allen, the longtime touring pro who misses an event that’s drive-able from his home outside of Dallas.
—————————— Lets preview the draw. Here’s some notable qualifying matches that i’m looking forward to:
In the round of 128: – #32 vs #33: Christian Longoria vs Andres Gomez; tough first rounder for the Colombian; Longoria is sneaky good and could be pressing for a main draw spot. – #28 Justus Benson vs #37 Diana-Shai Manzuri; Manzuri continues to represent Argentina internationally well into his 40s, and will be a tough out for the regular tour player Benson. A home-state match-up for two Texas residents. – #26 Kadim Carrasco vs #39 Edson Martinez: Martinez is seeded 39th of 39 players here, but he’s not the 39th best player in this draw. He’s made the quarters of this event twice in the last three years (albeit, when it was an WRT event). This could be a close match.
In the round of 64: – #33 Longoria vs #17 Robert Collins; Collins just misses out on the bye into the 32s, and may run into a player who can top him in Longoria. – #20 Javier Mar vs #29 Alejandro Cardona; what a brutal match for these two. Mar is one of the top 6-7 players in the world, and Cardona isn’t far behind him. This is a quarter-final quality match happening way too early. I like Mar to move on and make a deep run here, as he frequently does during his rare IRT appearances. – #19 Adam Manilla versus #30 Ernesto Ochoa; a great “show me” match-up between an IRT touring regular and an up and coming Mexican player with a ton of impressive wins on his resume. I like Ochoa for the upset. – #23 Javier Estrada versus the Carrasco/Martinez winner; Estrada had a number of quality wins in the latter part of 2019, including two wins over Javier Mar. But he’s proven to be inconsistent. His last IRT appearance featured a win over Horn to make the main draw. Can he repeat here?
——————————- Projecting the 32s: here’s some possible matchups, though the depth of this draw could make for some upsets and make these predictions moot: – #9 Jake Bredenbeck vs #24 Alan Natera Chavez; Natera is another wild-card; he’s made the semis of Mexican Nationals two years running and has a ton of high-level wins, but he also can take curious losses. Which Natera will show up here? He can handle Jake’s power for sure; will that be enough? Jake looks to build on a solid pro season so far, which features no main draws missed and a semis appearance in Portland. – #12 David ” Bobby” Horn vs #21 Jose Diaz; fly all the way to Texas to play the guy who lives down the road. Horn/Diaz know each other’s game pretty well, both being NorCal players frequenting the “209.” Who will have the upper hand on the day? I’m going to flip a coin and go with Diaz. – #13 Carlos Keller Vargas vs #20 Mar: tough one for Keller; these two met at the US Open and Mar advanced. I think Keller’s streak of making the round of 16 ends here. – #30 Ochoa vs #14 Gerardo Franco Gonzalez; Ochao downed Franco the last time they played last year in an RKT event; i think he wins again. – #10 Sebastian Franco vs #23 Estrada: This could be a great match-up; I think these two are pretty close talent wise and if both are on their games, expect a dog-fight. I’ll go with Estrada here. – #15 Thomas Carter vs #18 Eduardo Garay: Garay if he’s on his game can overpower Carter here, despite the Ohioan’s good play as of late.
——————————- round of 16: – #1 Kane over Acuna – #8 Moscoso over #9 Jake – #5 Samuel Murray over #21 Diaz – #20 Mar over #4 Alvaro Beltran; Beltran gets one of the few qualifiers who I think can beat him. Mar pipped Beltran in the 2016 Mexican nationals to take a natioanl team spot from him, and since then Mar has continued to exude class. – #3 Andree Parrilla over #30 Ochao; Ochoa has beaten Parrilla in the past (San Luis Potosi in 2018), but Parrilla needs to take advantage of his seeding to try to make a run to the final. i think he’ll move on here. – #11 Mario Mercado over #6 Portillo: Portillo has run into talented players and one-and-dones the last two tournaments at this stage, and he runs into another one in Mercado. Mercado has the patience to beat the youngster Portillo and will move on with a tactical approach. – #23 Estrada over #7 Daniel De La Rosa: I don’t think DLR’s heart is in it right now; i think he’s vulnerable to upset and a fired up guy like Estrada, who beat DLR the last time they played, could spell a one-and-done for the pickleball pro. – #2 Alex Landa vs #18 Garay: Garay’s power won’t phase Landa, who’s putting together his best season and has shown little in the way of cracks in the armor.
