Ben Croft defeated Rocky Carson (4), 7, 5, (5), 5 for the MonaVie Salt Lake City ProAm Championships. “He won the match, I didn’t lose it,” said Carson after their two-hour and twenty-two minute five-game battle. “I’m impressed.” Both players came out firing on the high altitude courts. Rocky was looking to extend his 2-22 record against Croft and earn his second title this season while Croft faced winning his first tier 1 match championship just two weeks after bowing out of the Cactus Salon NYC ProAm in the Round of 16.
From the start, Croft looked confident, earning the coin toss and joking with the crowds through the side glass before serving drive serves for an early 2-0 lead. Rocky quickly took over, nailing a crack in the backhand corner to get into the serve box and keeping Ben on the defensive by playing steadily and putting the ball away whenever he got the chance, taking the first game 11-4.
Game 2 Ben broke his racquet early in game 2 “for the record, going for the ball,” he joked. With a new racquet in hand, Croft dialed into a grove, hard hitting pinch kills shots, and drive serving to Rocky’s forehand. The players exchanged points until at 2-2, after a pinch shot-kill rally, IRT Referee Charlie Pratt called a foot fault. Rocky joked about the delay. “I’m the oldest guy in the draw so it’s hard to hear you in here. Speak up!”
Both competitors played it hard and fast, keeping the score close until Croft pulled away after a 5-5 tie. Down 5-9, Rocky showed frustration, leaving the court to discuss a penalty hinder with Pratt. Back in play, Ben extended his lead until he skipped the ball for a sideout. At 6-10, Rocky’s served a deceptive drive serve to Ben’s forehand bringing the score to 7-10. After Rocky’s sent a solid drive z to Ben’s forehand side, Rocky set Ben up. Ben took advantage, putting the ball away for his second chance at game point. Rocky skipped, ending the game and tying the match at one game each.
Game three saw Ben sticking to his plan, pounding Rocky’s forehand. The two finalists played high-level racquetball, with Ben pulling ahead 6-2. After Carson took a timeout, he logged another point while Ben earned an avoidable. Rocky served 4-6. Ben, showing frustration, hit the back wall with his racquet and got a technical warning. He promised to hit more slowly next time, referring to Rocky’s not getting a technical after previously hitting the ball (more softly) after a rally. Ben owned the corners, consistently htting pinch-kills, but Rocky fought back to an 11-5 win.
The crowd was evenly split, cheering for both players as Rocky took an early 3-0 lead in game four. Again, Ben put the ball away into the front corner to get back into the box 1-4 before tying the game 4-4. Rocky pounded the ball, which Ben retrieved with great diving gets. Rocky added points after extended rallies rather than shooting to put the ball away. Rocky called a time out at 8-4, looking to make the match a five gamer rather than let Ben walk away with a win in four. Both players shot well and the crowd chanted as Rocky pulled off an 11-5 win for a tied match at two games each.
Game five saw Rocky showing some frustration, as Ben put the ball down and delivered tough serves almost exclusively to Rocky’s forehand. At 2-2, a hinder was called on Rocky, who blocked Ben’s back swing. Ben proceeded to serve two hard z’s to Rocky’s forehand and pinch-killed Rocky’s return. Over an hour into the match, Rocky served 2-3 and the players exchanged serves and slowly scored points. Both competitors were making good plays but also missing opportunities. Ben took a 6-4 lead and enjoyed a quick three-point run before Carson’s timeout at 4-9. Ben served short, but Rocky skipped the return to the second serve, a drive-z to the forehand side. One point away from his first Tier 1 pro stop win, Ben hit a backhand down the line for his first championship.
Afterward, Ben’s expression reflected a combination of joy and shock. “It’s a big moment. Surreal. I don’t know what to say or do. I don’t even know how the last rally ended. I’m going to stink at the interview today, but I don’t care because I’m happy.” Ben went on to thank his family, including his fiancé Sarah and also his sponsor, Racquetball Warehouse. He acknowledged his game plan going in. “I feel like my forehand is better than my backhand. I hit drive serves and z’s to Rocky’s forehand to keep it on the right wall.” He wanted to avoid Rocky’s “so tough” backhand returns, especially splats which are particularly difficult against the clear glass. “I went out early two weeks ago. Those losses really motivated me so I went back to California and trained hard. I love the altitude because I lived in Denver for eight years….I don’t know what to say. I’m in shock.”
