#3 Alvaro Beltran defeated #2 Rocky Carson at The Galaxy Custom Printing IRT Pro-Am for his second IRT Tier 1 Title. The victory was especially sweet for Beltran because it coincided with his mother’s birthday and her improved health after a one year battle with cancer. After the match, he dedicated the win to his mother.
Alvaro Beltran d Rocky Carson 11-8, 8-11, 11-5, 11-4
Alvaro Beltran stepped onto the show court for Sunday’s finals looking for his 2nd ever tier 1 title. The man who stood in his way is known for never handing over easy points, games, or matches. Beltran, after the match, stated that “Rocky Carson is a player who is never going to beat himself, he is going to make you beat him. When I had match point I felt like I needed to score 11 more points to win.”
Though Beltran carried himself to the finals with his typical laid back style, he appeared physically more healthy than he has in the past two seasons. As was the case in his previous match against De La Rosa, Beltran trailed early in the match. Down 4-7, Beltran mounted his come back and for the first time he relied on his drive serve. Beltran was able to stop many of the rallies early by positioning himself in the front court and taking a little off the ball, eliciting many kill shots. Beltran was able to come back and steal the first game from a Rocky Carson who appeared to be in control for the better part of the first game.
The second game would be similar in that Carson lead early and big. At 10-2, Carson was serving for the second game but was having trouble finding the final point, in part because Beltran was finding the right angles from his serve-return. Beltran began to score points and Carson’s lead begin to diminish. At 10-6, Carson took a timeout and was able to stop the hemorrhaging enough to pull out the 2nd game, although Beltran was able to steal away two more points to get to 8 and nearly take the game.
Beltran played his best ball of the tournament in the 3rd and 4th games, shooting the ball at astonishingly high percentages and never over-hitting. Surprisingly, he led for the entirety of these 2 games, only allowing Carson a total of 9 points. Carson valiantly fought off match point, forcing Beltran to serve for the match five times but ultimately succumbing. Whether there is a method to Beltran’s rope-a-dope style of racquetball is unclear, but it is hard to argue that Beltran plays his best ball when he is playing from behind. That is to say, Beltran thrives on pressure.
Though Carson is renowned for being hard to put away, Beltran’s performance at the event rivals any of Carson’s great comebacks. One would need to look way back into the IRT history books to find a tier 1 champion who seemingly was losing so many of his games. Throughout the event, Beltran invoked the spirit of his mother’s work ethic via interviews and social media. No doubt an added incentive to get the win was the fact that a year ago to date, Beltran was at a hospital bedside with his mother as she too was fighting from behind. He said this about her influence on him:
“Never doubt yourself. Great things don’t come easy—work hard and be patient, [have an] unbreakable will, and drink good quality whiskey.”
Blog by Tim Prigo
Rocky Carson is without a doubt playing the best racquetball of the field. En route to the finals he has not dropped a single game nor has he allowed any of his opponents to score more than 10 points in a single match. When he faced off against Jose Rojas in the first semifinal of the day, he again proved himself in a class of his own. Rojas struggled to put the ball down but he did hit the ball hard. Unfortunately for Rojas, this allowed for many long rallies – something which almost always favors Carson. Many in attendance were quick to note that Carson’s game style was more aggressive than had been expected. In addition to his decisiveness to go for more hard kills than passes and wrap-arounds. He had a stellar first-serve percentage. He only missed one first serve in the entire match, a screen call. Rojas on the other hand seemed to struggle to find his stroke. The match-up beckoned to 5 or 6 years previous when Rojas was new to the tour and taking his lumps from Carson regularly. Whether or not the absence of Waselenchuk had played into the psyche of Carson, one thing is for certain, he heads into Sunday’s final the heavy favorite.
Daniel De La Rosa has become quite the crowd favorite this season, and part of the reason may be that he always seems to find himself in the best matches of the tournament. When he faced Alvaro Beltran in the other semifinal, all in attendance crowded around the main court to watch the two greatest Mexican players of their era. The duo did not disappoint. It was clear, even from the warmups, that these two are great friends as they used each other as hitting partners before the start of the match. De La Rosa came out firing. He was slightly quicker and was hitting the ball more squarely. Though Beltran is infamous as a slow-starter, no one could deny that it was De La Rosa who was re-killing many of the balls for early match point. Up 7-3, De La Rosa was poised to take the first game but Beltran got his high wallpaper lob serves working to such a degree that De La Rosa could barely return them and when he did, he could do little more than hack at the ball. Though De La Rosa had the momentum on his side, Beltran, in a matter of minutes tied the game then ran the scoreline to 11. The second game was almost identical in terms of momentum shifts. De La Rosa was playing better ball throughout and winning the long rallies, but then Beltran would sneak in quick points, puling the rug from under De La Rosa.