—————————— Projected Qtrs: – #1 Kane vs #8 Moscoso: the US Open final rematch, a scintillating match on the sport’s biggest stage that showed the world what we could be in store for, if only the Bolivian played the tour full time. They met a few weeks later in teh semis of Arizona and Kane issued a schooling 10,2. What may happy here? Has Conrrado fixed his foot fault issues? Can he press the King? – #20 Mar over #5 Murray; they’ve played a few times, and I don’t think Mar has ever lost to the Canadian #1. – #3 Parrilla over #11 Mercado – #2 Landa over #23 Estrada; Estrada’s magic runs out, though notably i don’t have a meeting between these two in the database. Would love to see these two face off.
Semis and Finals: – Kane over Mar – Landa over Parrilla
Finals; Kane over Landa.
——————————- No pro doubles this event, but the Men’s Open is a full 32 strong, headlined by a slew of touring players. Since Portillo is ranked outside the top 10, he’s “allowed” to enter the Men’s Open draw despite being the 6th pro seed, and he’s the favorite in that draw. But there’s a slew of top local and Mexican players also in that draw, making it as compelling to the neutrals as the pro draw.
I also wanted to point out that there’s 52 players in the Men’s A draw. 52. There weren’t 52 combined men in Open, Elite AND A at the 2019 US Nationals event. Its no wonder the USAR is moving its Nationals event to this part of the country.
——————————— Look for Streaming in the regular places; can’t wait for this event!
Welcome to the 2nd half of the 2019-20 IRT season, racquetball fans! We’ve already seen six Tier 1/Grand Slams in the books this season, and we have at least another six Tier 1/Grand Slams on the slate for the spring, perhaps more to be announced. Here’s five predictions on what will happen the rest of the way out this season:
(Reminder: these are in the opinion of Todd Boss, not the IRT. This is for entertainment purposes only).
Prediction #1. Kane will win his 14th title … but will lose a match between now and the end of the season.
The first prediction probably isn’t that ground breaking, considering that Kane Waselenchuk has yet to be beaten on the court this year. But he’s going to have to work a bit to get the title; he has about the same amount of points to defend in the spring as Rocky Carson, but he’s slightly behind Alejandro Landa in YTD points right now.
But I’m predicting that Kane drops another match on the court at some point this year. Its hard to stay 100% healthy deep into your 30s, and I’m guessing that somewhere along the line Kane runs into a nagging injury that costs him a match. The schedule in Jan-Feb is tough: three straight weeks of Tier 1s, including the Tier 1 “plus” Lewis Drug Pro-Am in Sioux Falls that generally gets the best and biggest draws outside of the US Open. I wonder if we’ll see “load management” out of some of the IRT’s veterans to get through this section of the season. I hope not; the Sioux Falls event is great, and the Lou Bradley Memorial deserves a great showing since its a Tier 1 for the first time. But if it does, more opportunities for upsets and surprise runs from younger players.
Prediction #2: Landa will pip Carson for #2 at year end…. but Carson holds off Parrilla for #3
Carson dropped out of the top 2 on tour at the end of the Portland ToC event for the first time (save a brief period in 2016) in nearly a decade. After making the semis or better in all nine tournaments last season, he’s been upset in the quarters or earlier in 3 of the first 6 events this season. This has enabled Landa to take over #2 this season at the half way point. But the news doesn’t get much better for Rocky the rest of the way: Rocky has 400 more points to defend from the 2nd half of last season as compared to Landa, and Landa already has 300 more earned points this season.
A better question might be this: can Andree Parrilla overtake Rocky for #3 by season’s end? Rocky has a sizeable current lead in the rolling-12 month points standings over Parrilla for #3 … but like Landa has significantly more points to defend in the season’s second half. Rocky earned roughly 1,770 points from Jan 2019-season’s end, as compared to ~1,365 for Landa and ~1305 for Parrilla. Parrilla’s big problem now is his #4 ranking; he’s set every tourney for a tough 4/5 quarter, then feeds into Kane in the semis … making it really hard for him to make a final (or win the event) unless there’s a significant upset or Kane skips an event. Parrilla may need a tourney win to eclipse Carson for #3 this season.