As always, Rocky was gracious during the post-match interview, explaining he went out battling to make Ben hit his shots, which he did. “He joins the elite status of players who have won a tier 1 pro stop.”
Rocky and Ben will pair up during the National Doubles championships at Arizona State University February 8-12.
Semifinal Match Recaps by IRT Intern Seth Brody
Croft d Beltran (6-11, 11-1, 11-7, 11-5)
Two opposing play styles squared off against each other. Croft would overpower the finesse of Beltran in a 4-game match. Croft lost game 1 but showed everyone how to play with passion as he won the last three games in a row.
Starting in game 1, both Croft and Beltran took some time to feel each other’s games out on the court. It was back and forth action. These two high level competitors have not played against each other in some time, so learning each others habits and abilities would be essential in winning this match. Ben Croft, the #2 seed in this tournament is a high-powered, ball-breaking style of player while the #11 seed in the tournament, Alvaro Beltran is a finesse, momentum-changing player. Opposing styles of play made for an exciting match to watch. Game 1 went to Beltran 11-6, as his control over the court proved successful thus far.
Game 1 was the warm up for game 2 as Croft overpowered Beltran in every facet of the game. His game was close to 100% efficient with an 11-1 win. Tied at one game each, both players showed their styles were worthy of winning this match.
Game 3 began with Croft taking an early lead to 3-0. Beltran refocused after game 2’s mistakes and was able to get back into the match and go point for point with Croft. The match momentum slowly turned back in Beltran’s favor. Beltran scored and took the lead at 7-6. Croft did not take kindly to the new leader and pushed harder than before, rolling to a win at 11-7. Croft now sat comfortably in the lead at 2-1.
Game 4 was Beltran’s last effort to try a new strategy or go back to what worked in game 1 where he won 11-6. Croft applied the pressure and continued to give Beltran a difficult time coming back into the match. The score became lopsided quickly from 7-2 to 10-5. Croft scored for the match point and won a trip to the finals for the first time this season. Beltran looked like his old self but it just would not be enough to take out Croft. #2 seeded Ben Croft will face the winner of #1 seed Rocky Carson vs. #5 seed Shane Vanderson later tonight.
By IRT Intern Seth Brody
Carson d Vanderson (11-2, 11-0, 11-7)
Rocky Carson is ready to win and win big as he faced #5 Shane Vanderson in the second semifinals match of the day. Vanderson would struggle throughout the match but gave it a great effort as he was able to make it to the semifinals match. Carson used Vanderson to prepare for his finals matchup tonight against #3 Ben Croft.
The #5 seed Shane Vanderson defeated #4 Chris Crowther in the quarterfinals in a 5-game match. Vanderson gave all he had to give on the court. However, #2 Rocky Carson will make another trip to the finals.
Game 1 was all about Carson. Carson came into the match ready to kill, kill, and kill some more. His confidence was unmatched and Vanderson struggled throughout. Carson won 11-2 and had enough momentum to carry through the rest of the match. Carson swept Vanderson all over the court in game 2, not allowing him to score a single point as Carson won 11-0.
Game 3 was the end of Vanderson’s tournament if he did not turn the game around soon. Carson was still playing with the same confidence he radiated from the very beginning of the match and did not let Vanderson take a game from him. Vanderson gave a valiant effort and came back from an 11-0 defeat in game 2, but only managed 7 points. Carson won the game and match at 11-7.
Carson would move on to his usual finals appearance where he will play a new opponent, #3 Ben Croft who had just defeated Alvaro Beltran in 4 games. The two finalist would play a Saturday night final, different from the usual Sunday noon matchups. As they rest up well, Carson would attempt to regain the crown in proper fashion, against the new finalist Ben Croft.
