Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Rankings Out: IRT & WPRO

The rankings for the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) and the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) have been updated.

IRT

On the men's side, there's no change in the top 10, although The Racquetball Blog had speculated that Jack Huczek might have gotten the top spot by moving past Rocky Carson, as Huczek reached the finals while Carson lost in the Round of 16 at last week's Kansas City Open. But Carson's still number 1, although his lead over Huczek in second spot has narrowed. The Kansas City Open wasn't a Grand Slam event, so there were fewer points to earn than at the previous event - the Motorola IRT Racquetball World Championships, which was a Grand Slam event.

But in the 10-20 rankings, Kane Waselenchuk has moved up again, as he won the Kansas City Open. He's now ranked 14th - up from 18th, so he'll be one of the 8 seeded qualifiers and won't have to play more than one qualifying match to get into the main draw at this week's Kentucky Open.

If Waselenchuk wins again this week, he might be 10th in next week's rankings. Then if he wins next week at the Canadian Classic in Edmonton, he could be 8th, which would be a seeding directly into the main draw and no qualifying matches. Whether that happens depends on how well the players above him do, and exactly how many points are possible from the next two events.

Lee Connell just gets into the top 20 this week at number 20. Travis Woodbury has dropped a spot from 17 to 18. Andres Herrera dropped from 15 to 17, while Alejandro Herrera improved from 16 to 14.

WPRO

Rhonda Rajsich tops the WPRO rankings, as before. Indeed, the top 8 women remain the same, but Doreen Fowler has moved up to the 9th position, as she's flipped places with Christie Van Hees.

Samantha Salas and Veronica Sotomayor are the big upward movers in the 10-20 range. Salas moved from 18 to 13, while Sotomayor went from 24 to 20. Jennifer Saunders also went up from from 19 to 18.

Going the other way were Kimi Ferina, who dropped from 13 to 15, and Candi Hostovich, moving from 16 to 19.

Top 20 IRT Players for Sept 29, 2008

1) Rocky Carson
2) Jack Huczek
3) Jason Mannino
4) Alvaro Beltran
5) Shane Vanderson
6) Mitch Williams
7) Ben Croft
8) Chris Crowther
9) Jason Thoerner
10) Andy Hawthorne
11) Juan Herrera
12) Hiroshi Shimizu
13) Alejandro Herrera
14) Kane Waselenchuk
15) Javier Moreno
16) Kris Odegard
17) Andres Herrera
18) Travis Woodbury
19) John Ellis
20) Lee Connell

Top 20 WPRO Players for Sept 29, 2008

1) Rhonda Rajsich
2) Cheryl Gudinas Holmes
3) Kerri Wachtel
4) Angela Grisar
5) Kristen Bellows
6) Paola Longoria
7) Adrienne Fisher
8) Brenda Kyzer
9) Doreen Fowler
10) Christie Van Hees
11) Jo Shattuck
12) Diane Moore
13) Samantha Salas
14) Vivian Gomez
15) Kimi Ferina
16) Keely Franks
17) T. J. Baumbaugh
18) Jennifer Saunders
19) Candi Hostovich
20) Veronica Sotomayor


Follow the bouncing ball....

Monday, September 29, 2008

Weekend Round Up

You were right again, dear readers. You correctly picked Kane Waselenchuk to win the International Racquetball Tour's (IRT's) Kansas City Open and Rhonda Rajsich to win the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization's (WPRO's) Mexico Open.

We here at The Racquetball Blog weren't quite as accurate. Although we did pick Rajsich to win in Tijuana, we had Rocky Carson winning in Kansas City. At least, our picks don't seem to be a complete media curse on players.

The men are in action again this week in Bowling Green, Kentucky for the Kentucky Open. It's their third of four tournaments in a row, so fatigue and injuries may start to take their toll. Jason Mannino certainly seemed to be hurting in his semi-final match on Saturday against Jack Huczek in Kansas.

You can pick who you think is going to win the Kentucky Open by clicking on a response in our poll at the right side of the blog. It's a voting season here in North America with elections in the United States and Canada, so you can get some voting practice in here at The Racquetball Blog.

International numbers are up

Last week, we noted that there were seven international (i.e., non-American) players in the Round of 16 in Kansas, and suggested that may be the most there's ever been. It wasn't. In fact, it's the second consecutive year that the Kansas event has had seven internationals in the Round of 16, which is the second most ever at an IRT event. The most internationals in the Round of 16 was eight at last season's San Diego event.

The trend for internationals in the main draw (Round of 16 and beyond) has been upward.

Season - Mean Number of Internationals in Round of 16

2003/04 - 3.46
2004/05 - 4.00
2005/06 - 4.00
2006/07 - 4.46
2007/08 - 5.71

In two tournaments this season there have been five and seven internationals in the main draw for a mean of 6.00, which would continue the upward trend.

The players most often represented by these statistics are those internationals ranked in the top 8, as they are seeded into the main draw. During this period, Alvaro Beltran of Mexico and Kane Waselenchuk of Canada are the two players most often in the top 8.

Of course, Waselenchuk was suspended for the last two seasons of this period, yet the international numbers continued to increase. Those in Europe may be saying "yeah, but those internationals are mostly other Americans, not truly international." This is correct.

The only player from outside the Americas to reach a main draw during the five seasons in question is Hiroshi Shimizu from Japan. He's been in the Round of 16 several times, but hasn't reached the quarter finals.

For its part, the IRT does include tournaments abroad as satellite events, so players in Europe and Asia can get IRT ranking points. Yet few players from the main tour go to those events and few from those events come to the main tour.

The top 8 players are contracted to be at every IRT main event, and it's a hectic schedule, so it would be difficult for any of them to get away to play overseas. There have been some exceptions. A few years ago Cliff Swain played at the French Open. He won, but in the final Martin Klippel of Germany was certainly a strong opponent for him. And earlier this year Chris Crowther played in Korea.

Creating more international players by sending your players overseas is one way to do it, and the NBA has successfully used that development technique by having exhibition games overseas. But another way to go is to develop coaches abroad, because coaches will always look for players to coach and then they will support those players to get better.

Some of both of these things has been happening in the Americas, and the results are starting to be seen both on the pro tours as well as at international events.

So, we expect the international numbers to continue to rise, and the next great racquetball player - man or woman - might not be born in the USA.

Follow the bouncing ball....


(Note: Statistics from Boss Consulting; also, Ruben Gonzalez was not counted as an international although he has played for Puerto Rico at some international events)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Six Consecutive Wins for Rajsich

Rhonda Rajsich ran her Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) tournament winning streak to six on Sunday, as she won the Mexico Open in Tijuana by beating Paola Longoria, 11-7, 12-10, 10-12, 6-11, 12-10, to deny Longoria a win on home soil.

Rajsich and Longoria last met in a final last year in Fayetteville, where Longoria upset Rajsich, who's the WPRO's #1 player, to earn her first WPRO tournament victory. In fact, it's Longoria's first finals appearance since then.

In the semi-finals late Saturday, Rajsich defeated #4 Angela Grisar in a five game match, 9-11, 12-10, 11-3, 5-11, 11-5, while Longoria only needed three games to beat fellow Mexican Samantha Salas, 13-11, 11-0, 11-0.

Mexico Open - Finals
(tournament seeding)

(1) Rhonda Rajsich d. (7) Paola Longoria, 11-7, 11-10, 10-12, 6-11, 12-10.

Mexico Open - Semi-Finals

(1) Rhonda Rajsich d. (4) Angela Grisar, 9-11, 12-10, 11-3, 5-11, 11-5.
(7) Paola Longoria d. (11) Samatha Salas, 13-11, 11-0, 11-0.


(Note: Scores from Tennis Information website)

Follow the bouncing ball....

Waselenchuk is two for two

Kane Waselenchuk made it two wins in two tournaments to start the 2008-09 International Racquetball Tour (IRT) season. He defeated Jack Huczek on Sunday in the final of the Kansas City Open by scores of 6-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-3.

Waselenchuk started strong in game one, and had the lead at 5-1. However, Huczek came back and won 10 of the next 11 points to take it 11-6. The best point came at 9-6 as Huczek made a great diving get for a winner late in the game that came after Waselenchuk tried to cut off a Huczek ceiling ball by dumping it the front right corner.

In game two, Waselenchuk began to use a cut Z serve to Huczek's backhand, which led to an early lead at 6-2 which he extended to 10-5. Huczek did come back to 10-8, but couldn't get closer, as Waselenchuk won 11-8.

Game three was pivotal. They were close early, tied at 3, but then Huczek went ahead, 6-3 and then 8-4. Waselenchuk fought back and tied it at 8. Huczek got one more to lead 9-8.

Then came a rally where the players exchanged several ceiling balls, corner to corner. Eventually one of them tried an offensive shot, and in the resulting exchange Huczek had a chance to end the rally.

But his passing shot attempt rather than going deep into the back right corner as was happening in game one came out into the middle of the court where Waselenchuk took advantage and hit the rally ending shot. After that Waselenchuk finished the third game 11-9, gaining a 2-1 advantage in games, and was set up to take the match.

Huczek continued to battle, and the first 15 rallies of game four only produced a 2-1 lead for Waselenchuk. But that's as close as Huczek would be, and Waselenchuk ran out to a 7-2 advantage and a 11-3 win to take the match.

As the players were shaking hands at the end of the match there seemed to be an unpleasant exchange between them. Asked about it afterwards, Waselenchuk said Huczek "felt the need to bring up stuff that happened a couple of years ago," a reference to the positive drug test that led to Waselenchuk's two year suspension from competition.

Waselenchuk felt such comments were "not really called for."

Waselenchuk also said Huczek is "definitely my biggest competitor, and if I don't bring it he can definitely beat me on any given day."


Kansas City Open - Finals

Kane Waselenchuk d. Jack Huczek, 6-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-3

Follow the bouncing ball....

Saturday, September 27, 2008

IRT Kansas City Open Semis

Kane Waselenchuk has reached the second consecutive final after his two year absence from the International Racquetball Tour (IRT). Sunday he'll play Jack Huczek in the final of the Kansas City Open. The final will be a rematch of their quarter final match last week in Denver, when Waselenchuk defeated Huczek in four games.

Waselenchuk reached the finals by defeating Alvaro Beltran in the semi-finals, 11-6, 11-3, 6-11, 11-6. They also met last week in Denver, and Beltran did one better Saturday than last week when Waselenchuk won in three straight games.

