The Kane Train
Autopilot seems an odd word to describe dominance within athletic endeavors, but that’s exactly how events rolled out (pun intended) when Waselenchuk was involved. Not to discount the feats he accomplishes with a ball and racquet, but aside from the unbridled emotion and astonishing athleticism, each Tier 1 and Grand Slam event on the IRT calendar was simply another stop on the Kane Train’s scheduled route.
Each stop an opportunity for disgruntled passengers to hop on or off, some hopeful for the opportunity of the next stop, some utterly defeated; completely broken by the speed, power, and efficiency of the machine. Much like the engineering of the best Japanese locomotives, Waselenchuk’s obliterating efficiency leaves players and fans awestruck and his performance consistently runs dry a writers extensive list of superlatives.
Quite simply he is THE phenom of our generation, and likely the best player the sport has seen and will ever see, as evidenced by his repeatedly finding new legacies to build and records to set.
An extensive article was recently published by the Huffington Post outlining Waselenchuk’s impressive career and highlighting perhaps his most dominant season to date, where he went undefeated in 29 matches but also did not drop a single game (87-0)! By comparison, tennis and squash commentators will bring attention to the dominance displayed by an athlete who does not drop a set or game during ONE TOURNAMENT, let alone an ENTIRE SEASON. Waselenchuk seemingly has run out of “traditional” records to add to his legacy and is now clowning the community by adding the ridiculous and obscene, as if there was any doubt to his status as the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) being firmly cemented already, he offhandedly remarks “Oh yeah, I can show you some more.” It’s perhaps this attitude that makes him most impressive. In the face of all his accomplishments, he still maintains a childlike curiosity and creativity to find new frontiers.
Another familiar story this season was Rocky Carson who, at 38 years of age, has maintained a remarkably firm grip on the #2 spot. While he (again) did not beat Waselenchuk this season, his performance over the rest of the pack was consistent and his presence at Tour events unwavering, which keeps his reputation as the IRT’s Iron Man still intact. Carson’s generational rivalry with Mexican Champion and #4-ranked Alvaro Beltran is still alive and well, with the two engaging in several great battles again this season, but The Rock has held onto his youthful play more successfully, with fewer early round exits and more final appearances than any other player. While showing no signs of slowing down yet, the closer he gets to 40 the more some wonder how long he can sustain his physical level of play and grinding game style.
Daniel De La Rosa has seen a consistent rise in the rankings over the last several seasons, but hit a few speed bumps due to early round losses in fall. He only made one finals appearance before Christmas. De La Rosa came back stronger in the second half of the season and was able to maintain third position over Mexican compatriot Beltran but remained well back (almost 700 points) of Carson. Not to be left behind in time’s perpetual march forward, De La Rosa began a new chapter of his life this season as a father when he and wife Michelle De La Rosa (formerly Key) welcomed their baby girl into the world on April 17. This life-affirming event unfortunately prompted his absence from the last Tour stop of the year, the IRT Florida ProAm, which left significant points on the table. However, he’s still in fantastic position to make a run at the #2 spot next season. His early round losses means he’ll have opportunities to secure additional points in the first half of the season just by reaching the semifinals, and additional “free points” at the end of the season are up for grabs since he missed the season-ending event in Florida.
Beltran was another player who struggled with early-round-loss syndrome this season, resulting in his lowest point accrual since coming back from injury (2010-2011 IRT season), and leaving many wondering how many more years he’ll remain competitive on Tour. His difficulties on the court were also not exclusive to the IRT, as he experienced exits before the finals in both singles and doubles at the 2016 Mexican National Championships. While this writer sincerely hopes the best for Beltran, it will be an uphill battle against both time and the deepest field on the Tour in several years.
Allen and “The Roji”
Nipping at the heels of Beltran is #5 Jose Rojas, in a photo here by Juan Martinez at the 2017 Shamrock Shootout IRT Pro-Am, of two Top-8 Rojas brothers dubbed “The Roji” and who experienced consistency issues of his own this season, making only a handful of semifinal and no final appearances. Changes to coaching, diet, and training have all taken place over the last couple of seasons but seem to mirror the inconsistency seen on court. While there is no doubt about his hunger and talent, one has to question whether all these changes resulted in a net positive, and whether he will be able to recapture the mental acuity and tenacity that saw him take down Waselenchuk in the 2013 Novasors Ghost of Georgetown IRT Pro-Am Semifinal in Kansas City, MO.
#7 Markie Rojas, the other “Roji” brother, nipped at #6 Jansen Allen with just 57 points between them. Allen continues to play solid ball despite nearly being shutout of the semifinals this season. With the top players showing some areas of vulnerability, taking advantage of these opportunities next season will be the difference between one or both these two breaking into the top 5, or yet again being relegated to a lower spot in the ranks.
New Blood Takes Hold
While Sebastian Franco takes the last spot in the top 8, all spots between here and #13 are up for grabs next season, with each ranking position separated by less than 100 points (most by less than 50). Franco, #9 Mario Mercado, #10 Alejandro Landa, #11 Samuel Murray, #12 Andree Parrilla, and #13 David “Bobby” Horn all showed they have enough game to take out top players and make deep runs, the question will be how many of them show up on Tour (both physically and metaphorically) next season to shake things up. Franco, Mercado, Murray, and Horn made almost every Tier 1 this past season, so it’s safe to assume they will repeat, but Landa and Parrilla both played only half and thus remain question marks as to their impact on the top 8 next year. For the fans and the Tour, their consistent presence would be a blessing next season, although other competitors may disagree.
Rounding out the top 16 were perennial journeymen #14 Felipe Camacho and #15 Robert Collins, as well as former IRT referee Charlie Pratt ranked #16. With the field getting stronger and deeper, these players face increased difficulty at each event to qualify, let alone make the second or third round of competition. Players like #18 Jake Bredenbeck, #19 Jose Diaz, and #20 Andres Acuna have similar point totals for only a fraction of the events, and will begin pushing into the top 16 by adding only one or two more tournaments next season.
The upcoming IRT season, above all in recent memory, has the potential to be the most contentious and exciting. With talented young players drawing blood and tasting success on Tour, they have begun to multiply, inexplicably attracting other top young players to the Tour, deepening the draw, and delighting fans. We can only hope the success of players like Franco, Mercado, and Murray will entice the infrequent talent of Landa, Parrilla, Bredenbeck, Diaz, and Acuna to more events. If the criticism of the IRT is the Tour’s current depth, certainly the participation of these players would solve that issue. The air on Tour tingles in anticipation of an imminent curtain call, which will close the story arc of some and sweepingly begin one for others, but whether it will happen in the 2017-2018 IRT Season remains to be seen. Whether the winds of change blow through next season or not, there is a certainty in the air which dispels the confidence in top player positions for the first time in many years. It is this uncertainty that is most exciting, as fans wait in desperate anticipation for the inevitable beginning of the next act.
By Tim Landeryou
Tim Landeryou is a competitive racquetball player from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He began playing racquetball at the age of 10 and has represented Canada internationally since 2010 and achieved a career-high ranking of 16 at the end of the 2014-2015 IRT Season. He completed his Master of Science in Kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan in 2015 and now works as a sport administrator in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.