Quarterfinal results and recaps by IRT Intern, John Beninato
Ben Croft d Javier Moreno 11-8, 11-9, 11-4
The first quarterfinal of the night was a matchup between two players with great forehands. It was clear that both players were focusing on hitting shots to the backhand side. Javier came into game one with some great drive serves and got some points on Ben’s skips. Both players missed key backhand shots and this led to a lot of frustration. Ben had a bit of a slow start in this game, but got the win after having some trouble closing at 10-7.
By game two, both players were settling in and nailing shots. Croft relied on a high lob serve to Javier’s backhand to get some points. These serves produced skips from Moreno’s backhand and he was visibly frustrated. There were a lot of missed backhands from both players in this game too. Ben got angry at an avoidable call and began to play harder out of frustration. This game went back and forth towards the end, but Ben was able to get the win, 11-9.
In game three, Moreno became increasingly frustrated with all the shots he skipped and began to yell at himself. The amount of balls Javier hit into the floor definitely changed the momentum of this match. Croft put a lot of pressure on Moreno to hit lower and lower, but Javier could not produce. Moreno ended up losing this one in three games, 11-4.
Rocky Carson d Andy Hawthorne 11-3, 11-3, 11-6
Rocky Carson is ready to win and win big as he faced #5 Shane Vanderson in the second semifinals match of the day. Vanderson would struggle throughout the match but gave it a great effort as he was able to make it to the semifinals match. Carson used Vanderson to prepare for his finals matchup tonight against #3 Ben Croft.This match was a great example of how the score does not necessarily reflect how great the match was. Both players were putting forth tremendous effort and it was a pleasure to watch. Game one began with dominating serves from Rocky Carson. Hawthorne had a tough time returning drive serves, which gave Carson a 4-0 lead. Both players were playing great and Andy fought hard but was unable to take this one as an avoidable gave Rocky game one, 11-3.
In game two, Andy skipped a lot of balls but kept fighting as hard as he could. Rocky got angry at some short serve calls by Charlie Pratt, but played through it. Hawthorne put some more pressure on Rocky in this game and it seemed to be anyone’s game. However, Rocky scored when he needed to and held Andy to three points with some great serves and shots. Carson took game two with a big lead, but it was not an easy win.
Andy Hawthorne is one of the best retrievers in the sport today and he showed that in this third game. He got a lot of balls that would normally end a rally and did his best to transfer the pressure to Carson. Unfortunately for him, Rocky played some great racquetball and took an early lead 4-1. Hawthorne battled to get some points, but Rocky ended his run as he took the game and the match, 11-6.
Alvaro Beltran d Jose Rojas 8-11, 11-8, 11-9, 12-10
What a great quarterfinal match! These two players have met a couple of times and it has always been a battle between them. Jose got an early lead in game one, but Alvaro used the corners to his advantage whenever possible. This game was very close and was a preview of how the entire match would go. Jose was able to take this game and put the pressure on Alvaro, 11-8.
Beltran used a high lob serve to Jose’s forehand that worked very well and game two was very even. Both players made awesome shots and it was a true test of how well each of them could play. Even though Jose took the first game, Alvaro did not show any signs of quitting and won this one, 11-8.
Game three was such a battle between these players and the crowd knew that it was anyone’s match. There were some absolutely incredible rallies and even though Jose kept Alvaro moving, the game was very close. Both players did their best to keep the other out of position and this game was neck and neck. Beltran was able to pull out the game three win, 11-9 and it started to feel like this intense match would go to breaker.
Game four displayed some of the best racquetball that spectators have seen all weekend. Alvaro and Jose hit some amazing shots and it was a very close game. Alvaro had an impressive 9-3 lead over the highly ranked Jose Rojas, but Jose fought hard to get to 7-9. It looked like this match would go to five games, but Alvaro fought hard to close the game and match, 12-10.