Nonetheless, some interesting battles to watch for at the top.
Prediction #3: Eduardo Portillo will finish top 10 … but not top 8.
One of the big risers this season has been the young Mexican Portillo, who won Junior Worlds 18U in 2018 and is making a full time push on the pro tour. Playing half time last season, he finished 17th on tour, making the main draws in all five events he entered. He’s continued that streak of making main draw in ever event he enters this season, throwing in a couple of solid wins over top players to make the Semis in Arizona.
Portillo currently sits 10th in the rankings, 9th in season-to-date. But he’s gone one-and-done in the last two pro events at the hands of his direct competitors for the last top 10 spots (Franco and Montoya respectively) and needs to gain success in these matches to take the next step.
Prediction #4: Moscoso will make the Bolivian Open final again
The Bolivian Grand slam is set to occur in mid May 2020, a month and a half later than it was held in 2019. Right now Moscoso sits 7th in the rolling 12-month rankings and 7th in season-to-date rankings, but he’ll lose a significant chunk of his ranking points in early April when the points from his 2019 Bolivian GS event expire. This will send his ranking down significantly, probably into the 13-14 range, but it shouldn’t stop him from making a similar run to the final.
Who will he play there? Will we see Kane make the trip this year? I certainly hope so: I think the Bolivian crowd would love to see a rematch of the US Open Final between Kane and Conrrado. But, coming from a 13-14 range seed will make it that much tougher for Moscoso to advance through.
Prediction #5: The end of the season will see a number of “Retirements” of long-time touring players
I can’t read minds, and I won’t name names, but fans of the sport can already see a number of long-time touring players taking significant steps back already this season. In some cases sponsorship changes have forced players to make hard choices about the costs of touring. In other cases the realities of the current state of the game have exposed their true talent levels and they find themselves dropped well out of even a top 16 seed.
Bonus prediction: 2nd half should see more Mexican players playing Tier 1s.
The locations of the 6 tourneys on the schedule for the spring of 2020 are: Austin, Sioux Falls, Sun Prairie WI, Chicago, Bolivia and Denver. We also had a couple of additional stops on the schedule (New York and Chihuahua). The nice part about these stops? A lot of them are in easy airline hubs or close to/in Mexico, making it a lot easier from a cost perspective for the up and coming Mexican contingent of players to attend.
So here’s hoping that guys like Mar, Estrada, Natera, Martell, Cardona, Garay, Ochoa, Alonso, Longoria and the like play more this spring.
Happy New Year and here’s to an exciting 2nd half of racquetball!
The Racquetball world got sad news over the holiday weekend; former Men’s pro champ and Hall of Famer Davey Bledsoe has passed away.
Bledsoe was born in 1951 in Kingsport, TN. He was one of the earliest racquetball pros in the sport, playing half the events in the first pro season on record (1974-5), then was a full time touring pro until the 1980-1 season.
Bledsoe’s best pro season was the 1976-77 season, where he made the semis or better in 6 of the season’s 12 sanctioned events and finished the season ranked #2 on tour. More importantly, he won the 1977 DP/Leach National Championships over #1 Marty Hogan, giving Hogan his sole loss on the season in a 21-20, 21-19 match. Pundits from the era called the match either the greatest match in history, the biggest upset in history … or both. See https://www.proracquetballstats.com/irt/greatest_upsets.html for a fun list of some of the biggest upsets in pro tour history. This win gave Bledsoe the year-end Pro title and he is in a rather exclusive club; only 15 men have ever won a pro title in the sport’s history and he’s one of them.
As you can see from the video, Bledsoe was tall and lanky, lots of court coverage and lots of emotion in his play. He survived a furious comeback in game two to take the National title over Hogan, who went on to win the next four National titles.
In his prime, Bledsoe also competed in the Outdoor Championships in California, taking the singles title in 1978 (also over Hogan in the final) and making the semis or finals in several other years in the 70s and early 80s.