Beltran led 5-3 in game one, but Waselenchuk ran eight points to win it. He did so by hitting a lob Z serve to Alvaro's backhand. It was a serve he used throughout the match. In game two, Waselenchuk got ahead early and stayed ahead.

In game three, Beltran got an early lead at 3-2 and was able to hold it, winning 11-6 and forcing a fourth game. In game four, it was close early, but then Waselenchuk pulled ahead to lead 6-3, and never looked back.

Afterwards, Waselenchuk said he "lost focus" in game three, but "tried to put pressure on [Beltran] in the fourth game."

Asked about doing so well in his return to the IRT after two years, Waselenchuk attributed it to one thing: "motivation." He wants to show everyone that he can still be the best. "If I win every event, I'll finish #1," he said. He's on track to take the second of two events.

In the other semi-final, Huczek, the second seed, defeated third seeded Jason Mannino in a lopsided score line of 11-3, 11-0, 11-4.

Mannino led 2-0 in game one, but that was the only lead he had through the match. Reportedly, Mannino was hampered by a neck injury.

Afterwards, Huczek said that Mannino seemed to be "off his game," while he felt that "everything seemed to be clicking" for himself. The combination led to the lopsided score.

Mannino's condition may explain why he wasn't bending at the waist to hit shots on the backhand. When he did that Mannino won the rally, but more often he did not, which led to easy plays for Huczek.

Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, Huczek may become the #1 IRT player next week, as current #1 Rocky Carson lost to Waselenchuk in the Round of 16. The difference in points between the two is 240, which could be more than the points Huczek will earn for a finals appearance compared to Carson's points for getting to the Round of 16.

Kansas City Open - Finals

Kane Waselenchuk vs. Jack Huczek - Sunday @ 12:00 Central time

Kansas City Open - Semi finals

Kane Waselenchuk d. Alvaro Beltran, 11-6, 11-3, 6-11, 11-6.
Jack Huczek d. Jason Mannino, 11-3, 11-0, 11-4.

Follow the bouncing ball....

WPRO Mexico Open - Semis up next

Samantha Salas has made her first career semi-final in a Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) tour event at the Mexico Open in Tijuana, and second seed Cheryl Gudinas-Holmes did not reach the semis for the first time since the 2007 Canadian Classic, which was the second event of last year's WPRO season. The Mexican Open is the second event of this season.

Salas, seeded 11th, defeated 16th seed Veronica Sotomayor, 7-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-7, in the quarter finals. She'll next player fellow Mexican Paola Longoria in the semi-finals later Saturday ensuring that there will be a Mexican in the Mexican Open final on Sunday.

Longoria was the one who prevented Gudinas-Holmes from reaching the semis by upsetting the 2nd seed 10-12, 11-8, 11-6, 1-11, 11-8. It was Gudinas-Holmes's second 5 game match in a row, as she'd gone the distance with Jackie Paraiso on Friday.

But play on the top half of the draw continues to follow form, as WPRO #1 Rhonda Rajsich will face #4 Angela Grisar in the semi-finals later Saturday.

In their quarter final matches, Rajsich defeated Doreen Fowler, 11-5, 11-1, 11-3, and Grisar outlasted Kristen Bellows, 11-8, 3-11, 11-4, 5-11, 11-8.

Mexico Open - Semi-Finals
(tournament seeding)


(1) Rhonda Rajsich vs. (4) Angela Grisar
(11) Samatha Salas vs. (7) Paola Longoria

Quarter Finals

(1) Rhonda Rajsich vs. (8) Doreen Fowler, 11-5, 11-1, 11-3
(4) Angela Grisar vs. (5) Kristen Bellows, 11-8, 3-11, 11-4, 5-11, 11-8

(11) Samatha Salas vs. (14) Veronica Sotomayor, 7-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-7
(2) Cheryl Gudinas-Holmes vs. (7) Paola Longoria, 10-12, 11-8, 11-6, 1-11, 11-8


(Note: Scores from Tennis Information website)

Follow the bouncing ball....

Mexico Open down to Quarter finals

Rhonda Rajsich and Cheryl Gudinas-Holmes are on track for another final meeting at Women's Professional Racquetball Organization's (WPRO) Mexico Open. However, other seeded players have been so fortunate, and Gudinas-Holmes has not had an easy time of it.

She faced Jackie Paraiso in the Round of 16 on Friday, and found herself down two games to one against the former women's #1 player. But Gudinas-Holmes dug down and managed to eke out the match, winning 12-14, 11-3, 7-11, 11-6, 11-5.

Paola Longoria, playing in her first tournament of the season, is next up for Gudinas-Holmes in the quarter finals on Saturday. Longoria beat Vivian Gomez, 11-3, 11-5, 11-1 in the 16s.

Compared to the other top seeds, WPRO #1 Rajsich reached the quarter finals with relative ease by defeating Sofia Rascon, 11-5, 11-0, 6-11, 12-10. There she'll face Doreen Fowler, who beat Jo Shattuck, 11-0, 8-11, 11-9, 11-9.

Also following the seeding, Kristen Bellows will play Angela Grisar in the quarter finals. In the Round of 16, Bellows defeated T. J. Baumbaugh, 11-6, 11-3, 11-3, and Grisar defeated Jennifer Saunders, 11-9, 11-7, 11-8.

The upsets on Friday both occurred in the same bracket of the draw, so the last quarter final match will be between teen phenom Veronica Sotomayor and Samantha Salas. Sotomayor defeated third seed Kerri Wachtel in the Round of 16, 4-11, 13-11, 12-10, 11-5, while Salas beat sixth seed Adrienne Fisher, 11-8, 11-7, 9-11, 11-*.

Mexico Open - Quarter Finals
(tournament seeding)

(1) Rhonda Rajsich vs. (8) Doreen Fowler
(4) Angela Grisar vs. (5) Kristen Bellows

(11) Samatha Salas vs. (14) Veronica Sotomayor
(2) Cheryl Gudinas-Holmes vs. (7) Paola Longoria

Round of 16

(1) Rhonda Rajsich d. (16) Sofia Rascon, 11-5, 11-0. 6-11, 12-10
(8) Doreen Fowler d. (9) Jo Shattuck, 11-0, 8-11, 11-9, 11-9

(5) Kristen Bellows d. (12) T. J. Baumbaugh, 11-6, 11-3, 11-3
(4) Angela Grisar d. (13) Jennifer Saunders, 11-9, 11-7, 11-8.

(14) Veronica Sotomayor d. (3) Kerri Wachtel, 4-11, 13-11, 12-10, 11-5
(11) Samatha Salas d. (6) Adrienne Fisher, 11-8, 11-7, 9-11, 11-*.

(2) Cheryl Gudinas-Holmes d. (18) Jackie Paraiso, 12-14, 11-3, 7-11, 11-6, 11-5.
(7) Paola Longoria d. (10) Vivian Gomez, 11-3, 11-5, 11-1.

(Note: * score incomplete on website, and they have had difficulty posting scores due to that's site software forcing the winning score to be 15 in the first two games)

Follow the bouncing ball....

Friday, September 26, 2008

Kansas City Open Quarter Finals

Kane Waselenchuk's successful return to the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) continues at the Kansas City Open. Even more remarkable are his margins of victory.

Waselenchuk gave up only 17 points over 6 games, fewer than 3 points per game, in the Round of 16 and quarter finals on Friday. First in the Round of 16, he defeated current IRT #1 Rocky Carson 11-2, 11-5, 11-2, then in the quarter finals Waselenchuk beat Jason Thoerner 11-3, 11-2, 11-3.

Next up for him in the semi-finals is Alvaro Beltran, who advanced to the quarter finals by defeating Alejandro Herrera, 11-13, 11-7, 11-1, 11-5, in the Round of 16, and then taking out Shane Vanderson, 11-5, 11-7, 2-11, 11-4.

The bottom side of the draw has run according to form, as the other semi-final will feature IRT #2 Jack Huczek and #3 Jason Mannino. Huczek got there by defeating Lee Connell, 11-5, 11-3, 11-1, in the Round of 16, and Ben Croft, 11-8, 8-11, 11-9, 11-8, in the quarter finals.

Mannino took out Kris Odegard, 15-13, 11-0, 11-2, in the Round of 16, then beat Mitch Williams, 9-11, 11-6, 11-3, 11-3, in the quarter finals.

Kansas City Open - Semi finals

Kane Waselenchuk vs. Alvaro Beltran - Saturday @ 5:30 Central time
Jason Mannino vs. Jack Huczek - Saturday @ 4:00 Central time


Follow the bouncing ball....

Kansas City is International this week

The Kansas City Open on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) is at the Round of 16 stage today, with the quarter finals to follow tonight.

IRT #1 Rocky Carson and Kane Waselenchuk, last week's tournament winner and former IRT #1, are indeed facing off in the Round of 16, as Waselenchuk defeated Anthony Herrera to qualify in the 8th qualifying spot.

There are two other Canadians in the 16s, but Vincent Gagnon, who The Racquetball Blog talked up yesterday, isn't one of them. In fact, Gagnon failed to get past his first match, as he lost to Brad Rogers. Rogers in turn lost to Andy Hawthorne, who will face Ben Croft today.

Lee Connell and Kris Odegard are the Canucks who are in the 16s. Connell is up against second seed Jack Huczek, while Odegard takes on Jason Mannino, the third seed.

Alejandro Herrera won his re-match with Keith Minor in the final qualifying round, so he's up against Alvaro Beltran today. Also, Hiroshi Shimizu will play Shane Vanderson, Juan Herrera is up against Mitch Williams, and finally there will be another in the series of Jason Thoerner-Chris Crowther battles.

In all there are seven non-Americans and nine Americans in the Round of 16, so although the IRT is in the heartland of America this week, it has one of the largest representations of foreign, or international, players ever in its main draw.

This week the IRT is truly international.