This time however, De La Rosa aided Beltran by skipping the last 3 points of the game. Down 0-2, De La Rosa continued with the pattern of going up big in the third game. The difference being Beltran lacked the answers to come back. De La Rosa had been playing great all match (save some questionable shot selection in the second game), he just lacked the finishing ability, but by the third game he had worn down Beltran enough to where he could not make a late game push.
The fourth game went according to this formula, only more-so. Beltran only scored twice and it was evident that as the 4th got more and more out of Beltran’s grasp, he just gave up. The 5th game saw some amazing diving get rallies from both players, though more spectacular ones from the younger De La Rosa. Both players maintained their cool calm veneer but once the rallies got underway, both were jolting around the court, often leaving their feet. Once again De La Rosa found himself in the driver’s seat, up 10-7. Beltran looked worse for wear, skipping some late game shots that appeared to be more flails than miss hits. De La Rosa could not find a shot to put the match away. Beltran, in a feat of unbelievable composure, did not miss a setup for the rest of the match. He was a smooth as ever, siding the young player out not once but three times on match point. Beltran then began to score. Working his high lob, he was able to put balls down from center court where De La Rosa instinctively hit to. As Beltran scored his 10th point to tie the game for this first time in the match, the sense was that Beltran would win this game. De La Rosa, to his credit, did not skip the last two points but rather watched helplessly by as Beltran rolled the 11th then the 12th point to win one of the most epic matches of the season.
#3 Alvaro Beltran took the first two games and bounced back from a 7-2 deficit in the fifth game of semifinal #2 to beat #4 Daniel De La Rosa 11-7, 11-8, 5-11, 2-11, 12-10 to advance to The Galaxy Custom Printing IRT Pro-Am Championship Final. Beltran will face #2 Rocky Carson tomorrow at 12 p.m. Eastern in the final. Carson defeated #5 Jose Rojas in the first semifinal 11-4, 11-1, 11-5.
Alvaro Beltran d Daniel De La Rosa 11-7, 11-8, 5-11, 2-11, 12-10
Rocky Carson d Jose Rojas 11-4, 11-1, 11-5.
Blog by Tim Prigo
Alvaro Beltran must have expected a challenging quarterfinal as #7 seed Mauricio Zelada only needed four games in his upset victory of #7 seed Charlie Pratt to reach his first quarterfinal of the season. However, at least from the beginning of the match, Beltran was offered little resistance. One thing that was apparent from observing the match is how many more balls Beltran was shooting compared to Zelada. This has always been a strength for the aging Mexican star as he continually pulls out matches from younger, stronger, fitter players. Beltran was able to hit many more kill balls than Zelada and get out of rallies quickly. The first two games saw a very confident and relaxed Beltran cruise to uninterrupted victories. The third game featured what brought Zelada to the quarters. Athletic get-ability, crisp kill shots from his set-ups, and he cut off more shots that he was previously letting go off the back wall. This put pressure on Beltran and the third game of the match was by far the most competitive. Had Zelada been able to turn on one more weapon, his serve, he would have won the third game instead of barely losing 9-11.
Another fresh face in the quarters was that of referee and player Mat Majxner. He managed his first ever quarterfinal appearance at a tier 1 event in his career by way of Robbert Collins (in a very tight 5 gamer). His opponent, Rocky Carson, was no stranger to this position and as the #1 seed went in the heavy favorite to advance. Majxner proved that he was up to par early on, hanging with Carson in the score line 5-5 in the first game. Majxner did well when he shot reverse pinches and re-killed many of Carson’s serve returns in that manner. As game one ticked on, Carson’s class began to prove too much, as Majxner was hitting on the run far more than his opponent. Carson controlled the tempo of play and sent Majxner on a tour of the 40 x 20 court, hitting wrap around passes, pinches and around the world shots—all while maintaining center court. While Majxner did well in the first game, he only grew more tired while alternatively Carson grew stronger and more relaxed. The next two games were blowouts and Carson was shooting the ball at will and making Majxner hit many shots that were obviously not in his comfort zone. Majxner is a player with much ability but what should have been apparent to him as a take away from this match is how much stronger, physically, Carson appeared to be. If Majxner wants to see this round on a more regular basis, he will need to do just that—get stronger.
The most exciting match of the evening went to Jansen Allen and Daniel De La Rosa. After an early exit last weekend in Texas, many were looking to the young IRT star, De La Rosa, to make a strong showing at this event. On the other hand, Allen is due, perhaps more than any other player as he has made every quarterfinal of the year. But as is the case in Racquetball no amount of previous merit would earn a semifinal berth. The young Texan would have to earn it. Allen played beautifully. He was serving the ball wonderfully, keeping De La Rosa off balance and placing the ball into the corners with off-speed kills. It appeared early on that De La Rosa was uncomfortable playing against a player who touched the ball so well in the front court.