Bledsoe was part of an interesting group in racquetball lore: the “Memphis Mafia,” a group of top players in the Memphis area who played with Elvis Presley at his Graceland home. In case you didn’t know … Presley was an avid racquetball enthusiast and had two courts constructed on the grounds of his home, where he played along with some of the top players in the game at the time. Bo Keeley wrote about the group well here: http://www.dailyspeculations.com/wordpress/?p=8674 . Its a fun side-note in American history.
Bledsoe retired from the pro tour after the 1980-81 season. He continued to play Amateur tournaments for years and claims 13 National amateur titles. He was inducted into the USAR Hall of Fame in 2010.
After his playing career ended, he began a career in Network Operations, working for major Telecom firms and for some Defense contractors in the DC area before retiring in Atlanta.
Hey racquetball fans. Long-time touring pro and former IRT commissioner Jason Mannino is up for the USAR Hall of Fame this year. Like we published with fellow HoF candidate Gregg Peck earlier this fall, here’s a career retrospective of Jason with some stats and lists of accomplishments:
Mannino overcame a near-fatal car accident at the age of 18 to become one of the most accomplished players in the sport’s history. Read on for a career summary. ————
Mannino hails from Staten Island, NY, the same area as Hall of Famer Sudsy Monchik, and being just 3 months apart in age frequently competed throughout their junior and professional careers. Often times these two dominant players would meet in the finals of state, regional and national competitions and would trade off as title holders.
Mannino and Monchik also frequently teamed up as doubles partners and won multiple junior national titles throughout their junior career.
Junior Career Accomplishments: – 3-time USA Junior National champ o 14U National Champ in 1990 o 16U National Champ in 1991 (as a 15-yr old) o 18U National Champ in 1992 (as a 16-yr old
-5-time USA Junior Doubles national champ with Monchik o 18U in 1993 o 16U in 1990 o 10U, 12U and 14U titles previous to that for a full sweep with Sudsy
– 18U World Junior Singles champion in 1994
———————— Professional Career
Mannino turned pro soon after the end of his junior career, when he was offered a contract with Spalding upon winning the 1994 Junior 18U world title. His first pro main event qualification was at the Jan 1995 Atlanta tourney. In his first full season on tour as a 20-yr old, he finished in the top ten on tour. He improved even more in the 1996-7 season, finishing 4th and kicking off more than a decade of being ranked in the top 5 on tour.
He competed across two distinct “eras” in the sport, and faced off against legends like Cliff Swain and Sudsy Monchik in the first part of his career, then Rocky Carson / Jack Huczek / Kane Waselenchuk in the second part of his career. Despite frequently competing in the back ends of tournaments against multiple year-end tour winners, he won 22 titles in his career and made the finals of another 18.
Mannino competed at the top of the tour for an astounding 16 seasons, competing at a high level well into his 30s and becoming one of the most long-serving pros in the history of the game. His playing career only ended at 35 so that he could take the opportunity of running the pro tour; he finished his final touring season ranked 4th.
Professional Career Accomplishments: – IRT Pro tour champion: 2002-3 season – 16 years on tour; 15 top-10 finishes, 14 top-5 finishes – 22 career titles, 7th all time – 40 career finals made, 9th of all time. – 195 career appearances, 5th of all time – 70.0% career W/L percentage (402-172), 11th all time – 2-time US Open champion, 1999 and 2006 – Las Vegas Pro Nationals Champion 2001 – 1996: IRT Rookie of the Year – 1998: IRT Most Improved player of the year
————————– Innovative Playing Style
Mannino’s playing style was revolutionary in our sport for two primary reasons: his tactical serving approach and his amazing retrieval capabilities.
Coming into play at an age in our sport dominated by power servers (Swain, Monchik, John Ellis, Doyle, Drew Kachtik, Andy Roberts, etc.), Mannino developed a unique serving style that was not really seen prior; the “Junk serve.” Not a lob serve, but not a drive serve, he pioneered a serving style that involved deception, placement and guile to de-emphasize the power of his opponents and often times force loose service returns for easy points.
In the meantime, Mannino’s “getting” ability on the court was perhaps the best ever seen on tour. Mannino could retrieve balls that no other player in his time could get, diving all over the court to extend points and rallies. Mannino could anticipate where kill shots were going and would literally begin diving before a shot was executed, and could return kill shots from mid-air. He set the athletic standard for generations of diving players to come.