Kansas City Open - Main Draw (IRT Rank)

(1) Rocky Carson vs. Kane Waselenchuk
(8) Chris Crowther vs. Jason Thoerner

(5) Shane Vanderson vs. Hiroshi Shimizu
(4) Alvaro Beltran vs. Alejandro Herrera

(3) Jason Mannino vs. Kris Odegard
(6) Mitch Williams vs. Juan Herrera

(7) Ben Croft vs. Andy Hawthorne
(2) Jack Huczek vs. Lee Connell

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Kansas City Open Draws & Our Prediction

The International Racquetball Tour's (IRT's) Kansas City Open begins today with the qualifying rounds. Both the qualifying draw and main draw are available on the IRT web site, and they confirm what The Racquetball Blog speculated yesterday: Rocky Carson and Kane Waselenchuk will meet in the main draw's Round of 16, if Waselenchuk wins his qualifying match against Anthony Herrera.

If that happens, it could be the first time a re-match of the previous tournament's final occurs in the Round of 16.

Also of note is a potential re-match between Keith Minor and Alejandro Herrera for a spot in the main draw, if Minor wins his first match against John Cole. Minor and Herrera played last week in Denver, where Minor came out on top after a full five game match.

Finally, Vincent Gagnon, Canadian bronze medalist at last month's IRF World Championships where he beat both Polo Gutierrez and Alvaro Beltran to qualify for third for next year's World Games, is in the qualifying draw. He'll first play Brad Rogers, with the winner to play Andy Hawthorne.

If Gagnon defeats Hawthorne, he'll face Ben Croft in the main draw Round of 16.

Prediction

Given the way these draws are set up, one can almost imagine that it's more likely Vincent Gagnon will be in the quarter finals than Rocky Carson.

And isn't that bizarre?

Nonetheless, The Racquetball Blog is picking Rocky Carson to win the Kansas City Open. We're saying he'll avenge his loss to Waselenchuk in Denver last week, and use that momentum to power through to the title.

Kansas City Open Draws

Qualifying Matches


Q1: Jason Thoerner vs. winner of Grant Barker & Bryan Crosser
Q8: Anthony Herrera vs. Kane Waselenchuk

Q5: Alejandro Herrera vs. winner of John Cole & Keith Minor
Q4: Hiroshi Shimizu vs. winner of Tyler Otto & Sampson Shnurman

Q3: Juan Herrera vs. winner of Michael Bone & Matt Stamborski
Q6: Kris Odegard vs. winner of Rafael Filippini & Danny Lavely

Q7: Travis Woodbury vs. winner of Travis Mettenbrink & Lee Connell
Q2: Andy Hawthorne vs. winner of Vincent Gagnon & Bradly Rogers

Main Draw (IRT Rank)

(1) Rocky Carson vs. Q8
(8) Chris Crowther vs. Q1

(5) Shane Vanderson vs. Q4
(4) Alvaro Beltran vs. Q5

(3) Jason Mannino vs. Q6
(6) Mitch Williams vs. Q3

(7) Ben Croft vs. Q2
(2) Jack Huczek vs. Q7


Follow the bouncing ball....

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

WPRO's Mexico Open - Draw and Prediction

The Women's Professional Racquetball Organization's (WPRO) Mexico Open draw is now on their website, and there are some major players in the draw who were absent from the Outback Steakhouse Blast It! event in Fayetteville two weeks ago.

Kristen Bellows and Paola Longoria, seeded 5th and 7th, respectively, will both be making their first appearances on the WPRO tour this season, but perhaps the most interesting addition is Jackie Paraiso, who's one of the best women's racquetball players ever, and is the current World Champion in doubles with Aimee Ruiz.

Paraiso is seeded 18th, and will play against Mexican veteran Susy Acosta in the first round, and the winner will play Cheryl Gudinas-Holmes. Either will be a tough match for Gudinas-Holmes. Then, if she wins that match, there's the possibility that Gudinas-Holmes will face Longoria in the quarter-finals.

Thus, the additions to the draw clearly make it a tougher road for Gudinas-Holmes to repeat her finals appearance from two weeks ago.

The top half of the draw is not so different from Fayettevile, although Bellows - rather than Adrienne Fisher, who's now on the bottom half of the draw - slots in as the potential quarter final opponent against Angela Grisar.

Grisar though could have a tough first match, as she'll potentially face Jennifer Saunders, who almost knocked off WPRO #1 Rhonda Rajsich two weeks ago, and was a bronze medalist at the World Championships last month in Ireland.

Our Prediction

We were going to predict Rajsich to run her tournament winning streak to six prior to seeing the draw. But having seen the draw, we're thinking it even more likely that Rajsich will come out on top in Tijuana.

You, dear Readers, still have some time to make your predictions for the Mexico Open winner. Given these significant additions to the draw, perhaps the predictions of "Another player" winning the tournament will increase.

Follow the bouncing ball....

New IRT Rankings

The International Racquetball Tour (IRT) has released its latest rankings following last week's Motorola IRT World Racquetball Championships. That was the first tournament of the season, so this ranking run gives an insight to the rankings, which has always been a bit baffling to us, and indicates how much players get for each tournament.

There are two changes in the top 10, as Jason Mannino is now number 3 having switched places with Alvaro Beltran. Previously, Mannino was only 8 points behind Beltran, and he earned 405 points in Denver, losing in a five game semi-final, while Beltran also lost in the semis but in three straight games, which resulted in 382 rankings points.

Now, 405 minus 382 is 23, then there's the 8 point difference before, so you might think that Mannino would be up 14 points on Beltran now. And you'd be wrong. The difference is actually 128 points. Why?

The reason is that players' results from last year's Motorola event are now dropped from the ranking, replaced by this year's results. In last year's Motorola Racquetball World Championships, Mannino lost in the 16s, while Beltran lost in the finals. Thus, Mannino's result last weekend was an improvement over last year while Beltran's was a decrement.

Also, Andy Hawthorne moved into the top 10 ahead of Javier Moreno, who dropped to 13th from 10th.

Of course, the most ranking points this week went to Kane Waselenchuk, as the winner of last week's tournament. He got 626 points. At that rate Waselenchuk could be in the top 8 by the US Open if he wins the next three weeks, as Chris Crowther, who's number 8 now, has 1905 points.

Waselenchuk could get there sooner with wins both this week and next, depending on how Crowther does in these next two tournaments compared to his performances this time last year.

Kansas City Open - Waselenchuk v. Carson in the Round of 16?

Based on today's rankings, and the 23 players who are in the Kansas City Open qualifying draw, it appears to The Racquetball Blog that Waselenchuk will only have to play one qualifying match, as he should be the 8th ranked qualifier. The top 8 ranked qualifiers only have to play one match to get in the main draw, with the other qualifiers playing off to face one of those 8.

Most interestingly - if we're correct about Waselenchuk being the 8th qualifier - and he wins his qualifying match, then he'll face Rocky Carson in the Round of 16, as the lowest ranked of the 8 seeded qualifiers plays the highest seeded player in the main draw.

This is the effect of Waselenchuk going into the main draw through qualifying. Where he fits into the main draw will change depending on which qualifying spot he occupies. Last week, he came in on the bottom side of the draw, but this week it looks like he'll be on the top side.

If so, then sadly the rematch of last week's final won't be on ESPN360.com, because it'll come too early in the draw.

Follow the bouncing ball...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Exponential growth

In the early 1970s, Seamco was the primary racquetball manufacturer. In 1972, they sold 200,000 racquetballs. Five years later in 1977, they sold 15,000,000.

Can you say "BOOM!"?


Source: Marty Hogan's Power Racquetball, 1978, Contemporary Books.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday, Monday

Dear Readers of The Racquetball Blog, if you thought last week was busy with all the excitement around the Motorola Racquetball World Championships in Denver, well, that was just the start, my friends. This week there will be Tier I events on both the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) and Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) tour.

The men will play in the Kansas City Open, while the woman will be at the Mexico Open in Tijuana.

IRT

In fact, last week was the beginning of 6 tournaments in 7 weeks on the IRT. They'll play in Kentucky next week, and Edmonton, Alberta the week after before a one week break prior to the US Open in Memphis, which is immediately followed by the Chihuahua Campestre Open in Chihuahua, Mexico.

It'll be a grind, and fitness may become a larger factor in results as this period goes on. By the time they get to Memphis, the person who comes out on top may be the fittest, not simply the most talented.

The top 8 players have to play each Tier I event, but those outside the top 8 needn't. That non-requirement may give those players outside the top 8 an advantage in Memphis, if they don't play all four events prior to that, and use the time to recover from the events they do play.

The entry deadline for this weekend hasn't come yet, and there are some getting in at the last minute. There were only 11 players in the qualifying draw this morning, but this afternoon there are 18. Last week 39 players were in the qualifying draw.

Kane Waselenchuk, who complained of being tired following his victory in Denver, may be one of the players most affected by the heavy schedule as the season goes on, as he has to play qualifying matches to get into the main draw. How many matches depends on how many qualifiers there are and what Waselenchuk's ranking is, which will likely increase from one event to the next.

WPRO

The WPRO tournament schedule is much more forgiving, as they are playing every two weeks leading up to the US Open. After this week's Tijuana event, they'll also be in Edmonton with the IRT on the second weekend in October.

After the US Open, the WPRO doesn't have another Tier I event until the Christmas Classic in Arlington, Virginia, December 12-14.

Finally

Before any of you Readers mention it, we will own up to an erroneous prediction last week when we said Jack Huczek was going to win in Denver, and acknowledge that you were right in predicting Kane Waselenchuk as the winner (though you predicted Rocky Carson too). That makes us 0-1 in IRT predictions and 0-2 overall, and you all 1-0 and 2-0, respectively - though you do have the habit of splitting votes and getting two choices - not that we're upset about THAT; no, no, not us.

We hope our predictions don't become a 'media curse' on players, although if that did seem to be happening, it would feed our delusions of power and influence. And we're definitely in favour of anything that does that.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Waselenchuk wins after two year absence

Kane Waselenchuk, a former number 1 player on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT), completed his successful return to the IRT with a victory over Rocky Carson, the current IRT number 1, in the finals of the 2008 Motorola IRT Racquetball World Championships in Denver on Sunday. But Carson did push Waselenchuk to the limit, as the match went five full games, before Waselenchuk emerged on top, 11-6, 11-6, 8-11, 8-11, 11-1.

In game one, both players had a slow start, but Waselenchuk took the lead at 7-3. Carson got it back to 8-6, and there were several side outs at 9-6, but that's as close as Carson would come, as Waselenchuk won 11-6.