Shane Vanderson d Chris Crowther 4-11, 9-11, 11-2, 12-10, 11-5
Awesome play from Shane and Chris! The crowd sensed that this quarterfinal was going to be a close one. However, at the start it seemed like Chris was going to dominate Shane. In game one, Crowthers’ forehands were on fire and his drive serves got him weak returns. Chris took a 6-1 lead in this one, but it was still a very exciting matchup. Even though Crowther took this game, 11-4, Vanderson would not go down without a fight.
Game two featured much of the same play from Crowther with his big forehand shots. Vanderson had a small run during the middle of this game and was able to put some pressure on Chris. Shane fought as hard as he could to get the score to 9-9, but ultimately dropped this game, 11-9. Shane began to get very frustrated with all his missed opportunities.
Game three came and it became a do-or-die situation for Shane. Many people placed Shane as a dark horse to win this event and in this game he displayed why he could go all the way. He captured an early 5-1 lead. Crowther saw that Vanderson wanted this to go longer than three games and quickly tied up the score. Shane began to get even more frustrated at his missed shots and busted one of his racquets on the floor. Both players were missing shots in this game, but Shane made fewer mistakes and took this one, 11-7.
Suddenly, the entire momentum of the match had changed. Shane came into game four with new life. He was playing nearly flawless racquetball. It was very basic serve, return, and kill play from Vanderson. Crowther had a tough time returning Shane’s high lob serve to the forehand. Vanderson took a huge 6-1 lead and everyone predicted a tiebreaker. Chris gave it his all to get to 10-10 in this game, but Shane’s drive to win was too much and he ended up taking this game and forcing a game five, 12-10.
A huge tiebreaker in the quarterfinals began. Many thought that Shane was down and out after losing the first two games, but he fought hard to get to this point. Crowther looked very tired out there and no doubt the long match took a toll. Vanderson took an early lead and was up to 10 on Crowther and just needed to close. After a few side-outs, Crowther did everything he could to come back and try to win, but Shane rode all the way to the end and pulled out an incredible win, 11-5. Shane will meet Rocky in the semifinals tomorrow after this incredible win in the quarters.
Round of 16 results, and recaps by IRT Intern, John Beninato
Ben Croft d Felipe Camacho 11-6, 11-8, 11-5
Felipe Camacho came into this match looking to upset the number three player in the world, Ben Croft. In game one, Ben nailed some backhand shots and took an early lead, but Felipe kept pressure on him by cutting of lobs. However, as the game went on, Camacho lost some of that fire and began to wait on Croft’s lob serve more. Ben obviously noticed this and started to use a variety of lob serves. Croft dominated the front court, which frustrated Felipe. Ben hit a shot for the game that was called a skip and he got angered at the referee, proclaimed “That didn’t skip!” and “I’ll play to twelve”. The call led to a few points for Felipe, but Ben was able to close game one, 11-6.
Game two was very even at the start. Camacho put in a lot of work getting to some balls and took a lead 7-3. Croft, who is not one to shy away from confrontation with the referees, argued some calls and took some of his frustration out by drive serving. Ben fought to get back into this game despite some incredible gets from Felipe. Even though this one was closer, Ben did not get out of the driver’s seat and won, 11-8.
In game three, Croft decided to switch back to lob serving and got two quick points. Both players missed a lot of opportunities in this game and were getting very frustrated. The high number of unforced errors kept this one going back and forth, but eventually Ben Croft focused and pulled away from Felipe. Ben went on to win this game and the match, 11-5.
Javier Moreno d Tony Carson 11-7, 11-3, WBF
This match looked like a five-gamer, but after Javier won the first two games; things were looking bleak for Carson. Game one was very close, but Javier won, 11-7. As game two began, Moreno used his powerful and accurate forehand to score quick points. Everything seemed to be working for Javier and Carson could not produce an answer for Moreno’s serves. A frustrated Tony Carson dropped this game as well, 11-3. Just as game three was slated to start, Tony had to forfeit which gave Javier a ticket to the quarterfinals.