——————— Professional Tour Leadership
Mannino retired in April 2010 to take over the professional tour as owner and commissioner. He succeeded Dave Negrete and became the 8th pro tour commissioner in men’s pro tour history. Mannino took over the tour at a critical time; economic downturns in the 2010 time-frame forced major sponsors out of the game and cancelled marquee events. Mannino was able to resurrect the Ektelon Nationals in California for a time, and stabilized the number of tier 1 events for the better part of the 2010s.
However, Mannino’s lasting impact on the tour may be the rule changes he implemented immediately upon taking over as commissioner. The IRT returned to two serves for the first time since Aug 1990 in an attempt to improve the excitement of the serve. Additionally, in response to complaints from fans and sponsors, Mannino implemented anti-arguing rules and pace-of-play statutes in an attempt to improve the quality of the product as the sport moved more fully into a streaming/broadcast focused mode.
Mannino sold the IRT tour in June 2017, ending more than 20 years of direct involvement (as a player or in management) of the men’s professional racquetball tour.
——————— Coaching and Mentoring Career
Mannino has partnered with Fran Davis for more than two decades to teach Racquetball Camps all across the country and internationally. Davis and Mannino are the primary instructors of the most popular annual Racquetball camp series in the nation and have taught hundreds of players over the years.
Mannino is a co-author with Davis of Championship Racquetball, published in 2011.
He hails from Staten Island, NY and studied at St. John’s University before turning pro. He currently resides in San Diego, CA. He transitioned to a career in Real Estate upon leaving IRT management. He continues to work with Fran Davis Racquetball as a coach and mentor. He is married with two sons who have continued his athletic pedigree by excelling in youth baseball.
Mannino’s pro record speaks for itself; he’s one of the most accomplished pro players to ever play the game. He continued to have an impact on the sport after his playing career ended, and continues to this day. He more than belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Fun stuff; Visual depiction of Men’s top 10 rankings historically
Have any of you seen those cool “Racing Bar Charts” that show stuff like population growth over time per country?
Well, thanks to a great suggestion from Jessica Swartz Amezcua, I found a site that lets you create these visualizations for free and created some one-off data spreadsheets and came up with this cool graphic:
Take a look, it shows the ebb and flow of all players ranked in the top 10 over time. It starts in the 1974-5 season, the first official “pro” tour season, and leverages results at the DP/Leach Nationals for the first few seasons to determine the top 10. In 1981-82, we had a points race for the top 10 for the first time, and have had it ever since.
Here’s a fun fact: in the entire history of the pro tour, now covering more than 45 years … there’s only been a grand total of 79 distinct players who have finished in the top 10 in a given season on tour.
Anyway, take a look at the visualization; its pretty cool. I’ll do something similar for the Ladies next.
There was a 14-man IRT Tier 5 event at the LPRT Xmas classic; here’s a recap of that and some of the other amateur events that went on.
A ton of the LPRT pros played Mixed Open, there was a solid Women’s Open draw, and a few Men’s Open teams as well.
In the IRT Singles draw: – #1 Maurice Miller took out top VA amateur #4 Thomas Gerhardt in one semi, and then #3 Troy Warigon defeated #2 Mauricio Zelada in the other. The 2/3 match was pretty special; the two home-court players played the perfect match: 14,(14),10. – In the final, MIller overcame a game-1 loss to defeat Warigon for the title.
In Men’s Open, the two singles finalists teamed up to take the Open Doubles title over #3 seeds Dylan Pruitt and Jersey native David Austin.
In Women’s Open: Carla Muñoz Montesinos made up for her quarters loss in pros to take the singles Open title over Lexi York.
In Mixed Open, the two Mens singles finalists advanced again to the finals, and there Miller teamed up with Natalia Mendez Erlwein to take the title over #2 Warigon, who played with Virginia native Kelani Lawrence.
This made Miller the rare triple-winner on the weekend.