Waselenchuk stormed out to a big lead in game two, as he got up 6-0. Carson cut the deficit to one, when he trailed 7-6, but then Waslenchuk finished it off, taking the last point with a drive serve ace to the right side. Carson may still have been thinking about the controversy at 9-6, when a side judge called one of his gets two bounces. Carson protested, but the referee's view was blocked, so he did not overturn the call.

Carson got an early advantage in game three, going up 3-1, and he extended that to 10-4. Waselenchuk closed it to 10-8, but Carson took a time out, then got a side out and finished off the game.

Game four was tight all the way, as they were tied at 2, 4, 5, and 6 before Carson pulled into the lead at 9-6, and went on to win 11-8 to set up a tie-breaker. This was great for Carson, but he was 0 for 2 in five game finals last season, losing both those matches to Jack Huczek.

Unfortunately for Carson that streak continued Sunday, as Waselenchuk got an early lead in the tie-breaker. Although Carson got an early point to make it 3-1, he never really got on track. He took a time out a 8-1, and got a side out immediately after that. But nothing came of that as Waselenchuk went on to win it 11-1.

Afterwards Waselenchuk said "seven matches is my limit," as he got tired middle of the final having played three qualifying matches prior to the main draw. It was his seventh match in four days.

He said "I was coming up with everything" in the first two games, but Carson "fought hard. He fought real hard," so Waselenchuk had to dig in and fight hard too.

The result was his first IRT Grand Slam win in over two years, a successful completion to his IRT return, and perhaps the sign of what's to come this season.

Open Final

In the men's Open final, Mexican Alejandro Landa took the title by defeating Anthony Herrera, 15-12, 15-6. Landa almost qualified for the Pro draw, losing in five games to Jason Thoerner in the last round of qualifying. Landa was second in Boys 18 and under at the 2006 World Juniors, and seems to be a player to watch for the future.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Saturday, September 20, 2008

1 Now v. 1 Then

Rocky Carson, the current number 1 player on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT), will face Kane Waselenchuk, the former number 1 IRT player who's making his first return to a major IRT event after sitting out a two year ban, in the final of the 2008 Motorola Racquetball World Championships in Denver on Sunday.

It was Carson who had the tougher match to get to the final though, as he had to go five games with Jason Mannino before winning 8-11, 11-9, 11-6, 8-11, 11-1. It looked like a tie-breaker would be unnecessary, when Carson was leading 7-2 in the fourth game.

But Mannino always battles to the end, and he came back to take the lead at 10-8, but then stalled. It took several opportunities for Mannino finish it off. Twice he forced a weak return from Carson, including one return off the back wall, only to leave a pinch shot up for Carson to get.

In the end, it was a down the line pass that forced the tie-breaker.

But all that extra effort to win game four, which included a dramatic dive in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the ball in play off the back wall, seemed to be too much for Mannino, as Carson got out to a big 6-0 lead in the tie-breaker. Mannino got one back but that was all he could do, as Carson finished off the match with drive Z serves to the back left corner.

Waselenchuk, on the other hand, seemed to have a relatively easy time of it as he defeated Alvaro Beltran in three straight games, 11-6, 11-7, 11-2.

In game one, Waselenchuk led start to finish, as he built a good lead at 6-1. Beltran closed to within one at 6-5, but Waselenchuk extended the lead. He was hung up at 10-6 for several services, but finally closed it out, 11-6.

It was similar story in game two, although Beltran had a brief early lead at 3-1. Waselenchuk came back and went ahead to lead 8-4. Again Beltran came within one at 8-7, only to have Waselenchuk finish it, 11-7.

In their third game, Beltran got the first two points, and then Waselenchuk got the next 11 to win the game and match.

In men's Open play, American teen Jose Rojas defeated Travis Woodbury, 15-4, 15-13, to reach the semi-finals, where he played Anthony Herrera with whom his luck ran out, as Herrera won 15-13, 8-15, 11-5. It could have been an all Herrera final, but Alejandro Herrera lost to Alejandro Landa, 15-14, 15-5, in the other semi-final.

So, Sunday's final will be Landa versus Anthony Herrera.


Follow the bouncing ball....

Also of note in Denver

The big matches today are the semi-finals at the Motorola Racquetball World Championships in Denver between Rocky Carson and Jason Mannino on one side and Alvaro Beltran and Kane Waselenchuk on the other (they'll serve it up at 2:30 and 4:00, respectively). However, there are some interesting match-ups in the Open division as well, where they'll play the quarter finals this afternoon and the semi-finals tonight.

Perhaps the most interesting match will be Travis Woodbury, number 18 on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) rankings, against Jose Rojas, the American teenager who qualified for the IRT main draw, something Woodbury failed to do.

Rojas lost to Beltran in the main draw's Round of 16, while Woodbury was beaten by Polo Gutierrez (IRT #19) in the last round of qualifying.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Friday, September 19, 2008

Complete Team Results, Finally!

The complete team results for the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships are now available on their website. The competition concluded August 10, and the team results were initially reported on August 13th and then only to the 4th position.

Now, approximately 40 days after the competition the complete results are available. We're not sure when the complete results were posted, but we did check this recently - perhaps a week ago, and they were not complete then. But they are now.

Finally.

Then there were four

Has it really been two years? That's the question spectators at the 2008 Motorola Racquetball World Championships in Denver may be asking themselves, because Kane Waselenchuk isn't playing like he's been away from the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) for two years, as he won again on Friday, defeating the second seed Jack Huczek, 11-5, 9-11, 11-8, 11-2, in the quarter finals.

Waselenchuk's win breaks Huczek's streak of 13 consecutive appearances in the finals of IRT Tier I or Grand Slam events. The last time Huczek wasn't in a final was last year's Motorola Racquetball World Championships.

In the semi-finals on Saturday, Waselenchuk will play Alvaro Beltran. Beltran advanced to the semis by defeating Mitch Williams in three straight games, 13-11, 11-8, 11-7.

On the other side of the draw, Rocky Carson continues to play like the World Champion he is. The IRT's number 1 player beat Jason Thoerner in convincing fashion, 11-6, 11-2, 11-0, in the quarter finals.

Carson's next opponent will be Jason Mannino, who defeated Shane Vanderson in five tough games, 9-11, 11-9, 3-11, 11-9, 11-7. Vanderson had the advantage going into game 4, but wasn't able to close it out.

So, there are two Americans on one side of the draw in Carson and Mannino - two California residents, in fact, and a Mexican-Canadian match up on the other with Beltran and Waselenchuk. It's Carson and Waselenchuk who seem to be most on form.

The Racquetball Blog readers in the USA may have an opportunity to watch the semi-finals and finals from Denver, as they will be broadcast over the web via ESPN 360.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Denver Round of 16 results

The 2008 Motorola Racquetball World Championships in Denver, the first event on the International Racquetball Tour's (IRT) 2008-09 calendar, saw two qualifiers win their matches in the Round of 16 Thursday.

One was Kane Waselenchuk, whose return to the IRT continues to be successful as he defeated Ben Croft, the 7th seed, 11-2, 11-5, 11-4, in what was his fourth match of the tournament. He's given up a total of 30 points over 12 games for a mean of 2.5 points per game.

Waselenchuk's rivalry with Jack Huczek will be renewed tomorrow, as they'll face off in the quarter finals. Huczek defeated Andres Herrera, 11-6, 11-1, 11-6, in the Round of 16 Thursday.

Keith Minor's dream went on for one more game, as he won the first game against Shane Vanderson, but that's as far as it went, as Vanderson came back to beat Minor, 6-11, 11-1, 11-6, 12-10. Vanderson will face Jason Mannino in the quarter-finals, as Mannino beat Hiroshi Shimizu of Japan, 11-4, 11-8, 11-2.

Mexican Alvaro Beltran defeated American junior player Jose Rojas, 11-8, 11-5, 1-11, 13-11. Next up for Beltran in the quarter finals is left hander Mitch Williams, who defeated Anthony Carson, 11-5, 11-0, 11-9.

Rocky Carson, the IRT's number 1 player and current World Champion, got off to a slow start against Polo Gutierrez of Mexico, but then got things together and won their match in four games, 1-11, 11-3, 11-9, 11-5.

Carson will play Jason Thoerner in the quarter finals, as Thoerner was the other winning qualifier after his defeat of Chris Crowther, 2-11, 11-5, 12-10, 11-9.

So, play has gone pretty much according to form. Two qualifiers won in the Round of 16: Waselenchuk and Thoerner. Waselenchuk does seem to be living up to the high expectations that some had for him prior to the tournament, but he'll have a stiff test on Friday against Huczek.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Denver Qualifiers Determined

The 8 qualifiers have been determined at the 2008 Motorola Racquetball World Championships in Denver, the first event on the International Racquetball Tour's (IRT) 2008-09 calendar. Only three of the seeded qualifiers were successful on Thursday, as five lower seeded players beat their higher ranked opponents to make the main draw.

One of the five was Kane Waselenchuk, who has been playing like the former number 1 player that he is, and qualified for the main draw by defeating Andy Hawthorne, number 11 on the IRT, 11-4, 11-1, 11-2. Waselenchuk will now face Ben Croft.

But Waselenchuk was the only one of four Canadians to get to the main draw, as the three boys from Saskatoon were all defeated. Lee Connell lost to Japanese veteran Hiroshi Shimizu, 11-2, 9-11, 11-4, 11-8, who will next face Jason Mannino. Josh Keil lost to Andres Herrera, one of the seeded qualifiers to win on Thursday, 11-1, 11-1, 11-8. And Kris Odegard, former Canadian Champion, was defeated by Jose Rojas, 11-9, 11-7, 11-4.

Keith Minor has been playing like a major and reached the main draw by Alejandro Herrera in five games, 11-4, 2-11, 11-8, 8-11, 11-2. If Minor can beat his next opponent, Shane Vanderson, it will be a Minor victory but not a minor upset.

Jason Thoerner, the top seeded qualifier needed five games before defeating Alejandro Landa, 8-11, 11-2, 8-11, 11-6, 11-2. Next up for Thoerner will be Chris Crowther.

Herrera and Rojas will now play Jack Huczek and Alvaro Beltran, respectively.

The other two qualifers are Anthony Carson, who defeated Juan Herrera, 11-8, 11-8, 11-9, and Mexican Polo Gutierrez, who beat Travis Woodbury, 11-3, 11-2, 11-4. Carson goes against Mitch Williams and Gutierrez will face Rocky Carson in the main draw.

