Nearly 30 years after winning his first International Racquetball Tour (IRT) pro stop at the Davison Athletic Club in Davison, Michigan, Cliff Swain took to the courts with his newest competitor—his two-year old son, Liam, who was born on the tenth anniversary of the death of Cliff’s dad, Red Swain, in whose honor the tournament is named. They can already plan for the rematch. Tournament Director, Don Schopieray and IRT President, Jason Mannino, locked down the Red Swain Shootout dates for the for the next three years.
“I wanted to sign with Jason so we could take advantage of advance opportunities for promotion and planning,” explained Don. “We’re already pumped up for next time. It’s like having a racquetball party at your club, with all of your friends and the best players in the world arriving for the weekend.”
The party started on Thursday, as amateur and pro competition lead to Saturday’s semifinal and final matches for both the Open and Pro divisions (although the Open final was forfeited). The “wildly popular” schedule made for entertainment opportunities around the action on the center stage. #13 ranked Head/Penn sponsored Brad Schopieray and Ektelon’s #9 Andy Hawthorne set up a demo section around the court, allowing people to try out racquets while giving them pointers as they hit with the newest line of gear. With other pros hanging around, everyone had the chance to mingle while getting playing tips.
Fans also had the unique opportunity to hear the kind of insights on the pro matches not usually apparent to the amateur eye. Cliff Swain stepped up to answer audience questions. “There were so many questions during the match, from why one pro was hitting harder than the other and why Kane is so dominating,” recalled Cliff. “I realized people don’t completely understand what’s happening. I plan to answer questions at this and any other tournament when asked. Fans enjoy knowing more about what’s really going on.” Obvervations about the game from someone with Cliff’s experience brought aspects to light than what many of us normally see.
#1 Kane Waselenchuk demonstrated his mastery, rolling through to the final, giving up only 31 points in 12 straight games while all of pros battled him and each other on their way through the draw. #7 Shane Vanderson and #4 Jose Rojas gave the fans a closely fought quarterfinal match down to the tiebreaker. #3 Alvaro Beltran fought off a nagging back injury and #6 Tony Carson to five games in the quarterfinals before taking #2 Rocky Carson to another tiebreaker in the semis. At first, the match did not look like it would go to five games. Rocky walked off of the court in frustration for a -1 score in the first, but came back to win games three and four. In the end, Alvaro came out ahead -1, 1, (12), (11), 12-10 to face Kane in the final.
The competition off of the court heated up, too. Don described the high-level table tennis program at the club and how an impromptu challenge started up—in Ping Pong. “There was a group in the VIP area trying to beat each other. Rocky was the king of the table. Ben Croft was big in it, too. One of our local players from one of the Detroit clubs really held his own. He might have been a C or B racquetball player, but at table tennis he’s really good. Ben had the best score in the basketball shooting game. He walked around with his chest puffed up.” Don laughed about all the trash talking that went down, not centered on racquetball. “Everyone was feeling good. It’s a benefit of a Saturday night final.”
Don described how his staff, including Keith Bryan, Tom Blakeslee, and Rich Westerbrink do “99% of the work” for the tourney, so fans, sponsors and players had the chance to play a well-run match schedule and interact in other unique ways. Instead of a Sponsored Pro/Am doubles, fans could bid for an hour with a top-eight pro. “Kane spent an extra hour on the court, which he didn’t have to do. Chris Crowther wound up chatting in the VIP Lounge. All that his sponsor wanted was to ask him some questions over a couple of beers. The sponsors loved the chance to spend time playing or chatting with their favorite pros.”
Providing the chance to mingle and watch world-class racquetball is 100% worth the time and effort, according to Don. “There are so many things that go on during the week of the tournament that are priceless. You can’t get that kind of stuff anywhere else. The players are so cool to work with, doing what I asked without complaint. I don’t know how many people told me what a nice guy Rocky is. Ben, who comes off as really competitive on the court, is also such a nice guy in person. I can see that he just really wants to win.”
This tournament takes Ben back to his home territory. “Growing up just north of Chicago I’m a little biased toward the midwest,so I love going to Davison for the Red Swain memorial. It’s such a lowkey, but very competitive atmosphere, and the people are very down to earth.”
Don enjoys the other tournaments at the club, but it’s not the same as having a Tier 1 pro stop. “The members can’t believe it when they see the event and already are talking about how they can’t wait for next year.” Ben joins those who are glad they’ll have the chance. “Davison overall is just a fun place to play. The old school club, smoothly run tournament, and down-to-earth people reminded me why we need more tournaments in the midwest!”
Players had a few weeks to recover physically and mentally from the US Open in Minneapolis before heading to Michigan. The Red Swain Shootout is the only Tier One memorial tournament on the schedule, bringing awareness to the memory of Cliff Swain’s father while raising money for The Angel Fun, a charity supporting patients with ALS disease. The Red Swain is one of the final two major tournaments before 2012, so the players looked to make one of their last impressions of the year before heading into the holiday break.