Having won the first game and winning the second, Allen realized that his 10-5 lead was slipping away from him and at 10-7 took a clutch timeout. Allen was able to regain serve when time resumed and put the final point on the score board to get out of game 2. De La Rosa was able to regroup in a big way, sending so many low percentage shots bottom board for winners that Allen really had no chance. However, with Allen not looking fatigued and De La Rosa’s game 3 win hinging more on behind-the-back kill shots than sound strategy the slight edge was still with Allen. Game four was the most competitive of the match. Both players played smart racquetball and relied heavily on some of their most potent weapons, their touch shots. As the duo racked up points simultaneously it was hard to give the edge to either player but it was Allen who broke out first taking the lead 9-6. With the match in hand, Allen needed to find only a few more points to advance. He was unable to find those points as De La Rosa unexpectedly switched to a high lob serve to Allen’s forehand. Allen replied with set-up after set-up that De La Rosa had no problem putting away. De La Rosa ran away with with game, scoring 5 straight points. The tiebreaker went much as the last 5 points of the fourth game had with Allen feeding De La Rosa set-ups from lob serves. Allen did not play well in this game and was only able to score 2 points. De La Rosa however, made Allen not play well and though it appeared at times that De La Rosa was not mentally up to the task, found a way to win.
In the last match of the night Jose Rojas took on Felipe Camacho. Rojas, on paper, was the favorite but Camacho, having had more success this season than the struggling Rojas, could prove a tricky roadblock. Rojas fans must have felt uneasy at the start of the first game as their man once again was trailing to a lower ranked player and was quite simply being outplayed. Camacho was hitting the ball well and made Rojas take many 38-foot shots from ceiling balls that came up as skips. With the lead at 10-6 Camacho looked to take the first game but slowly Rojas fought back. Camacho served for the game 3 times but was unable to hit the final nail. Rojas got his serve working, scoring 7 straight points to win game one 13-11. This took the wind out of Camacho’s sails to some extent as he was never able to recover a lead in the match. Rojas, like Carson, grew stronger as the match progressed. This is good news for Rojas as it appears his best ball is still in front of him. Rojas was able to turn up the pressure on Camacho by making his opponent pay with his backhand. Rojas has one of the best backhands in the world and it was on full display here.
Alvaro Beltran d Mauricio Zelada 11-2, 11-5, 11-9
Rocky Carson d Matthew Majxner 11-5, 11-1, 11-0
Daniel De La Rosa d Jansen Allen 11-7, 11-7, 4-11, 9-11, 11-2
Jose Rojas d Felipe Camacho 13-11, 11-4, 11-1
Round of 16s Results
Reaching Your Dream Foundation (RYDF) athlete #14-ranked Mauricio Zelada Upset #9 Charlie Pratt in four games in one of the first matches of the day at The Galaxy Custom Printing IRT Pro-AM. Two matches needed to be settled by fifth game tiebreakers: #13 Matthew Majxner beat RYDF athlete, #10 Robert Collins, and Daniel De La Rosa fended off #26-ranked RYDF athlete Mario Mercado.
Rocky Carson d Jeremy Best 11-1, 11-0, 11-0
Matthew Majxner d Robert Collins 3-11, 11-9, 7-11, 11-3, 11-5
Jose Rojas d Alejandro Herrera 11-7, 11-7, 11-5
Daniel De La Rosa d Mario Mercado 11-1, 10-12, 12-10, 9-11, 11-4
Jansen Allen d Sebastian Franco 2-11, 11-8, 11-7, 11-3
Mauricio Zelada d Charlie Pratt 4-11, 11-3, 11-5, 11-5
Alvaro Beltran d Filip Vesely 11-3, 11-8, 11-6
Felipe Camacho d Maurice Miller 11-2, 11-5, 11-9
BREAKING NEWS: Top ranked Kane Waselenchuk will not be in Atlanta due to an unforeseen family emergency. Waselenchuk and his family are healthy and he will be in Michigan next week for the Red Swain Shootout.
By Don Grigas
On October 29 the world’s best men’s professional racquetball players on the International Racquetball Tour will converge in Atlanta to take a bite out of The Big Peach in the first Tier 1 tournament there in nearly 20 years. The tournament – the Galaxy Custom Printing IRT Pro-Am takes – takes place at Recreation ATL in Lilburn, GA, a facility that has served as a hub for the Atlanta racquetball community and the surrounding region for several decades.