The main draw presented in seeding brackets from top to bottom (with IRT rank from the May 12, 2008 rankings) looks like this:

(1) Rocky Carson vs. Polo Gutierrez - THU 8:30 PM
(8) Chris Crowther vs. Jason Thoerner - THU 8:30 PM

(5) Shane Vanderson vs. Keith Minor - THU 5:30 PM
(4) Jason Mannino vs. Hiroshi Shimizu - THU 5:30 PM

(3) Alvaro Beltran vs. Jose Rojas - THU 4:00 PM
(6) Mitch Williams vs. Anthony Carson - THU 4:00 PM

(7) Ben Croft vs. Kane Waselenchuk - THU 7:00 PM
(2) Jack Huczek vs. Andres Herrera - THU 7:00 PM

What we here at The Racquetball Blog are wondering, of course, is will there be any QWs?

Follow the bouncing ball....

Who will win in Denver?

The International Racquetball Tour (IRT) Motorola Racquetball World Championships are almost through the qualifying stages, so it seems about time for The Racquetball Blog (TRB) to make its prediction for a winner. TRB readers have voted for either Rocky Carson, current number 1 IRT player, or Kane Waselenchuk, the returning former number 1 player, to take the tournament.

But we're going with another former number 1. TRB predicts Jack Huczek will win in Denver. Huczek lost in the first round of this tournament last year, which was the only time he did not reach the finals in Tier I or Grand Slam IRT events last season. Thus, if he wins, he can get a big boost in the rankings, which could take him back to the top of IRT.

Of course, Mr. Huczek might not be so pleased with our choice, as we're 0-1 following last weekend's Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) event in Fayetteville, NC, where we predicted Cheryl Gudinas Holmes would win it all. In fact, Rhonda Rajsich won, as predicted by the TRB readers.

But the IRT is a whole different thing from the WPRO! It's a brand new event! And a whole new week! Why should we be held down by past errors? We should not!

So we're down for Huczek. It might not be the most popular choice this weekend, but popularity is so common.

Follow the bouncing ball....

39 to 16 in Two Rounds

Thirty nine has become 16 after two rounds of qualifying at the 2008 Motorola Racquetball World Championships in Denver, the first event on the International Racquetball Tour's (IRT) 2008-09 calendar. There will be one more round to determine the final 8 qualifiers for the main draw, which will begin later this afternoon.

There were some notable results from Wednesday. As expected, Kane Waselenchuk got through the first two qualifying rounds with little trouble, defeating Bradly Rogers first, and then veteran Woody Clouse. Next up for Waselenchuk is the IRT's number 11 player, Andy Hawthorne.

Veteran Cliff Swain didn't fare so well. Although he did win his first match against Andrew Thompson, he dropped the second to Alejandro Landa. Landa will now play Jason Thoerner for a chance to get into the main draw.

There were three Canadians in play on Wednesday, and American Shai Manzuri played two of them, going tie-breaker in each match. He defeated Ryan Smith in the first qualifying round, winning the first two games before being forced into a fifth game tie-breaker that Manzuri pulled out, winning 11-7, 11-7, 1-11, 10-12, 11-9.

The story was reversed for Manzuri in the next round, as Lee Connell went up two games before Manzuri got back on track, and won the next two games to force a tie-breaker. But it was Connell who came through in the end, winning the match 11-9, 12-10, 4-11, 6-11, 11-8. Connell will play Japanese veteran Hiroshi Shimizu for the right to play in the main draw.

Josh Keil, the other Canadian, was one of three players who won two games on Wednesday from a low seeding. Keil defeated Anthony Herrera, number 20 on the IRT rankings, in the second round of qualifying in another match that went tie-breaker, with Keil winning 4-11, 12-10, 11-8, 4-11, 11-4. Keil now faces another Herrera - Andres, today.

Keith Minor and Jose Rojas were the other two low seeded players who took down higher ranked opponents. Minor defeated Matt Stamborski in three straight games in round one, and then needed only four games to dispatch Charles Pratt in round two. Minor is up against Alejandro Herrera today.

Rojas first took out Rafael Filippini in three straight games, and then defeated Mexican Gil Del Los Rios in round two. He'll now play Kris Odegard, former Canadian Champion, for a spot in the main draw.

The complete Round of 16 qualifying match-up are as follows:

Thursday 10:00 AM : Kris Odegard vs Jose Rojas
Thursday 10:00 AM : Juan Herrera vs Anthony Carson
Thursday 11:30 AM : Alejandro Herrera vs Keith Minor
Thursday 11:30 AM : Hiroshi Shimizu vs Lee Connell
Thursday 1:00 PM : Andres Herrera vs Josh Keil
Thursday 1:00 PM : Andy Hawthorne vs Kane Waselenchuk
Thursday 2:30 PM : Jason Thoerner vs Alejandro Landa
Thursday 2:30 PM : Travis Woodbury vs Polo Gutierrez

Below is the schedule for the main draw presented in seeding brackets from top to bottom (with IRT rank from the May 12, 2008 rankings) with the potential qualifier added.

(1) Rocky Carson vs. winner of Polo Gutierrez & Travis Woodbury - THU 8:30 PM
(8) Chris Crowther vs. winner of Jason Thoerner & Alejandro Landa - THU 8:30 PM

(5) Shane Vanderson vs. winner of Keith Minor & Alejandro Herrera - THU 5:30 PM
(4) Jason Mannino vs. winner of Hiroshi Shimizu & Lee Connell - THU 5:30 PM

(3) Alvaro Beltran vs. winner of Jose Rojas & Kris Odegard - THU 4:00 PM
(6) Mitch Williams vs. winner of Juan Herrera & Anthony Carson - THU 4:00 PM

(7) Ben Croft vs. winner of Kane Waselenchuk & Andy Hawthorne - THU 7:00 PM
(2) Jack Huczek vs. winner of Andres Herrera & Josh Keil - THU 7:00 PM

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Motorola RWC draw now available

The Motorla Racquetball World Championships Men's Pro Qualifying draw is now available on R2 Sports.

IRT Season Kicks Off TODAY, not tomorrow

The International Racquetball Tour (IRT) 2008-09 season kicks off Wednesday, not Thursday. The Racquetball Blog got it wrong yesterday when we said that Thursday was the kick off. The qualifying matches begin Wednesday afternoon in the 2008 Motorola Racquetball World Championships in Denver.

Our apologies. IRT qualifying usually begins on Thursdays, and we assumed that would be the case this week. Nevertheless, it does bring the action that much closer to us, which is a good thing.

We've tried to make up for this error by piecing together the qualifier match-up information available on the R2 Sports site (www.R2sports.com) to give you an idea of who's playing whom and when (remember these times are from the Mountain time zone).

There are 39 players in the Pro Qualifying, and three rounds of qualifying matches.

Men's Singles Pro Qualifier - Round of 64:
Wednesday 3:00 PM : Rafael Filippini (Bonita, Calif.) vs Jose Rojas (Stockton, Calif.)
Wednesday 3:00 PM : Simon Payne (Centennial, Colo.) vs Anthony Carson (Pueblo, Colo.)
Wednesday 3:00 PM : Tyler Otto (Pueblo, Colo.) vs Jose Ramos (Pueblo, Colo.)
Wednesday 3:00 PM : Felipe Camacho (Pueblo, Colo.) vs Gil Del Los Rios (Chihuahua, CH)
Wednesday 4:00 PM : Jordan Walters (Unknown, N.C.) vs Lee Connell (Saskatoon, SK)
Wednesday 4:00 PM : Charles Pratt (Portland, Ore.) vs Anton Roberts (Denver, Colo.)
Wednesday 4:00 PM : Keith Minor (Channahon, Ill.) vs Matt Stamborski (Muskego, Wis.)
Wednesday 4:00 PM : Ryan Smith (Burlington, ON) vs Shai Manzuri (Dallas, Texas)
Wednesday 5:00 PM : Jansen Allen (Rice, Texas) vs Anthony Herrera (Grand Junction, Colo.)
Wednesday 5:00 PM : Woody Clouse (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) vs John Lee Rhodes (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Wednesday 5:00 PM : Bradly Rogers (Wichita, Kan.) vs Kane Waselenchuk (Brownsville, Texas)
Wednesday 5:00 PM : Bryan Crosser (Unknown, Iowa) vs Josh Keil (Saskatoon, SK)
Wednesday 6:00 PM : Andrew Thompson (Tampa, Fla.) vs Cliff Swain (Marshfield, Mass.)
Wednesday 6:00 PM : Alejandro Landa (El Paso, Texas) vs Clint Wolff (Dayton, Ohio)
Wednesday 6:00 PM : Tony Jammal (Pueblo, Colo.) vs Jason Geis (Torrance, Calif.)

Round of 32:
Wednesday 6:00 PM : vs
Wednesday 6:00 PM : vs
Wednesday 7:00 PM : vs
Wednesday 7:00 PM : vs
Wednesday 8:00 PM : vs
Wednesday 8:00 PM : vs
Wednesday 9:00 PM : Polo Gutierrez (Juarez, CH) vs
Wednesday 9:00 PM : vs

Round of 16:
Thursday 10:00 AM : Kris Odegard vs
Thursday 10:00 AM : Juan Herrera vs
Thursday 11:30 AM : Alejandro Herrera vs
Thursday 11:30 AM : Hiroshi Shimizu vs
Thursday 1:00 PM : Andres Herrera vs
Thursday 1:00 PM : Andy Hawthorne vs
Thursday 2:30 PM : Jason Thoerner vs
Thursday 2:30 PM : Travis Woodbury vs

Thus, winners of the first qualifying round will face off in the second round. Then those second round winners will meet one of the eight highest seeded qualifiers on Thursday. Then the successful qualifiers will face one of the Top 8 players later on Thursday in the main draw Round of 16. Here are the start times for those matches by player (with IRT rank from the May 12, 2008 rankings).

1) Rocky Carson - THU 8:30 PM
2) Jack Huczek - THU 7:00 PM
3) Alvaro Beltran - THU 4:00 PM
4) Jason Mannino - THU 5:30 PM
5) Shane Vanderson - THU 5:30 PM
6) Mitch Williams - THU 4:00 PM
7) Ben Croft - THU 7:00 PM
8) Chris Crowther - THU 8:30 PM

So, the IRT action all begins today, Wednesday, September 17, 2008. We're looking forward to it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

IRT Season Kicks Off Thursday

The International Racquetball Tour (IRT) kicks off its 2007-08 season this weekend with the 2008 Motorola Racquetball World Championships in Denver, and it may be the most interesting IRT season ever. But first let's review what happened last season.

