Counting Down to the 2013-2014 IRT Season

altFinalIRTLogo-600In past seasons, we occasionally saw a relatively unknown young player make some noise against a seasoned veteran on the men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT).  The new player rattled off a sequence of spectacular shots leaving everyone shaking their heads.  “Who is this guy?”  Reality normally settles in at some point and the higher-ranked player survives, but the seed is planted in the back of everybody’s mind.  “Wow.  That guy was really good.  How good would he be if he played the tour full time?”

The 2012-2013 IRT season showcased quite a few younger players who didn’t just make an appearance at a Grand Slam Event.  There were quite a few of these younger players who participated in over seventy-five percent of the tier one stops, including players like Javier Moreno, Alex Ackerman, Jose Diaz, Jansen Allen, and Marco Rojas. Each made at least one quarterfinal appearance, but Alex made two and Javier made four.  Even those who didn’t play as many events had some impressive runs in spot tournaments.  Those include semifinal appearances by Daniel De La Rosa, Nick Montalbano, Alejandro Landa, and Marco Rojas.

The showing by the lower-ranked players and their ability to gain appearances in quarterfinal and semifinal matches last season was impressive.  There were only a handful of such occurrences during the 2011-2012 IRT season.  The more events they play this season, the better they will be able to refine their approaches and game plans against the higher-ranked tour veterans. The 2013-2014 season should be really interesting with a youthful movement pushing deeper into the draws than we’ve previously seen.
Charlie Pratt:

Charlie has been a top eleven player on tour since the 2009-2010 season.  Viewed as a consistent player with a solid approach, everybody has been waiting to see if Charlie can break out.  He has made a handful of quarterfinal appearances the last couple seasons, but never able to push beyond that and not always able to get out of the round of sixteen.

The 2012-2013 was a huge struggle for Charlie.  A major ankle injury after the first few stops looked to end his season.  He did come back and play a couple stops at the end of the year, but four round of sixteen appearances and one quarterfinal was not enough to hold his ranking.  He slid to #21.  This season will be starting all over for Charlie.  The drop in ranking will give him a tougher starting point in the qualifying divisions and hurt his chances of going deep into the draws.  His first goal is to stay healthy.  The next one is to get back into the top ten. 


Anthony Herrera:

Anthony finished a career best #10 for the 2010-2011 season, but slipped to #12 the following season.  Last season Anthony only made seven of twelve events, and it was a bag of mixed results.  One quarterfinal appearance was negated by a round of thirty-two exit, with the remaining appearances in the round of sixteen.  Not playing enough events had the biggest impact on Anthony last season as his ranking slipped to #16. 

Anthony’s lack of events played resulted primarily from scheduling conflicts as opposed to injury, so the good news is that he goes into next season healthy.  To regain his ranking he needs to play more events, especially if he can’t get deeper than the round of sixteen in the tournaments he plays. 
Shane Vanderson:

Now considered a tour veteran with over eleven seasons under his belt, Shane has finished in the top eight every year since the 2004-2005 season.  The most impressive thing about Shane’s last season was that he only played seven tier one events and still managed to finish #8.  He had three round of sixteen exits, three quarterfinals, and one semifinal berth. 

Shane is moving into the semi-retirement stage of his career.  He is planning on playing limited events this season.  He’ll probably be at all the Grand Slams and any Florida tier one events, but the lack of consistent play and fewer events will erode his ranking and allow for younger professionals to push into the top eight this season. 


Tony Carson:

Tony had a career season and cracked the top eight.  Slow and steady progress the last three seasons saw him chip away from #11 in 2010-2011, to #9 in 2011-2012, and finish an impressive #7 at the end of last season.  Tony only missed a couple events and made the quarterfinals in half of all tier one events, with round of sixteen exits in the other two.  Those results were a steady improvement over his 2011-2012 season where despite a semifinal appearance and three quarterfinals, half of his tournaments finished in the round of sixteen.

Tony still has the ability to get better.  A few impressive seasons under his belt, getting consistently better each year, and still in the early stages of his prime are all things that lean towards Tony having another great year.  Starting the season in the top eight is huge as he won’t have to waste valuable energy in the qualifying rounds.  A great season for Tony will be to make almost every quarterfinal and push into a couple semifinals.  That would allow him to push the couple guys ahead of him and give him the chance of moving up the ranks for a fifth straight season.


Ben Croft:

Ben has finished in the top eight since the 2007-2008 season.  He finished as high as #3 a few seasons ago, and even won a tier one stop a couple years ago.  Ben only missed one event last season, and had results all over the board: two finals, three semifinals, five quarterfinals, and a damaging early upset in the round of thirty-two at the US Open.  The prior season had Ben playing every event, winning one, reaching semifinals in six of them, quarterfinals of four, and only one early exit in the round of sixteen.  The combination of worse results caused Ben’s ranking to slip from #4 to #6 to finish the year.

