Kane Waselenchuk at 2012 Ektelon Nationals by restrungmag.com

2012 Ektelon Nationals presented by Penn

The world’s best racquetball player, #1 Kane Waselenchuk defeated #6 Alvaro Beltran 11-3, 12-10, 11-2 in the finals of Ektelon Nationals presented by Penn, capping off an incredible 2011-2012 IRT season. This marks Kane’s 7th year end #1 title and earns him the top spot in the record books. Click for draws and a recap of the finals by John Beninato.

Click HERE for the qualifying draw and links to all of the brackets.
Click HERE for the pro draw and links to all of the brackets.
The Final: Match recap by IRT Intern John Beninato:
 

Kane Waselenchuk d. Alvaro Beltran 11-3, 12-10, 11-2

 

Impressive play from the number 1 player in the world. Kane came into this final with a very quick win last night against Polo Gutierrez and wanted to make quick work of Alvaro. Kane would have been ranked number one at the end of the season with or without a win against Beltran, but wanted to end the season on a high note. In game 1, Kane hit some incredible drive serves and targeted Alvaro’s backhand during the rallies. He jumped out to and early 4-0 lead and Beltran did not have any answers for Kane. Alvaro skipped some easy shots in this game and Kane took this game easily, 11-3.

 

Game 2 was a lot more exciting and Alvaro showed that he still has the ability to score points on a very tough opponent. This game started off similar to the first one with Kane getting an early lead, but Alvaro dug deep to stay alive in this match. Beltran started hitting some great serves that got him weak returns and tied it up at 4. A few calls from Charlie Pratt upset Kane and he was visibly frustrated. This game became much more of a battle and Alvaro pulled away to get a game point. An unforced error on Alvaro led to a side-out, but then a penalty hinder call on Kane put Alvaro back in the box. Waselenchuk was very upset over the call, but was able to hang on and won this game, 12-10.

 

The door was closing for Alvaro and he had to put some pressure back on Kane. It seemed that Waselenchuk wanted to end the match quickly and took a commanding 6-0 lead. Kane put in a ton of effort and made some incredible shots. Alvaro could not get many points because Kane took advantage of every opportunity. Waselenchuk got match point and hit a blistering forehand down the line to take this game and the match, 11-2.

 

Semifinal recap by IRT Intern John Beninato
 
Alvaro Beltran d. Rocky Carson 3-11, 12-10, 7-11, 11-8, 11-5
 
What a great semifinal match! Alvaro has bested Rocky the last few times they met, so Rocky was looking to prove himself in this one. Game 1 started with a backhand lob Z serve from Rocky, which was rather unexpected. Alvaro elected to go with a high lob to Rocky’s forehand, which has worked well for him in the past. There were some great rallies in this first game and Rocky made sure to mix up his serves to keep Alvaro off-balance. Carson put the ball down incredibly well and took a commanding lead. His serves were working really well and dominating Alvaro in game
1, 11-3.
 
In game 2, Alvaro primarily used a high lob to Rocky’s forehand and got some quick points with that serve. Beltran knew that he had to change the momentum of this match, which clearly was in Rocky’s favor. Alvaro jumped to an early 5-1 lead, but Rocky fought hard to tie it up. Carson had some trouble getting his first serve in and this game went
to Beltran, 12-10.
 
Rocky wanted to put the pressure back on Alvaro in this game and came out with some great serves. Beltran left the ball up a lot in this game and Rocky took advantage of the setups. Carson looked as crisp as he did in game 1 and hit some great shots that frustrated Alvaro. Beltran tried to use some different serves to get some points and made a
short run in this game, but ultimately lost to a very strong Carson, 7-11.
Alvaro clearly wanted this match to go to 5 games to prove that he is still capable of beating Rocky, no matter the venue. Game 4 was a great battle and both players showed that they wanted nothing more than to come away with a win. Alvaro skipped a lot of shots in this game and that opened up a window for Rocky. Beltran did not execute shots when they mattered most, but was able to force a tiebreaker by winning this game, 11-8.
 
Kane Waselenchuk d. Polo Gutierrez 11-1, 11-1, 11-6
 
This semifinal was all Kane. Polo came in to this match with a great upset over the young gun Jose Rojas as well as another one over Chris Crowther, but Kane proved to be too formidable an opponent. In game 1, Kane set the tone early by moving Polo all over the court. Kane’s serves were great and he was able to get an early lead and establish control of this match early. Polo tried to score some points, but Kane had all the answers and won this game, 11-1.
Game 2 was a lot of the same as Kane continued to put the ball down from every position on the court. Polo could not get anything started and Kane put the pedal to the metal as he took this one, 11-1. Polo had some great wins earlier in this tournament, but could not find a way to get points on Kane.
Polo was able to get a couple of points on some tough offensive shots, but Kane was still in the driver’s seat. Waselenchuk stuck to a drive serve for most of the match and Polo had some answers to it in this game. Polo was able to hang with Kane for a little bit in this game, but eventually lost to a very strong player, 11-6. Kane had some trouble ending this match, but was able to close it out. What a great run from Polo at this tournament and I am sure that everyone hopes he will show up to more pro stops in the future! 

Kane Waselenchuk by restrungmag.com

The top seeds advanced into the quarterfinal rounds,with the notable upset or #13 Polo Gutierrez taking out #4 Jose Rojas as well as #9 Tony Carson

Rocky Carson by restrungmag.com

beating #8 Andy Hawthorne. Click above to see the pro draw match results.