There were fourteen main IRT events last season. Below are the results by player and then by event (source: Boss Consulting).

IRT Rank - Player - Wins - Seconds - Semis - Quarters

1) Rocky Carson - 7 wins, 4 seconds, 3 semis, 0 qtrs
2) Jack Huczek - 6 wins, 7 seconds, 0 semis, 0 qtrs
3) Alvaro Beltran - 0 wins, 1 second, 10 semis, 3 qtrs
4) Jason Mannino - 1 win, 2 seconds, 7 semis, 2 qtrs
5) Shane Vanderson - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 3 semis, 10 qtrs
6) Mitch Williams - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 1 semi, 13 qtrs
7) Ben Croft - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 2 semis, 10 qtrs
8) Chris Crowther - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 0 semis, 9 qtrs
9) Jason Thoerner - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 0 semis, 4 qtrs
10) Javier Moreno - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 1 semi, 1 qtr
11) Andy Hawthorne - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 0 semis, 3 qtrs
16) John Ellis - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 0 semis, 1 qtr
19) Polo Gutierrez - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 1 semi, 0 qtrs

Event - Final - Semi-Finalists

Motorola World Racquetball Championships - Final: Carson d Beltran, (8),7,7,11 - Semis: Moreno, Gutierrez
8th Annual Ghost of Georgetown; Kansas City Pro-Am - Final: Mannino d Huczek, 9,9,8 - Semis: Vanderson, Carson
Kentucky Open - Final: Huczek d Carson, 8,6,11 - Semis: Mannino, Beltran
Canadian Racquetball Classic - Final: Huczek d Mannino, 2,1,retired - Semis: Beltran, Carson
32nd New Mexico Invitational Pro Am Racquetball Championships - Final: Carson d Huczek, (9),7,2,2 - Semis: Vanderson, Williams
Choice Hotels US Open - Final: Carson d Huczek, 3,(7),8,6 - Semis: Vanderson, Mannino
California Open - Final: Carson d Huczek, 8,4,4 - Semis: Beltran, Croft
New York City Pro-Am - Final: Huczek d Carson, 8,2,6 - Semis: Beltran, Mannino
Seattle Open - Final: Huczek d Mannino, 3,(9),3,(3),2 - Semis: Beltran, Carson
San Diego Open - Final: Huczek d Carson, (10),6,(7),10,5 - Semis: Beltran, Mannino
Florida Spring Break Pro-Am - Final: Carson d Huczek, 8,6,2 - Semis: Beltran, Croft
Mexico Open - Final: Carson d Huczek, 2,5,8 - Semis: Beltran, Mannino
Dennis Rosenberg Pro-Am - Final: Carson d Huczek, (5),8,8,8 - Semis: Beltran, Mannino
Motorola IRT Pro Nationals - Final: Huczek d Carson, (8),5,(5),2,6 - Semis: Beltran, Mannino

Rocky Carson made the semi-finals of every IRT event last season. Huczek's record was almost as good, as he was in the final of all the tournments except that he lost in the Round of 16 at the Motorola World Racquetball Championships.

Of note regarding the final matches is that Carson won three of seven tournaments after losing the first game, but he didn't win any in five games. Huczek won all three of his five game matches, twice against Carson.

Ben Croft's results were an improvement on 2006-07 when he only made 1 semi and 4 quarters. At 23, Croft is the youngest of the top 10 players, so he should be looking to improve on last season's performances and perhaps make his first final.

The Second Coming

Croft's improvement would be difficult if the same players were involved this season as last, but it will probably be more difficult as Kane Waselenchuk, a former number 1 player, will be coming back to the IRT after serving a two year ban for a doping violation at the 2006 Canadian National Championships.

How Waselenchuk's return will impact the IRT is anyone's guess, and some are making wild speculations, including suggesting that he could win all the IRT events this season. That's quite unlikely, as even in his most dominant seasons of 2003-04 and 2004-05, Waselenchuk was not undefeated. Moreover, his record in 2005-06 was not nearly as dominant as in those two seasons, and he finished only slightly ahead of Huczek in the final rankings.

Waselenchuk will also have to go through qualifying rounds to start the season. Assuming that he qualifies for the main draws, his impact will vary from event to event as he moves up the rankings, sometimes being on the top half of the draw and sometimes on the bottom half.

There is some evidence to believe that Waselenchuk will do well on tour as he did win the Greenville Open in June, defeating Carson in the final. But is that enough to justify beliefs that he'll win all or even most of the 16 (possibly 18 as two are pending) IRT events this season? Over half of the people responding to a survey on the USA Racquetball site believe so (of 72 responses, 27 believed Waselenchuk would win 8-12 of the IRT events and 19 believed he'd win all of them).

There's really little precedent for such a returning player. Except perhaps in women's racquetball, when Christie Van Hees returned to their pro tour after a couple years of self-imposed exile. Her form was - if anything - better than before, and she shot up the rankings, winning two US Open titles and a World Championship along the way.

Sports results are often unexpected. Who would have thought that the biggest beneficiary of Waselenchuk's absence would have been the 6th ranked player? Yet Rocky Carson, who was 6th two years ago, is now number 1.

That's why they play the games, and why this season's IRT games may be part of its most interesting season ever.

Monday, September 15, 2008

New IRT Statistic

We here at The Racquetball Blog (TRB) are introducing a new statistic for the International Racquetball Tour (IRT): qualifier wins, or QWs. The cool kids call them Q Dubs.

We're all about the obvious, so QWs refers to exactly what it stands for. It's the number of wins in the main draw (round of 16 and on) by a player who's come through the qualifying rounds of an IRT event.

The maximum number of qualifier wins for an IRT event would be 15, which is the number of matches in the main draw. That would happen in the unlikely event that players from the qualifying rounds won all the matches in the main draw. The minimum number of QWs is 0, when no qualifiers win, which is what happened most often last season.

Of 13 IRT main events in 2007-08, there were 0 QWs in seven of them, 1 QW in three others, 2 QWs in two events, and an astonishing 5 in last season's Motorola Racquetball World Championships (RWC), as two qualifiers, Polo Gutierrez and Javier Moreno, won twice each in reaching the semi-finals, and Ben Croft also won as a qualifier, defeating Jason Thoerner in the Round of 16 before losing to Moreno.

Thus, the mean number of QWs per IRT event was 0.92 (12 QWs in 13 events) last season. (note: the US Open qualifying is for an earlier round of the draw than in other IRT events, so that event is not included in the QW).

The players with the most QWs last season were Moreno and Jason Thoerner with three each. Polo Gutierrez and Andy Hawthorne had two each, while Ben Croft, and John Ellis each had one.

The other side of a QW is that it represents an upset of a top 8 player, an event all top 8 players want to avoid. Chris Crowther had the most losses to qualifying players last season with five. That's not surprising as Crowther is often the 8th ranked player, so by seeding the most likely to be upset by a qualifier.

However, surprisingly Jason Mannino, the IRT's 4th ranked player, had the second most losses to qualifiers (QWs against, as it were), as he lost twice to qualifiers. Mannino lost to Gutierrez in the Motorola RWC, and to John Ellis in New Mexico.

Other players who lost once to qualifers last season were Jack Huczek, Jason Thoerner, Shane Vanderson, and Mitch Williams. Neither Rocky Carson or Alvaro Beltran lost to qualifiers last season.

This week at the 2008 Motorola Racquetball World Championships 39 players will try to be one of the 8 qualifiers for the main IRT draw, and then they'll try to chalk up QWs. With the likes of Gutierrez, Hawthorne, Woody Clouse as well as a couple of guys named Swain and Waselenchuk, it seems likely that there'll be at least one QW and maybe several more.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Rajsich makes it five in a row

Rhonda Rajsich won the first event of the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) season by defeating Cheryl Gudinas Holmes in the final of the Outback Steakhouse Blast It! event in Fayetteville, North Carolina, 11-7, 11-8, 11-4. The victory extends Rajsich's winning streak to five WPRO tournaments going back to last season.

The first game on Sunday was close, as the players were tied at 7 before Rajsich finished it off. Then in game two, she got out to a big lead at 9-1, but almost gave it all back as Gudinas Holmes showed her toughness in fighting back to cut the difference to one at 9-8.

But Rajsich then closed out the second game, and got ahead 7-2 and 8-4 in game three, which were deficits that Gudinas Holmes did not come back from.

Rajsich used a mixture of serves - lobs, drives, and drive Zs, mostly to the left side - Gudinas Holmes's backhand. But she also had three drive serve aces to the right side from the same spot where she'd been serving to the left side.

Gudinas Holmes hit most of her serves to the right - Rajsich's forehand. Perhaps it's unusual to hit to a player's forehand, but after seeing Rajsich crush balls with her backhand again and again, one can see why an opponent would prefer to have her hit forehands.

The tournament reinforces the WPRO rankings as Rajsich is the WPRO number 1 player and Gudinas Holmes is number 2. Also, the number 3 and 4 players, Kerri Wachtel and Angela Grisar, respectively, were the other semi-finalists.

But a player to watch is Veronica Sotomayor, a teenager from Ecuador. Ranked 24th, she defeated T. J. Baumbaugh in the first round of the pro division before losing to Wachtel in four games. But Sotomayor won the Open division, defeating Adrienne Fisher (WPRO #7) and Krystal Csuk (#20) on the way to the title.

Word is that Sotomayor will be playing most of the WPRO events this season, so she could make a significant impact by season's end.

Finally, The Racquetball Blog readers were correct in predicting Rajsich would be victorious in Fayetteville, and TRB was wrong in selecting Gudinas Holmes. Sigh. We'll look to do better with next weekend's opening International Racquetball Tour event in Denver.

The next WPRO event is the Mexico Open in two weeks in Tijuana, Mexico.

Happy 42nd Birthday Jackie Paraiso and Joy MacKenzie!

1966 was an auspicious year in sports. England hosted and won the World Cup. The Toronto Maple Leafs started the season that would see them win the Stanley Cup. The National Football League decided to hold the first Super Bowl at the end of the season.

And Mr. and Mrs. Paraiso welcomed Jackie and Joy into the world.