Rocky Carson d Ruben Gonzalez 11-3, 11-5, 11-8
Great effort from Ruben, but the young Rocky Carson took control of this match. Rocky chose to use drive z serves to Ruben’s backhand, which produced skips. Ruben had a tough time with the glass side wall and needed to get on the board in game one after dropping six points to Carson. A drive serve ace got Ruben his first point of the match and a few skips from Rocky brought Ruben to three. However, Carson passed and killed the ball well and took game one, 11-3.
Game two started with an early lead for Gonzalez and he showed that he can still score points on the best players in the world. Ruben scored points on some risky shots and made Carson work harder, but he lost this one as well, 11-5.
Even though Ruben knows that Carson is younger and had more endurance on the court, Ruben still gave it his all in game three. Rocky took an early 4-0 lead, but Ruben used his drive serve to get some quick points. Despite scoring more points each game, Ruben could not pull off a win and ended up losing game three and the match, 11-8.
Jose Rojas d Brad Shopieray 12-10, 11-6, 11-9
Great play from the young lefty against a tough opponent. In game one, Brad had victory within his grasp and just needed to close it out at 10-7, but Jose fought hard to get some points. Brad could not get that last point and ended up dropping this game, 12-10.
Rojas took control of this match in game 2 and put the pressure on Brad to make shots. Jose had some incredible gets and Brad struggled to get his drive serves into play. This game was not as close as the first, as Jose won, 11-6.
Game three was the last chance for Brad to take a game off the number 4 ranked player. This game was very close in the beginning; both players had 2 points. Brad and Jose missed some key shots in this game. Brad had some words for the referee after a few calls he disagreed with. He had trouble getting serves into play and tried his best to forget about the “bad” calls. Shopieray took an 8-5 lead, but Jose charged forward and brought it to 8-8. Brad fought hard in this one, but ended up losing this game and the match, 11-9.
Andy Hawthorne d Anthony Hererra 11-9, 12-10, 10-12, 11-1
What a very exciting matchup! Both players had great gets and put forth tremendous effort. Game one was a close battle, but Hawthorne was able to pull away to 10-8. Andy has some trouble closing this game, but after some back and forth play, took game one 11-9.
Game two started with more of the same from both players. Another very close game, but Andy took this one as well, 12-10. Even though Andy took a two-game lead, this match definitely looked like it was going to be a five-gamer.
In Game three, Andy worked hard to close out this one and Anthony fought to take this to a game four. The two were neck and neck in this game and they both had some remarkable gets. Anthony showed that he really wanted to win this match and took game three, 12-10.
Anthony pulled out a game three win and he needed to take this game, but Andy took a quick 7-0 lead. Herrera cooled off between games and Hawthorne capitalized on it by taking game four and the match, 11-1.
Alvaro Beltran d Charlie Pratt 11-6, 11-5, 11-9
Great match in Salt Lake! Even though it was only a three-gamer, it felt much longer and both athletes were digging deep to string together points. Alvaro seemed to have Pratt exactly where he wanted him in game one and was able to hold Charlie to 6.
Pratt came out in game two looking to put some pressure on Beltran, but Alvaro had answers for everything that was thrown at him. Pratt had a tough time taking control of the match and ended up dropping this one as well, 11-5.
Game three was by far the best game of this match. Pratt turned up the heat on Beltran and took a commanding 7-1 lead. Even though he missed a few easy shots in the beginning, he could afford to because it did not affect the score. Alvaro appeared to be a bit tired in this third game and it looked like a game four was coming, but Beltran fought his way back into the match. Pratt and Beltran both battled hard for the win, but Alvaro walked away with it, 11-9.
Chris Crowther d Arthur Schmeiser 11-1, 11-6, 11-1
Game one started with a thundering drive serve from Chris Crowther. Chris was dictating this entire game and took a big 6-1 lead. Arthur had some wonderful gets, but Crowther cruised to victory in game one, 11-1.
Crowthers’ drive serve got him weak returns in game one, but Schmeiser started to get better at returning it in this game. Arthur held his own in this match and kept it at 5-5 for a while, but Crowther surged forward to an 11-6 victory in game two.
