Why does the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) seed pros higher than their lower-ranked counterparts in top tier tournaments? An astute fan e-mailed us this question after noticing that #5-ranked Ben Croft was seeded #8 and #6-ranked Daniel De La Rosa was seeded #5 during the Coast to Coast California Open. The reason is two-fold. Here’s the history, how it works, and why it matters.
In the early ‘90s when guys like John Ellis started playing the Tour, they’d faced the number #1 player, usually Cliff Swain, every time. The IRT developed a system to shuffle the match-ups for the top 8 players. Now, the first tournament of the season and each grand slam remain a “straight” draw, where players are seeded according to their IRT rank: #1 at the top of the draw, #2 at the bottom, and the remaining players slotted in between.
In addition to a straight draw, the Tour uses three other combinations called “the flip.”
Flip 1: 1 versus 6; 2 versus 5, 3 versus 8, 4 versus 7
Flip 2: 1 versus 7; 2 versus 6, 3 versus 5; 4 versus 8
Flip 3: 1 versus 5; 2 versus 8; 3 versus 7; 4 versus 6
The flip is applied twice for every straight draw on a flip-flip-straight-flip draw schedule. This season, the first two tournaments were a straight draw: the opening NovaSors Ghost of Georgetown Kansas City Championships followed by a grand slam, the 2014 UnitedHealthcare US Open Championships. The Coast to Coast California Open was a flip 3 draw, pitting the #5 ranked pro, Ben Croft against today’s #1, Kane Waselenchuk, and #6 De La Rosa against #4. That’s why the IRT seeded Croft 8th and De La Rosa 5th.
In addition to mixing up the competition when there’s no change in the rankings between Tour stops, the IRT seeding system increases the incentive for players to climb up the pro ranks since the top four players bump into a “better” quarterfinal match, competing against someone ranked 5-8 rather than in the top four. Conversely, those ranked 5-8 all face off against a top 4 player.
Seeding becomes increasingly important as we near the season-ending ProKennex Tournament of Champions because the top 8-ranked pros are automatically eligible for the invitational. Where players are ranked also determines who will face today’s perennial top seed, Waselenchuk, earlier in the draw. As of January 8, a straight draws gives #8 Tony Carson the opportunity while one of the flips sets Ben Croft, Jose Rojas, or Daniel De La Rosa against the Tour’s 8-time World Champion.
The newest rankings will be out soon, ramping up excitement as the season builds to a finish at the ProKennex Tournament of Champions, offering fans in the Northwest the chance to rub shoulders with world-class athletes on the MAC’s famous Court 10, while also supporting the Military Racquetball Foundation, a humanitarian organization using racquetball to help hundreds of veterans.