 
 
 
 
 
 
Ektelon Nationals presented by Penn Preview
 
If #1 ranked Kane Waselenchuk deserved a book-length description as IRT Contributing Writer Bryan Shaw noted in the 2011-2012 IRT season preview, he just added another chapter. The 6th time #1 World Champion, who walked into the season-opening Ghost of Georgetown Kansas City ProAm with a record-setting winning streak spanning three years, ends the season with a lock on another record: a 7th year-end title—despite missing three events after he forfeited in the finals with a back injury during the Cactus Salon NYC ProAm. He was philosophical at the time (“Such is life.”) and stated he was shooting for the year-end title, not a winning streak. A ferocious competitor on the court, he plays to win big, yet will compliment his opponents and encourage up-and-coming players on the tour. After returning from his injury, he quickly squelched any question of his dominance, taking the remaining tier 1 titles to amass an 8-1* tournament win record in the season leading up to the 2nd annual Ektelon Nationals presented by Penn.* 1 loss due to an injury forfeit.

Rocky Carson by restrungmag.com#2 Rocky Carson battled in 7 finals this season to take a commanding lead ahead of #3 ranked Ben Croft, his closest competitor in the rankings. Rocky most often faced Kane in the championships, including when Kane forfeited during the Cactus Salon NYC ProAm. “I never wanted to win that way,” Rocky said in the post-match interview. Yet, Rocky struggled afterwards, if you can call reaching four out of seven championship matches in the second half of the season (instead of four out of four during the first half) “a struggle.” Perhaps you can’t. With 14 career tier 1 titles, Rocky is among the only twelve professionals to have won ten or more top events in the near forty-year history of tour records. The consummate gentleman and professional on and off the court is still looking for the key to beating Kane, joining Alvaro Beltran as the only players to force Kane to two four-game matches in the finals this season.

Ben Croft by restrungmag.com

#3 Ben Croft won his first tier1 title this year, despite balancing his training with a fulltime job at Racquetball Warehouse. The fiery player known for his tirelessly aggressive game style was visibly stiff and injured as he played in the semifinals of March’s Party with the Pros in St. Louis. He hadn’t recovered when he arrived at the Stockton ProAm the next month. With only eight ranking points separating the #3 player from his nearest rival, Jose Rojas, who is #4
in the season-to-date rankings, look for Ben Croft to fight to retain the #3 spot, ready for the kind of epic contest he and Rocky Carson battled during their semifinal match during the inaugural Ektelon Nationals presented by Penn last year.

Jose Rojas may have to let go of his up-and-coming moniker, as he rose in the ranks to #4 in as many years on the tour. As this young player is within a racquet length of the #3 spot, whether he and Ben Croft switch up their rankings may well depend on how each finishes during the season-ending event. It could go either way.
 

Jose Rojas by restrungmag.com

Just one week after Ben Croft logged his first Tier one title, Jose joined him in the Tier 1 champion “club.” With four quarterfinal and six semifinal appearances plus his first tier one title, the college student and leader of the Stockton powerhouse racquetball community is just starting what could lead to a world championship career. Yet, with a quarterfinal upset from #5 ranked Chris Crowther in Jose’s hometown during the Stockton ProAm last month, look for Jose to come out firing to prove that he belongs with the top three professionals on the tour.

 
Chris Crowther’s large reach extends to the #5 ranking, as he walked away from last season with the best finish in his career. The 2011 Red Swain Shootout finalist demonstrated that he’s always a threat to advance to the top slot on the draw, playing to three quarterfinal and three semifinal finishes when he earned his way past the round of sixteen. Look for this 2011 E-Nats semifinalist to work for a spot on Sunday, defending his #5 ranking against Alvaro Beltran, and threatening any other player he meets in the draw.

Alvaro Beltran by restrungmag.com

#6 Alvaro Beltran’s meteoric rise up the rankings is a surprise to no one, as knee surgery took this top-four finisher temporarily out of the tour. Returning full time this season, the Last Man Who Beat Kane (spoken in the same hushed tone as He Who Cannot Be Named of Harry Potter fame) netted two finals, three semifinals and three quarterfinal finishes (along with an early exit in the US Open round of sixteen). While the shine of his victory over Kane back in January of 2009 has perhaps dimmed in the seasons since it played out, the confidence that Alvaro has the game to once again hand a defeat to the pro against whom he competed in the early years (and now holds a steely grasp on the #1 spot), likely has not. Within reach of the #5 ranking, Alvaro will be looking to climb closer with points earned at this season-ending grand slam pro stop.

Shane Vanderson by restrungmag.com

Re-signing with Head/Penn racquetball at the start of the season revitalized #7 Shane Vanderson’s career. This veteran’s position in the ranks had dropped from a career high of #5, due in part missing the 2010 US Open. This season he’s reached at least a quarterfinal finish in all but one tournament and pushed through to the semifinal round of the MonaVie Salt Lake City ProAm. Shane’s wicked backhand and make (or break) game style make him a contender, especially if he dials into the zone where rolls every shot off the front wall.

Andy Hawthorne by restrungmag.com

Andy Hawthorne reeled in a career high at #6 after bouncing around the #9 & #11 for five years, settling in at #8. This year Andy reached his first, and only semifinal early, at the 12th Annual Ghost of Georgetown season opener, yet played into every quarterfinal since, except for his round of sixteen exit in the San Diego Open and the Stockton ProAm, which he missed following an emergency appendectomy. Look for Andy to push for and past his seventh quarterfinal appearance of the season.