While a lot of fans realize that Kane and Rocky will probably face each most finals this season, they also want to see somebody else get a shot at ousting Kane in the final. While Rocky’s style consistently works against every other player on tour, it doesn’t work against Kane. Fans sometimes think it is better to send a shooter like Jose or Shane against Kane, but it seems like a better idea at the time until they actually play and the results appear no different. Then fans think that a scrappy player and retriever might be a better option like Croft, Pratt, or Hawthorne, until the match-up happens and the fans realize, again, there is no difference. Fans still remember Alvaro as the last one to take a match off Kane and pushed him to the brink before that win, but we haven’t seen the post-surgery Alvaro able to produce that challenge. The fans, left with no other option, look to pure power, and Chris Crowther with his tremendous frame and leverage appears to be the only player capable of matching Kane in raw, unadulterated power.
So, on finals Sunday the crowd was excited about seeing a new match-up instead of the standard Kane and Rocky show. Maybe Chris would be able to continue the serving clinic he had shown the tournament. Maybe Chris would be able to overpower Kane and knock his uncanny touch. Maybe…maybe…maybe not. Kane showed up on Sunday ready to prove a point. He did. The odds were against Chris for many reasons, but not facing Kane recently meant that Chris was going to have to learn on the fly and make quick adjustments to try and grab control of the match. Kane had different ideas, and returned seemingly ace serves from Chris with perfect returns that left us all scratching our heads. “Wow. Did he really just do that? Yes. He did.” Kane made quick work of Chris, not allowing him to get in a groove, and countering every great shot with a better shot in reply. Sunday was over in a quick three games with Kane winning 11-2, 11-2, and 11-4.
The semifinals were set to feature a couple of pairings that we’ve seen before: Kane vs. Jose and Ben vs. Chris. Kane has absolutely owned Jose during all of their prior meetings. In fairness, Kane appears to own most opponents the past several years, but it is different with Jose. Aside from being pushed to a 12-10 victory in the 2009 US Open, Kane typically keeps Jose under five points a game in any recent match-up. This tournament was no exception with Kane showing no mercy and dismantling Jose in a quick three games, 11-1, 11-3, and 11-4.
The second scheduled semifinal was a bit more intriguing. There is a little history between Ben and Chris. Granted, most of their match-ups have been testy, but they carry a relatively even record in head-to-head match-ups in Tier One events during their careers. Chris won their last match-up, as recently as the US Open only three weeks prior, and in three games. Chris battled for every point and blistered missiles to win game one 11-8. Ben rebounded and played much better in game two to turn the tide and win 11-5. Game three was tight, but Ben kept his lead over Chris to hold onto an 11-8 win. Game four was pushed to the max and Chris gritted through for a 12-10 win in extra innings. That brought it all down to game five to see which player was going to make it to his first final of the season. Chris’ serve caught fire again and he rode that to an 11-6 victory in game five to give us our first non-Rocky/Kane final of the year.
The quarterfinals featured the usual suspects. The match-ups all looked interesting: Kane Waselenchuk vs. Andy Hawthorne, Jose Rojas vs. Shane Vanderson, Ben Croft vs. Charlie Pratt, and Rocky Carson III vs. Chris Crowther.
While Andy probably beat the Vegas over/under on the match, Kane continued to dismantle his opponents with frightening efficiency, winning 11-7, 11-4, and 11-4.
When Rocky and Chris face off, it is typically a battle as the big boys wrestle for court positioning. Rocky took advantage of Chris getting off to a slow start and won the first game 11-5. However, Chris locked in his serve and started firing some major heat to upset Rocky by winning the next three games 11-6, 11-4, and 11-6.
The crowd anticipated a great potential match between Rojas and Vanderson, who were the respective #4 and #5 seeds coming into the tournament. Both players are natural shooters, but they basically took turns getting hot. They flip-flopped games with Jose eventually coming out on top winning the match 11-4, 5-11, 11-8, 5-11, and 11-4.
The Croft-Pratt match was another one that had the crowd buzzing. While Croft was the #3 seed and Charlie was #6 coming into the tournament, Charlie has been playing some really good ball over the last year and giving the upper seeds lots of trouble. Couple that with Ben struggling the first round, and the crowd was destined for a five-game battle. All the games were tight. Both players were neck and neck, trading great shots and great gets. The players traded games with Ben winning game one 11-7, Charlie winning game two 11-6, and Ben winning game three 11-7. Then, the guys pushed it into extra innings. Charlie won game four 12-10, and Ben outlasted him in game five to win game five and the match 12-10.
Round of Sixteen
All the regulars were in the mix for the tournament except Alvaro Beltran. There were a couple interesting match-ups with Tony Carson facing off against Andy Hawthorne and Cliff Swain set to battle Jose Rojas.
All the top seeds advanced, most in three quick games. The Carson-Hawthorne match-up started out lopsided with Andy rolling to an 11-1 victory in game one, but the next two were tight with Andy winning the second 11-8 then losing 9-11, before locking back in to finish game four and the match 11-3.
Cliff showed flashes of his play from yesteryear, but produced inconsistently. Jose played well to show he is a legitimate force on tour winning 11-6, 11-5, and 12-10.
Ben Croft had trouble finding his groove in his opening round match against Canadian James Slamko. Slamko is no slouch and has considerable game. Unforced errors from Ben plus mounting frustration kept this match close throughout. Ben dropped the first game 5-11, and then went on to win 11-8, 11-7, and 12-10.
The Red Swain Shootout is a new pro stop for the 2011-2012 IRT season.