Joy, you're best known for your doubles play with Jackie, but you actually made your first appearance on Team USA in singles at the 1994 Pan American Championships (then the Tournament of Americas). You made seven more appearances with Team USA each of them in doubles with Jackie as your partner.

Perhaps the highlights of your international career are your gold medals from the 1995 Pan American Games in Argentina, and the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg.

Domestically, you two won three U.S. women's doubles titles in 1994, 1997 and 1998. But Jackie has won eight other U.S. women's titles and four mixed titles. The women's titles were with Aimee Ruiz (in 2008 & 2007), Kim Russell (2002-2004), Laura Fenton (2000) and Michelle Gilman (1990 & 1991), and the mixed titles were with Jimmy Lowe (in 1997), Rocky Carson (1998) and twice with Joe Paraiso, in 1996 and 1999.

In addition to an enviable doubles record, Jackie has been one of most successful women's singles players in racquetball. You finished in the top 10 at season's end on the women's pro tour 16 times between 1986-87 and 2003-04, including three number 1 finishes in 1991-92, 1998-99, and 1999-2000.

Your best pro season was '98-'99, when you were in the finals of all seven events, winning six of them, including the 1998 US Open when you beat Christie Van Hees in three straight games. That success carried over to the 1999-2000 season, when you won four of the five tournaments and a second US Open. In those 11 finals over the two seasons, your won-loss record was 29 and 11.

Internationally, Jackie, you hold the record for most appearances on Team USA with 22 spanning an incredible 18 years. Your first appearance was in the 1990 World Championships playing doubles with Malia Bailey, and most recently last month in doubles with Aimee Ruiz at this year's World Championships.

More impressive, is that you've won gold in 21 of those 22 appearances, including all seven with Joy. The only blemish came at the 2003 Pan American Games, when you and Kim Russell lost 11-9 in the tie-breaker to the Mexican team of Susana Acosta and Rosy Torres.

Congratulations on two excellent racquetball careers, and happy birthday!

Tennis has the Williams sisters and Bryan brothers. Racquetball has you two.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

One versus Two on Sunday

Rhonda Rajsich and Cheryl Gudinas Holmes - the first and second seed, respectively, will meet on Sunday in the final of the Outback Steakhouse Blast It! racquetball tournament, the first event on the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) 2008-09 calendar.

Rajsich will be looking to make it five WPRO tournaments in a row - going back to last season, and it'll be Gudinas Holmes's job to prevent that. Gudinas Holmes was the most recent WPRO Tier I event winner prior to Rajsich's streak.

Rajsich reached the final by defeating Angela Grisar in the semi-finals, 12-10, 8-11, 11-7, 11-7. Grisar was up 10-7 in game 1, but Rajsich showed her mettle and battled back to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The other games were also close until the end. Rajsich led by 8-7 in both games three and four, before she found a way to finish off them off.

Grisar was getting ahead by drive serving to the right side (Rajsich's forehand) in the first two games, but then went away from that strategy in games three and four. Rajsich had a good mix of serves, but mostly lobs or half lobs to both the left and right sides.

Gudinas Holmes defeated Kerri Wachtel in the other semi-final.

Rajsich had a tough match in the round of 16, when Jennifer Saunders took the first two games of their match before succumbing to the top seed, and reigning World Champion, in five games, 2-11, 6-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-1.

It's the second time that Saunders has taken one of the top 4 WPRO players to five games in less than a year, as she also went five with Wachtel last October in Burlington, Ontario.

Saunders plans to play the first five WPRO events this season in a concerted effort to move up the rankings.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Something we didn't predict

Our idea of pitting our choice versus The Racquetball Blog readers choice for who will win the Outback Steakhouse Blast It! tournament this weekend in Fayetteville, N.C. has hit a little snag. The readers votes tied for Rhonda Rajsich and "Another player" indicating someone outside the top four seeds; there were 3 votes for each. We failed to predict this situation, so we don't have a rule for it.

Thus, we're going to let the readers have it both ways. This. Time.

Now, while it's possible that someone outside the top four will take the tournament, the last players to do so are Paola Longoria, who won this tournament last year, and Christie Van Hees, who won the Toronto tournament last year. However, neither of them are in Fayetteville.

Thus, it seems more likely to us that Rajsich, who won the last four tournaments of the 2007-08 season, will win rather than someone outside the top four.

Nevertheless, we at The Racquetball Blog predicted Cheryl Gudinas Holmes to get the title this weekend. And we're sticking to that.

You can follow the action in North Carolina over the web via Racquetball OnLine at www.racquetballonline.tv.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Who will win in Fayetteville?

The Outback Steakhouse Blast It! tournament kicks off the 2008-09 Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) season tomorrow in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Rhonda Rajsich is the top seed. She won half of the Tier I WPRO events last year, and made it to at least the semis in all of them. Thus, smart money would be on Rajsich to win in Fayetteville, especially as she also won the World Championships - for the first time - last month in Ireland.

But that seems like such a boring prediction, and who said we were always that smart with our money anyway? In that spirit, we here at The Racquetball Blog are predicting Cheryl Gudinas Holmes to take the title in Fayetteville.

Gudinas Holmes is the second seed, and was runner up Rajsich at Worlds, so we aren't going far out on a limb with this. Rajsich's game style is more spectacular than Gudinas Holmes's, as it's not uncommon for Rajsich to keep the ball in play by diving multiple times in a single game, or even a single rally.

However, Gudinas Holmes is a very solid player, with great shot making ability and strong determination that had led to three World Championships and two U.S. Open titles. She's certainly a threat to win any tournament she enters.

So, that's our prediction, and it's probably worth exactly what you're paying for it. Thus, we're not advising you to bet big money on this in Vegas (although if you find out you can bet on this in Vegas, do let us know).

We encourage you to make your own prediction for this weekend's tournament. Let's see if TRB or its readers can make better predictions over the course of this racquetball season. To make your predication, look in the right sidebar of The Racquetball Blog. We've put up the names of the four top seeds as was as leaving a space for "Another player." Click on the circle beside your pick.

TRB readers' pick will be the player receiving the most votes. If that player wins, then that's one for the readers. If TRB selection wins (Gudinas Holmes for this event), that's one for us. We'll keep track of this over the course of the season, and see who comes out on top at the end.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

WPRO 2007-08 Season Summary

Looking toward this weekend's Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) tournament, which is the first of the season, we thought it'd be good to look back at last season's results.

The WPRO 2007-08 season was composed of 10 Main Events, and 4 Satellite events. We've listed the results for each tournament, and then summarized them by player. (these results are courtesy Brenda Kyzer, WPRO Board member).

The thing that jumps out at us the most is that Rhonda Rajsich got to at least the semis of all 10 WPRO events last season, and she was in eight finals, winning five of them. With that record, it's little wonder she was the number 1 player at season's end.

EVENT SUMMARY - Event, First, Second, Semi-finalists

Fayetteville:
1) Paola Longoria 2) Rhonda Rajsich -- Semis: Angela Grisar & Kristen Bellows
Laurel (Sat.):
1) Kerri Wachtel 2) Candi Hostovich -- Semis: Doreen Fowler & Paola Nunez
Toronto:
1) Christie Van Hees 2) Kristen Bellows -- Semis: Rhonda Rhonda & Kerri Wachtel
N.Y. (Sat.):
1) Cheryl Gudinas Holmes 2) Rhonda Rajsich -- Semis: Aimee Ruiz & Kimi Ferina
U.S. Open:
1) Rhonda Rajsich 2) Cheryl Gudinas Holmes -- Semis: Angela Grisar & Christie Van Hees
Arlington:
1) Cheryl Gudinas Holmes 2) Rhonda Rajsich -- Semis: Kerri Wachtel & Angela Grisar
Panama:
1) Cheryl Gudinas Holmes 2) Kerri Wachtel -- Semis: Rhonda & Angela Grisar
N.Y. (Sat. Jan 08): 1) Rhonda Rajsich 2) Aimee Ruiz -- Semis: Kimi Ferina & Lorraine Feeney
Sacramento:
1) Cheryl Gudinas Holmes 2) Rhonda Rajsich -- Semis: Kerri Wachtel & Paola Longoria
Cincinnati (Sat.):
1) Kerri Wachtel 2) Adrienne Fisher -- Semis: Sharon Jackson & Gerri Stroffregen
Phoenix:
1) Rhonda Rajsich 2) Cheryl Gudinas Holmes -- Semis: Angela Grisar & Kerri Wachtel
Miami:
1) Rhonda Rajsich 2) Angela Grisar -- Semis: Kerri Wachtel & Cheryl Gudinas Holmes
York, PA:
1) Rhonda Rajsich 2) Cheryl Gudinas Holmes -- Semis: Angela Grisar & Kristen Bellows
New Orleans:
1) Rhonda Rajsich 2) Cheryl Gudinas Holmes -- Semis: Kerri Wachtel & Paola Longoria

PLAYER SUMMARY - Tournament wins, seconds, semi-finals, WPRO rank at season's end

Rhonda Rajsich - Wins 5 (1) - Seconds 3 (1) - Semis - 2 (WPRO #1)

Cheryl Gudinas Holmes - Wins: 3 (1) - Seconds: 4 (0) - Semis: 1 (WPRO #2)

Kerri Wachtel - Wins: 0 (2) - Seconds: 1 (0) - Semis: 6 (WPRO #3)

Angela Grisar - Wins: 0 (0) - Seconds: 1 (0) - Semis: 6 (WPRO #4)

Kristen Bellows - Wins: 0 (0) - Seconds: 1 (0) - Semis: 2 (WPRO #5)

Paola Longoria - Wins: 1 (0) - Seconds: 0 (0) - Semis: 2 (WPRO #6)

Christie Van Hees - Wins: 1 (0) - Seconds: 0 (0) - Semis: 1 (WPRO #9)

Aimee Ruiz - Wins: 0 - Seconds: (1) - Semis: (1) (WPRO #35)

Kimi Ferina
- Wins: 0 - Seconds: (0) - Semis: (2) (WPRO #13)

Candi Hostovich
- Wins: 0 - Seconds: (1) - Semis: (0) (WPRO #16)
Adrienne Fisher - Wins: 0 - Seconds: (1) - Semis: (0) (WPRO #7)

Doreen Fowler - Wins: 0 - Seconds: 0 - Semis: (1) (WPRO #10)
Paola Nunez - Wins: 0 - Seconds: 0 - Semis: (1) (WPRO #20)
Sharon Jackson - Wins: 0 - Seconds: 0 - Semis: (1) (WPRO #59)
Gerri Stroffregen - Wins: 0 - Seconds: 0 - Semis: (1) (WPRO #59)
Lorraine Feeney - Wins: 0 - Seconds: 0 - Semis: (1)

Note: Numbers in parentheses represent results in satellite events.

