January’s three tier ones began as the pros kicked off the second half of the 2013-2014 IRT season on day two of 2014, arriving at the Coast to Coast California Open before crossing the country to the Cactus Salon NYC ProAm and halfway back again, into the cold grip of an upper-Midwestern winter for the Lewis Drug ProAm, in Sioux Falls, SD.
In California, Kane Waselenchuk solidified the #1 ranking he’d reclaimed after December’s ROLLOUT New Jersey Open, demonstrating why it felt good to be healthy as he powered through the Coast to Coast draw to defeat Rocky Carson in the finals. An injury forced Tony Carson from the tournament while Ben Croft, who missed New Jersey due to a shoulder injury, suffered an upset in the Round of 16 and missed the next two events. You can read all of the Coast to Coast CA Open match recaps here.
The big question at the Tour’s oldest Tier 1 in New York was whether Kane Waselenchuk could break his Cactus Salon IRT ProAm drought, as an injury forced his forfeit in the 2011 semifinals and withdrawal 2012. #7 Daniel De La Rosa made a run for the title, upsetting #2 Rocky Carson in four before falling to veteran #3 Alvaro Beltran in the semifinal round. Beltran came out firing in the final, but Waselenchuk was too much, earning the Cactus Salon NYC crown. You can read all of the Cactus Salon NYC Open recaps here.
With only one week off after two top pro stops, the IRT arrived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for the Lewis Drug ProAm, which uniquely offered a pro doubles division just a few weeks before National Doubles in February. The Tour’s longest-running tournament is also the newest tier one, allowing all of the top players to participate, although #7 Daniel De La Rosa missed due to a personal conflict and #5 Ben Croft due to injury. Several former top pros stepped out of retirement and onto the court, including Mike Guidry in the pro singles draw, Ruben Gonazalez in amateur divisions, and IRT President, Jason Mannino.
Lewis Drug events began with 13 professional players teaming up with sponsors for a single elimination mini-tournament of games to fifteen points, won by Jason Mannino and his partner. A former #1, Mannino took some ribbing after making a rare appearance on the court for the sporting competition as people asked, “Are you sore?”
The competition got tougher, as the inclusion of a singles and pro doubles divisions required players to compete in several matches a day, and at the end of January’s demanding schedule. Read the Lewis Drug match recaps here.
Immediately after Waselenchuk won the pro singles competition, he played in the doubles finals match, joking whether multiple matches made him the fittest player on the tour, referrencing commentary made by the the IRT Network team. Pro doubles proved to be the highlight of the tournament, with a full crowd onsite and online viewing how the top pairings played out. Jose Rojas and Rocky Carson defeated National Doubles Champions Tony Carson and Jansen Allen in the semifinals to face the ProKennex pairing of Kane Waselenchuk and Jason Mannino, making a rare appearance in top doubles competition.
“He was funny before the first serve,” said Mannino later. “He turned to me and said, ‘It’s awkward being on your team.’ We were used to wanting to kill each other on the court.” As the crowds watch the pros banter and battle, Waselenchuk/Mannino defeated Chris Crowther/Alvaro Beltran before winning against Rojas/Carson in a tight, 11-9 tiebreaker for the Tour’s only Pro Doubles Championships.
As the Tour’s schedule quiets in February to give space for the National Doubles Championships in Tempe Arizona, top tier competition will resume the first weekend in March, with the Florida Spring Break IRT ProAm in Tampa.