“This club has been here for a long, long time,” said Jason Chan, owner of Recreation ATL, affectionately known as “Rec Atlanta” to players. “As for the racquetball side, we focus on hosting racquetball tournaments and shootouts, and have hosted state and regional championships, as well as the Georgia Games every July. Players love our facility, and many players suggest it is the best racquetball facility in the entire region,” Chan said.
Although the club has hosted many amateur tournaments over the years – several of them Tier 2-5 events — the 2015-2016 IRT season will be the first time the top professionals will play in Atlanta since the 1997 VCI Atlanta Pro-Am. To put it in perspective: in 1997 Bill Clinton was president of the United States; Tiger Woods became the youngest golfer ever to win the Masters in Augusta, GA at the tender age of 21; Princess Diana died in a motorcade crash in Paris, France; “Titanic” won the Oscar for Best Picture; and Sudsy Monchik was on his way to earning his second of five Year End titles.
Organizers say the time is ripe for the return of top professional racquetball to Atlanta. “I am excited about adding a Tier 1 event in Atlanta this season,” said Jason Mannino, IRT president. “It is nice to get back to a major market with such a great and rich racquetball history. It’s also nice to see a tourney grow from a satellite tourney into a full blown Tier 1 event.”
The main sponsor for the tournament is Galaxy Custom Printing, and Donald Williams, CEO of Galaxy Custom Printing and chairman of the tournament, said he is thrilled to help facilitate bringing the IRT back to Atlanta. “For the last five years we have had an amateur tournament that started somewhat small, but has grown each year. I am extremely excited to be able to add Atlanta as a site for a Tier 1 tournament. I cannot tell you how super excited I am to bring the pros here.”
Williams said the goal is to make the tournament an annual event on the IRT tour. The top touring pros are expected to make it to the Atlanta stop, which is sandwiched between the Krowning Moment & Bobcat Open in San Marcos, Texas (Oct. 22-25) and the Red Swain Shootout in Davison, MI (Nov. 5-8). “Atlanta is a major transportation hub with the largest airport in the world, so the players will be able to get there easily,” Mannino said.
The tournament also will bring out a handful of the region’s top amateur players who on Thursday will try and qualify for the round of 16s in qualifying matches, according to Tournament Director, Chad Bailey. “We expect a number of the area’s top amateurs to register for the pro qualifying,” Bailey said. “The round of 16 is scheduled to go off on Friday.”
Among those intending to enter the play-ins is Georgia’s number one-ranked Matt Fontana, who is the state’s reigning Open Division singles champion as well as the 2015 Regional Singles Men’s Open champion. The regionals were played at Rec Atlanta. “I’ve played top competition in tournaments for more than 25 years, so I don’t expect to get butterflies or the jitters when I play a tour professional,” said Fontana, 44, who has won several Florida singles titles while living there.
Fontana is optimistic, yet realistic, when evaluating his chances of making it deep into the professional tournament bracket. “I know I can handle the top amateurs in Georgia, but the pros are at a different level,” Fontana said. He’s been training hard, and plays against other top Georgia amateurs like Jeremy Best (ranked second in the state) and Jim Minkel (ranked third).
“I am in good condition, but what I need to work on specifically is my drive serve. People say I have every shot in the book, but the drive serve is so important at that level. I have a good drive serve at this level, but the pros hit their serves harder consistently, so I need to learn to get a better, more powerful serve,” Fontana said.
A special Party With the Pros will take place Saturday night, including a Halloween Costume Contest. Prizes will be awarded for best costumes. “It should be a great party, a unique opportunity for fans to meet and mingle with the world’s best racquetball players,” Bailey said.
- Tournament runs from Thursday, Oct. 29 through Sunday, Nov. 1
- Tournament ball is the ProPenn HD (Purple)
- Pro matches televised on IRTNetwork.com
- Qualifying and Pro-Am scheduled for Thursday, Oct.29 begins on Thursday, Oct. 29
- Saturday festivities include a party and Halloween costume contest open to all
- Pro finals set for Sunday, Nov. 1
- Recreation ATL sports seven cement courts, with exceptional spectator viewing – including two glass walled courts
By Don Grigas
Don Grigas is an award-winning journalist who grew up on the south side of Chicago and is now living in Bolingbrook, IL, where he first developed a passion for racquetball. In 1979 Don played his first game of racquetball at the Bolingbrook Park District Racquet and Health Club. Within two years Don rose from a Novice to an Open player, and shortly thereafter became the club professional at the Naper Olympic Fitness Center for more than 20 years until that facility closed in 2007. After winning three state championships in doubles, Don retired from active playing and now writes for the IRT as well as working on other freelance projects.