Congrats to Kane Waselenchuk on his pro singles win this weekend in Portland at the 2019 John Pelham Memorial Tournament of Champions. With this win: – He captures his 120th career IRT Tier 1 title – Kane improves to 17-1 on the season – he extends his current on the court winning streak to 21. – He increases his points lead at the top of the tour to more than 500 points at the halfway point. – He extends his career match record to 596-53
A couple notable things about this event; it was a Saturday night finish, meaning a compressed pro schedule. Also, the 9-16 seeds continue to get byes into the 32s, as opposed to having to fully qualify. This is a tweak to the qualifying that the tour has been experimenting with when they can and I like it. It protects the regular touring players a bit more but also doesn’t force them to have to play a ton more matches than the 1-8 guys.
Lets review the notable matches in the draw. We’ll start with the 2nd round of qualifying, the round of 64. – #17 Kadim Carrasco was stretched to a tie-breaker by local amateur #33 Sunji Spencer before falling. – #20 Sam Bredenbeck took a tiebreaker win over #29 Matthew Ivar Majxner to move on. – #23 Dylan Reid played fantastically, dominating Canadian #26 Lee ConnellConnell 3,1 to move on. (Plug here for Reid’s excellent podcast The Racquetball Show)
In the 32s, we got an upset and some close matches: – #16 Felipe Camacho took out #17 Carrasco in a close tie-breaker 11-7. As expected, this was a close match but the veteran Costa Rican came out on top. – #20 Sam Bredenbeck got another IRT touring veteran scalp on his resume, topping #13 Robert Collins12,10 to qualify for his second career main draw. – #14 Andres Acuña took the first game 15-7, then got an injury default from former event champion #19 Charlie Pratt. Its a shame to have Pratt out so early, given his recent success in this event. – #23 Reid nearly upset #10 Jake Bredenbeck, having match point on his racquet before losing the tiebreaker 11-10. Reid came to play this event but missed out on an opportunity to return to the main draw of an IRT event for the first time in several seasons.
So, just one seed out of the 9-16 range fell at the round of 32, making for a pretty “chalk” event to this point.
In the main draw/round of 16: – #1 Kane Waselenchuk made fast work of #16 Camacho 2,4 in a match that took less than 30 minutes. – #9 Rodrigo Montoya Solis took out #8 Lalo Portillo 8,6. I viewed this as an interesting “show me” match for both players and the reigning World Champ Montoya came out on top. – #12 Thomas Carter got the best win of his pro career, taking out #5 Alvaro Beltran in a tie-breaker after losing the first game 15-2. Its Carter’s 2nd ever pro quarter final appearance (the first being by virtue of a walk-over). – #4 Andree Parrilla put an end to the younger Bredenbeck’s run, but had to work to do so in the second game 2,13. – #3 Alex Landa got a solid win over the up and coming #14 Acuna 12,8. – #6 Daniel De La Rosa downed #11 Carlos Keller Vargas 6,5 and spoke of his efforts to remain focused on the court. This is now Vargas’ 6th straight IRT event losing in the round of 16 .. to now 6 different pros. – #10 Jake Bredenbeck got a great win, downing #7 Samuel Murray to get to just his third pro quarter-final in the last two years. Its his best win since Syosset in May (also his last qtr appearance). – #15 Adam Manilla squandered a couple of game points on his serve in a disjointed game one, then fell quickly in game two to #2 Rocky Carson 14,5.
In the quarters: – #1 Kane took a competitive match over #9 Montoya 9,11. This is the third time they’ve met up on the IRT, and by far this is the most competitive that Montoya’s made it. – #4 Parrilla advanced in two straight over #12 Carter. – #3 Landa continued his recent dominance over #6 DLR in two tight games 10,12. Landa has now won the last 5 top-level matches they’ve played. – #10 Bredenbeck advanced to just his second ever IRT semi final with a win over #2 Carson. Jake served lights out in the first and won 15-6, then Carson withdrew with a knee injury. Lets hope it isn’t something significant.
In the semis: – #1 Kane was made to work for it against #4 Parrilla in the first, but then ran away with it in the second to advance to the final 9,4. – #3 Landa made it 8 times out of 8 on men’s pro matches by downing #10 Bredenbeck in two dominant games 5,7
In the Final: – Kane took out Landa in the final in two straight forward games 7,8.
———————- Rankings implications of the results:
– The big news is that Landa will eclipse Carson for #2 on tour. Landa has had a very consistent season so far, with 5 semis or better appearances in 6 events, while Carson now has been upset in the quarters or earlier in 3 of the first 6 events of the season. This has now led to Landa overtaking Carson by roughly 30 ranking points.