Now Chris was starting to play like he was playing in game one. His serves were coming in nicely and kept Arthur off-balance. Schmeiser pulled out all the stops in this game and flew around the court, but he could not match his level of play to Crowthers’ and ended up losing the game and the match, 11-1.
Kane Withdraws as Pros Hit MonaVie Salt Lake City ProAm
“I’m definitely disappointed that I can’t go,” said the IRT’s #1-ranked professional, Kane Waselenchuk, who is just coming off of a 137-match record winning streak. “The MonaVie Salt Lake City ProAm is where I won my 100th match, so I’ll always remember it for that. It’s a good place for me.”
Right now Waselenchuk’s place is at home and working on rehabbing his back. The problem started at January’s Coast to Coast Open in California, where he stretched for the ball and felt a cramping feeling which progressively got worse. Although he could usually get it loosened up enough to play, not so during the Cactus Salon NYC Open finals. “It wasn’t budging today,” he said after his injury forfeit. “My back’s telling me no. My mind is telling me yes.” Reason won out as he set aside the potential to continue his record-breaking winning streak to make sure he’s healthy for the long term.
“It stayed like that for one-and-a-half weeks. Now it’s not as bad as it was but it’s not 100%. If it were the last tournament of the season and the #1 ranking depended on my playing, I would go out and compete. But, there’s a lot of season and a lot of tournaments left.”
Waselenchuck is treating his back with chiropractic care and acupuncture while waiting for an MRI. Whatever the doctor diagnoses, he knows he needs to sit this weekend out. “It won’t get better if I go. I have to make the decision based on what’s best for me and my body. It’s unfortunate. The MonaVie Salt Lake City ProAm has a great sponsorship with Brian Gill [MonaVie Sr. Dir. of Corporate Communications], who’s become a friend. I’m sure they’ll understand that my withdrawl is about longevity. I have to look out for more than just one tournament.”
In the meantime, Kane will be doing what’s necessary to get ready for the next Tier 1 pro stop, working toward getting back to 100%.
Pros Hit Salt Lake City for MonaVie Salt Lake City IRT ProAm
It seems fitting the tour returns to the MonaVie Salt Lake City ProAm, where #1 Kane Waselenchuk logged his 100th win in a row, for the 1st Tier 1 event since #2 Rocky Carson’s bittersweet victory (fft-Injury) in January’s Cactus Salon NYC ProAm ended Waselenchuk’s winning streak. Carson, along with other top tour professionals, will bid to bring home the championship in the best three out of five games, not one. Will “the old Kane be back” like Waselenchuk said?
The fans and players will be back, too. With twenty facilities offering racquetball courts in the area, the large racquetball community has embraced the event, drawing a wide-range of support including almost 200 entries in its first and second years.
It’s the kind of thing that Verl Workman, a professional speaker and motivator, has seen unfold as a sponsor and a volunteer. “The MonaVie ProAm brings something bigger than the individual to the sport. What I see are local professionals working together, forming committees, and traveling to different states to play in other tournaments. I feel gratitude from everyone who gets involved, whether wiping the courts, setting up, or obtaining food sponsorships. What the IRT does is make players come together for something greater than any one individual. Each participant, including the pros, are normal people just like you and me who do this because we love the game.”
Love of the game and a philosophy of living “A More Meaningful Life” made a natural fit for the title sponsor, MonaVie (www.MonaVie.com ), a maker of body-beneficial products that provide antioxidant support, joint, heart, and immune health. Brian Gill, MonaVie senior director of corporate communications drew the connection. “We believe that we are improving people’s quality of life—for the rest of their lives—through our unique products and rewarding business opportunity.”
With samples of MonaVie products available during the event, top-notch food, a Junior Clinic, ProAm Doubles, Play the Pro Event, and the Party with the Pros Saturday after the finals, (no matches will be played on Sunday) both players and fans hold lofty expectations for the 2nd MonaVie Pro/Am, held February 1-4 at 4,600 feet above sea level in the area’s premier racquetball and fitness facility, the Sports Mall. Watch the action at the IRT Network, http://enetlive.com/irt/