Follow the bouncing ball...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The professional racquetball season kicks off this weekend

The professional racquetball season begins this weekend with the Outback Steakhouse Blast It tournament in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the first event of the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization's (WPRO) 2008-2009 season.

Rhonda Rajsich, the WPRO's #1 player, is the tournament's top seed. This summer was the worst of times and the best of times for Rajsich, as she was severely beaten near her home in California in early June. However, she made a speedy recovery to win her first World Championship at the International Racquetball Federation World Championships last month in Ireland.

Cheryl Gudinas Holmes is the second seed this weekend. She had three WPRO wins last season, second only to Rajsich's five, and was the runner up to Rajsich at last month's World Championships.

Rajsich is clearly the player to beat, yet she's not the defending champion. Last year Rajsich lost to Paola Longoria in the Fayetteville final. Perhaps stranger is that Longoria, who finished the season ranked as the WPRO's 6th ranked player, won't be in Fayetteville to defend her title.

Other players who won't be in North Carolina are the 5th ranked Kristen Bellows, and 9th ranked Christie Van Hees. There's no word on the reason for these absences.

But the WPRO's top four players will be there, as Kerri Wachtel and Angela Grisar, the 3rd and 4th ranked players respectively, will join Rajsich and Gudinas Holmes this weekend. While these players are the ones to beat, Longoria's victory last year shows that there's no certainty as to who'll come out on top.

That uncertainty is perhaps especially so as this is the first event of the season, so players may not be at peak performance yet. And those who played in Ireland last month - Rajsich, Gudinas Holmes, as well as Grisar, may show the effects of having little time off this summer.

All in all, it's sure to be an interesting event down in North Carolina.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Further to the ERF's withdrawal from the IRF

The European Racquetball Federation (ERF) has separated from the International Racquetball Federation (IRF). A statement to that effect authored by ERF President Erik Meyer was circulated at the IRF meeting held in conjunction with the World Championships last month in Kingscourt, Ireland.

Meyer, a Belgian, and Mike Mesecke of Germany were on the IRF Executive Board, and they hoped "the IRF would function as a real International Federation, concentrate on ... real development and NOT only as a [sic] IRF vehicle with PARC [Pan American Racquetball Confederation] in the driver seat" according to Meyer's statement.

The statement continued by stating that "we feel that almost all efforts of the IRF board have been going into PARC related matters and not into the development of Racquetball in the rest of the world. We feel that there is no real interest shown by the IRF in Asia, Europe and elsewhere."

Also, they "feel there is a lack of real leadership within the Executive Committee to lead the IRF into the future. We do not believe that with some of the proposed Board members a real change and further development can be achieved." Thus, the ERF withdrew from the IRF, and Meyer and Mesecke will no longer serve on the IRF Executive.

The Racquetball Blog contacted the ERF Executive Committee for further information on this. Mesecke, the ERF Vice President, responded reiterating what was in Meyer's statement regarding development and long term planning, and questioned whether the IRF's priorities are set correctly.

Mesecke is also concerned about the professionalism of the IRF, stating as an example the lack of complete team standings from last month's World Championships, which we here at The Racquetball Blog pointed out in a previous post. He's further disappointed by the IRF's lack of significant marketing tools such as press releases, photography, video and television coverage. While Mesecke acknowledged the latter is difficult he wonders why there hasn't been a professional photographer at any IRF event.

Mesecke suggested that some of the IRF's problems go back to its origin, when it was too closely tied to the USA Racquetball (earlier USRA and AARA), suggesting the IRF was created as a means for the American organization to associate with the US Olympic Committee and receive funding from them.

As we've previously stated on The Racquetball Blog, the ERF's withdrawal from the IRF is of great concern. We're not sure if the ERF's withdrawal is the best way of accomplishing their goals. However, we are sympathetic with the frustration they are expressing and the experience of arguing with other people in an organization to no effect.

One thing that might help the ERF's cause would be for people in Canada and the USA to pay more attention to the IRF and its activities. For those looking to get racquetball included in the Olympics - and we know there are many of you out there who want that, the IRF would be the means to that end, so everyone who wants that Olympic goal should want a strong IRF.

Yet, the IRF World Championships have been relatively neglected in Canada and - especially - the USA compared to the attention given to the pro tours. In part, this has been due to the fact that in the past the highest ranked International Racquetball Tour (IRT) players did not play in IRF events. For example, Cliff Swain has never played for his country. There are exceptions to that rule, as for example, Andy Roberts, John Ellis, and Ruben Gonzalez - representing both Puerto Rico and the USA (in different events) - have all played in IRF events.

The best American women, such as Michelle Gould, Cheryl Gudinas Holmes, and Jackie Paraiso, have always played in the IRF World Championships. Also, the recent participation of top IRT players Jack Huczek, Rocky Carson and Shane Vanderson, and the emergence of strong competitors from Mexico and Canada has raised the profile of the IRF events.

Thus, the quality of IRF events has improved on court in recent years. However, it's the off court IRF activity the Europeans are most unhappy with, and good signs from the IRF, such as the re-inclusion of racquetball in the World Games, isn't enough to quell their disappointment and frustration at other IRF actions (or inactions).

We'd also like to see a stronger, more professional IRF. But whether the ERF's split from the IRF is a strong enough message to that achieve that end remains to be seen.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Happy 26th Birthday Andy Hawthorne!

You're the 11th ranked player on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT). You won the Cincinnati Open last season, defeating Mike Dennison in the final, and got to the quarters of three Tier I IRT tournaments, including the US Open, where you beat Ben Croft in the 16s before losing to eventual champion Rocky Carson.

In 2007, you represented the USA at the Pan American Championship in Santiago, Chile, where you played doubles with Jason Samora, bringing home a silver medal.

You were also the collegiate men's doubles champion in 2002 and 2003 with Shane Vanderson, when you represented Baldwin Wallace College, and in 2002 you also won the collegiate mixed title with Krystal Csuk.

The big question facing you this season is whether you can break into the IRT's top 8 and avoid the Thursday qualifying rounds. With Kane Waselenchuk's return to the IRT, it's likely to be more crowded at the top, so your task will be even more difficult than in the past two years.

We wish you luck in moving up the IRT ranking, and at only 26, there should be several more good seasons ahead for you.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Happy 27th Birthday Vincent Gagnon!

You're one of the current Canadian men's doubles champions. You and your partner Fran├žois Viens finally got over the hump at this year's Canadian National Championships and beat Mike Green and Brian Istace after losing to them in the finals in previous three years. It was your first Canadian championship to go with three junior Canadian titles (two singles, one doubles).

Although that title was your first Canadian one with Viens, it was your second overall, as you two won the 2007 Pan American Championship in Santiago, Chile defeating the American team of Andy Hawthorne and Jason Samora.

You earned your first Team Canada selection as a 19 year old, when you and Francis Guillemette qualified as the doubles team for the 2001 Pan American Championships, where you lost in the semi-finals to Polo Gutierrez and Gilberto Mejia of Mexico. Since then, you've qualified for Team Canada for seven of twelve events.

In your seventh appearance for Canada last month, you got to the semi-finals of the World Championships defeating Polo Gutierrez Sotres in the quarter finals before losing in the semis to Jack Huczek. You then beat Alvaro Beltran to qualify as the 3rd seed for the racquetball competition in the 2009 World Games in Taiwan.

You once said to us that you thought anyone could achieve what you have in racquetball if they'd put in the work you had. That humility is rare among elite athletes, and it's consistent with the gentlemanly conduct you show on the court every time out. In fact, we've sometimes wondered if you're too kind on the court.

Yet we're not sure that just anybody could achieve what you have on the court in the same way we're not sure that just anyone could have earned the advanced degrees in mathematics that you also have.

In short, we don't think just anybody could have done what you have, and we look forward to seeing you accomplish even more in the years ahead.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dividing does not always lead to conquering

When you're in a small community, it's important for you to pull together with your neighbors. Excellence is created by concentrating resources, so if people in small communities are not putting their resources together then opportunities can be squandered.

Racquetball is a small community, so it's important for all of us to pull together. However, racquetball is an individual sport so it's easier for people to try to do their own thing than in a team sport, because in team sports you need many more people for (a) your team, and (b) your opponent's team. Without team-mates or an opposition side, there's no game, so there's more incentive to co-operate with others, because more others are needed.

Thus, it's easier to put on a racquetball tournament or league than, say, a baseball or football tournament or league, because there are fewer people involved. This point is illustrated by the failures of football (a team sport) leagues to rival the National Football League in the USA while boxing (an individual sport, like racquetball) continues to have a few different sanctioning bodies, which have undoubtedly contributed to the demise of boxing's popularity (if some people are saying Adam's the champ, while others say it's Issac and still others say Zach's the champ, well the casual fan soon loses interest, because the issue is clouded, suggesting that the people running the show don't know what the heck they're doing).

Of course, once any system is established, some people will dislike it and want to change it. This is natural, and all systems will need to change from time to time to stay current. The question is should such changes be revolutionary or reformatory? Revolutionary changes would be to throw out the current system, whatever it is, while reformatory changes would be alterations within the existing system.

Revolutionaries try to create their own system. Reformists try to make the system their own.

It can be easier to start fresh in some cases, but if you're going to end up at the same place, one wonders if re-inventing the wheel is really necessary.

In the history of racquetball, there's been a few revolutions in the professional game, although the end product was basically the same. With Dave Negrete and Shannon Feaster leading the men's International Racquetball Tour (IRT) and Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO), respectively, there is little reason to think that any revolution is needed in professional racquetball.

However, word comes that the European Racquetball Federation has separated itself from the International Racquetball Federation. We're investigating this issue, but we think everyone who's concerned about racquetball internationally - and yes, Virginia, that should include those interested in getting racquetball into the Olympics - should be concerned about this division.

We're concerned about this, because it's another example of people in racquetball not all pulling together. As we find out more details, we'll report them here. 

Follow the bouncing ball....