Carson has not fallen lower than #2 on tour in quite some time. He dipped to #3 in Oct 2016 for just a week or two when DLR eclipsed him briefly, but quickly gained #2 back after the 2016 US Open. Before that, you have to go all the way back to Septem ber 2010 to find the last time that Rocky was not ranked in the top 2 on tour. That’s nearly 10 years ago. Will this be a blip, or are we finally seeing a changing of the guard at the #2 spot?
Other notable rankings implications: – with his semis appearance, Jake will jump Franco for #11 on tour. This may be the highest he’s ever been ranked; its definitely higher than any season-ending rank he’s ever had. – Both Keller and Carter have moved into the top 16, ensuring a bye to the 32s (assuming the tour continues to structure the draws as they have been). – Acuna is back in the top 20. – Sam Bredenbeck gets a big jump into the top 30.
———————- No doubles at Portland to report on. the LPRT played an exhibition, with NW native Hollie Rae Scott getting a nice win over #5 Rhonda Rajsich in the final.
Next up; the LPRT does its annual Xmas Classic in my back yard, at the Sportfit Laurel club in Laurel MD. There’s also an IRT Tier 5 event associated with the event, so look for lots of East coast IRT pros to play.
Welcome to the last IRT tier 1 tournament of 2019, and a return to one of the more unique spots on the IRT’s calendar; Portland. Its the 2019 SPC John A Pelham Memorial Tournament of Champions event.
The Tournament of Champions has been held every year in Portland since 2013. Prior to that, there was a gap in holding the tournament back to 2001, when it was held pretty regularly throughout the 90s. It used to be a traditional season-ending event in the style of the ATP’s year end invitational. Now its a strong recurring event with a solid field.
Its also home to some interesting results. To wit: – In April 2013, Ben Croft made the final in Portland, one of just 5 times he made a pro tour final in more than 120 tournaments (he lost to Kane). – in May 2015, Daniel De La Rosa made just his 3rd ever pro final at the event, at the end of a successful pro season that saw him ascend to the #3 spot on tour (he also lost to Kane in the final). – In Dec 2017, the tournament saw two first-time pro tour finalists in home town favorite Charlie Pratt and Mario Mercado reach the final. Pratt won in three straight games to claim the title, and to this day its the only time either player has so much as reached a final of a pro Tier 1 event.
#1 Kane Waselenchuk has taken the title here in 5 of the 6 times it has been held since 2013 (he missed the 2017 event), and is back to defend his title.
————————- Lets take a quick run through the draw. We’re missing some key names in the top 10, which will affect the seedings.
Top 10 players missing include #7 Luis Conrrado Moscoso Serrudo; this will give current #9 Lalo Portillo a top 8 seed for the second tournament running, coming off a solid win at the San Luis Potosi Open this past weekend.
Missing from the 11-20 range this event include #11 Sebastian Franco and #13 Mario Mercado, both east coasters who may have opted to skip this event that doesn’t have a doubles draw. Also missing is #14 David ” Bobby” Horn, a curious absence in that he’s a west-coaster with an easy flight. #15 Sebastian Fernandez, #16 Gerardo Franco Gonzalez and #20 Jose Diaz also miss out on the event, as do a lot of the regular Mexican players in the 20-30 ranges who may have balked at the longer flight to Portland given their busy schedule of local RKT events.
Despite these absences, there’s still a healthy 36-man draw. More than a few Canadians have made the trip south of the border for the event, and they join a solid group of Portland-area players in the pro draw.
No flip seeding this time, so we’ll get a true draw, which will (as we’ll see) should make for a lot of chalk at the back end. Also no doubles this weekend so its one and done for the singles players.
Here’s some qualifiers to watch for:
In the 128s: – Wayne Antone takes on Canadian Ian Frattinger , fresh off a quarters appearance in the Canadian National selection event.
In the 64s: – Sam Bredenbeck likely takes on Matthew Ivar Majxner, who returns to Portland for the first time in a few years. – Dylan Reid has an interesting match against Canadian veteran Lee Connell, also fresh off a quarters appearance in the Canadian National selection event.