 It will be interesting to see how Ben regroups in the offseason as the 2013-2014 presents some challenges for Ben.  He has career losing records against the three best players ahead of him in Beltran, Carson, and Waselenchuk.  He is basically even with a slight edge in career matchups against the other two in front of him in Crowther and Rojas.  Not that it was going to be an easy road to begin with, but he faces a battle to try and push up in the ranks again.  The good news is that he has solid career winning records against those immediately behind him, so his ability to at least hold his position looks favorable for the year.
Chris Crowther:

Chris has finished in the top ten every year since the 2005-2006 season.  He turns thirty-five later this year, and despite being past his prime he continues to string together impressive season after impressive season.  Last year he matched his career best finish at #5.  Chris didn’t have a finals appearance last season after making one each of the previous two years, but a few semifinals, seven quarterfinals, and only one round of sixteen early exit was a very respectable year.

 Despite the challenge of keeping his back in one piece for the entire season, Chris has been one of the iron men the last few seasons almost making every stop.  Chris is in a similar position to Ben, having primarily losing records against the guys ahead of him and primarily winning records against the guys knocking on the door.  So, the goal is a late career push to shed any early round exits and get to at least every quarterfinal, make more semifinals, and give the other guy some trouble in a couple finals.


Jose Rojas:

After finishing a career best #3 at the end of the 2011-2012 season, Jose had a minor slip to the #4 position at the end of last year.  At twenty-three he is still one of the young guns on tour with a long career ahead of him.  He is still a few years from his prime, so we probably have not yet seen his best. Jose has been very reliable, making every tier one stop the last three seasons. Last season had him in one final, five semifinals, four quarterfinals, and two round of sixteen exits.  That was almost a mirror image of the prior season aside from swapping a semifinal and round of sixteen finish and the fact that he won the pro stop in an epics finals appearance in the 2011-2012 season.

Jose is winless in his career against Kane and Rocky, and almost fifty-fifty with the slight edge over Beltran, the three guys ahead of him in the standings.  However, the record against Beltran is a little deceiving as most of Beltran’s wins came during their first matches, and Jose won the last three times they played.  Look for Jose to hold onto a number four spot this season.  If he can shed any early round exits and make half of the semifinals this season, look for him to battle Beltran for the number three spot in the standings, but barring injury to the top two players on tour that’s probably as far as he goes.


Alvaro Beltran:

 It has been a long, hard road for Alvaro.  He is another tour veteran turning age thirty-five later this year.  He has finished in the top six in eleven of the past thirteen seasons, and the only two that he finished outside the top six were during the timeframe he was recovering from multiple knee surgeries.  Last season Beltran finished #3, matching his career best achieved during the 2007-2008 season.  Playing in almost every pro stop last season, Alvaro reached three finals, four semifinals, three quarterfinals, and one early exit in the round of sixteen.

The sun hasn’t set on Alvaro yet, but the clock is ticking.  As fans clamor for a rival to rise up and challenge Kane, many look to Alvaro.  While Alvaro does have a career “winning” percentage against Kane that is twice as good as Rocky’s, we are still only talking about twelve percent.  The thing that helped Alvaro was finishing the season #3 and getting on Rocky’s side of the draw.  Alvaro has the slight edge in career matchups against Rocky, so being on that side of the draw certainly helps increase Alvaro’s chances of more finals appearances this season, and gives him the ability to control his own destiny and try to pry the number two spot away from Rocky.


Rocky Carson:

Despite creeping outside his prime years after turning thirty-four earlier this year, Rocky continues to be one of the most consistent finishers on tour.  He’s played every stop the last three seasons, finished in the top eight each of the last fourteen seasons, placed in the top three each of the last seven seasons, and held the number two spot each of the last three seasons.

Rocky shows no signs of slowing down.  Last year he was impressive, making at least the semifinals in every tournament (four times), making the finals the other eight times and winning three of those. The two seasons prior Rocky got tripped up a couple of times each year in the quarterfinals or round of sixteen.  He was the only player not named Kane to win a pro stop last year, and he won three, more than the two seasons before that combined.

With one of the most impressive racquetball resumes currently on tour, it is going to be hard for Rocky to improve much on the results from last year.  It starts with no early exits and making the semifinals or finals every tournament.  While he continues to try and find a new game plan for Kane, if he hasn’t figured it out by now it might not exist.  A better bet might be to outlast Kane, as Rocky’s phenomenal conditioning has kept him on the court.  The one final he won against Kane last year was due to an injury forfeit, and the other two stops he won were helped by Kane not being in the draws due to injury.
Kane Waselenchuk:

 Kane has finished #1 on tour the last eight seasons he’s played, including the last five straight seasons.  Nobody in recent times has strung together such an impressive run.  Kane has made the finals in every tournament he played the last two seasons, only losing two due to injury forfeit.

Despite entering the later stages of his prime, for the most part Kane shows little signs of slowing down.  The only thing holding him back is his body.  We started to see chinks in Kane’s armor the past few seasons, as he’s had an injury forfeit in each of them, and a cranky knee has caused him to miss four events the last couple seasons.  While that normally shouldn’t concern him with the rankings since he wins everything else, the fight for the year-end title did get a little tight last season.  That was because Rocky was so consistent and made the semifinals or better every tournament and won all the tournaments that Kane didn’t.

Finishing anything less than number one would be an abysmal failure in Kane’s eyes.  He has put together some unprecedented results, and looks to continue to pile on and build some career stats that we will likely never witness broken.  He is the sure favorite going into next season.  It probably won’t be as easy for him as it has been in the past, but if he is able to stay healthy and keep his knee together we are likely to watch him march to yet another finish at the top of the ranks.