Projecting possible round of 32s of note: – In the 16/17 match, Costa Rican veteran Felipe Camacho likely takes on Bolivian veteran Kadim Carrasco for a spot against the #1 player. This could be a very close match between two players of similar style. – #9 Rodrigo Montoya Solis likely faces Canadian veteran Tim Landeryou, who just finished 3rd at the Canadian selection event. – The winner of the Bredenbeck/Majxner play-in takes on touring veteran Robert Collins in what could be a close match. – The match of the round though projects to be a defending champ in this event Charlie Pratt, now having fallen to #32 on tour (and is seeded 19th here) as he steps back his playing time, taking on the surging Costa Rican champion Andres Acuña, who now sits 22nd on tour and who is seeded 14th here. The last two times Pratt has played this event, he’s lost in the semis (2018) and won it (2017); he’s a force to be reckoned with in Portland. Its a tough draw for Acuna, who has already achieved his career best result this season and is looking to build on that success. – Bolivian Carlos Keller Vargas has a challenging match against Utah amateur Anthony Martin, who plays his third pro event of the season and has some wins over touring pros in the past. – #10 Jake Bredenbeck likely takes on local favorite Reid for a spot in the main draw.
Projecting the 16s: there’s more than a few compelling possible 16s matchups here. – In the 8/9: Lalo Portillo likely takes on Montoya in the 16s. This is a great test for both players to see where they are right now. I thought this was the year for Montoya to really take a step forward on tour; instead he’s basically been treading water right in the 8-10 ranking all season, with no break through wins all season. Meanwhile, Portillo is coming off a win at the SLP open, where he topped both Alan Natera Chavez and Parrilla to take the title. If Portillo can beat Parrilla, he should be able to beat Montoya as well, but they’re two vastly different animals on the court in terms of game style. Can Lalo handle Montoya’s power? This will be a very telling result. – #3 Alex Landa vs Pratt/Acuna winner: I’m assuming this is Pratt, which would make for a really compelling match here. Landa beat Pratt for the 2017 PARC title, but then Pratt turned around and beat Landa in Mar 2018 in Lombard. Pratt is a player who can give Landa some trouble. If Acuna prevails in the 32s, he’s also a player who has beaten Landa before, but under odd circumstances at the 2019 PARCs. I like Landa to advance here but it could be a battle and an upset isn’t out of the question. – #6 Daniel De La Rosa vs #11 Keller: Keller has played all five IRT events this season … and has exited at the round of 16 in all five, losing to five different players. He now projects to play a 6th distinct player in the 16s, and faces a familiar opponent. These two are the same age; Keller knocked DLR out of the 2009 and 2011 Junior Worlds, and they’ve met a handful of times since. But only once professionally, and that was more than two years ago. DLR seems vulnerable and Keller seems motivated at this stage of their careers; could be an upset to watch for here. – #7 Samuel Murray vs #10 Bredenbeck: these two good friends will celebrate the launch of Beast Made Clothing by .. likely having to play each other in the 16s. Two of the hardest hitters on tour, they both have wins over the other in top level competition. Look for a battle here.
Possible Qtrs: – #1 Kane Waselenchuk over #9 Montoya: would love to see another episode of this match-up to see if Montoya has improved against the King. – #4 Andree Parrilla over #5 Alvaro Beltran; a frequent pairing this year, with Beltran getting a couple wins over his young rival and showing he’s not done yet. I like Parrilla to move on here though. – #3 Landa over #6 DLR: if DLR advances, we get another episode of the razor-thin line that stands between these two long time rivals. Their match history is littered with 11-10 tiebreaker wins and 5-game marathons under the old scoring method. Landa again to advance. – #2 Rocky Carson over #7 Murray; they’ve played professionally 11 times and Rocky is 11-0. Despite his recent win in the Canadian national selection event Murray hasn’t quite figured out how to top the long-time #2 player on tour.
Projected Semis: – Kane over Andree – Carson over Landa; they’ve split their last 2 meetings, they’ve split their last 4 meetings … in fact, they’ve split their last 10 meetings dating to 2014. Like with Landa vs DLR, its usually razor thin between them. Landa has the harder path to this semi, so i’ll give Carson the edge on the day.