The three most commonly asked questions I encounter at events are: 1. How much do you weigh? 2. How do you hit the ball so hard? And 3: Who’s the best racquetball player of all time? The first two are questions that I get sick of pretty quickly, but then I sit back and think about who is the greatest International Racquetball Tour (IRT) player of all time. When this discussion comes up, many names are thrown out there, and rightfully so. For this article I’m going to stick with the top three: Cliff, Kane and Sudsy. (In alphabetical order to avoid anyone looking too deeply into the order I speak of them in!) Here are my arguments of why each is considered by many to be the best ever:
Cliff not only had the most dominant serve in the game, but he also had the determination to never lose a point, let alone a match. Whoever has seen Cliff play knows how intense of a competitor he was and how he played with fire in his eyes. Referees were scared of him, his opponents were intimidated by him and the fans had to root for him! With an incredible serve, powerful forehand and unmatched drive to win, Cliff was a tornado that would tear down everything in his path to finishing No. 1. To beat Cliff you not only have to overcome the best serve to ever fly across the solid red line, but also overcome one of the fiercest competitors to ever play a professional sport.
Kane is the easiest player for me to speak about since I’ve played him many times over my eight-year IRT career. Kane is just an overall well-rounded player. He’s got an enormous serve, big forehand and backhand, great hands, and he can track down a lot of balls. Kane being so well rounded is what makes him great. If his serve is off, he still has 10 deadly weapons he can take you out with. To beat Kane you have to overcome his serve, then fight an uphill battle of 10 other platinum aspects of his game.
Sudsy was probably the most fun player to watch as a fan in the stands. He was a once in a lifetime player with a dynamic personality even bigger than his backhand. Sudsy’s sheer power and ability to pummel the ball through was out of this world, but that was followed closely by a sick ability to retrieve his opponents’ winners. On top of overpowering and frustrating his opponents by diving for any loose ball, Sudsy was a fan favorite wherever he went. To beat Sudsy you had to withstand the hardest backhands that anyone has ever seen, roll balls to avoid him forcing you to skip and overcome an overwhelming crowd that wants Sudsy to take you out!
That said this discussion falls back on my question, “who is the best ever?” My answer is: I have no idea! All three are players who in any era would be considered the best to ever play the game. Of course, it would be fun to see the top 16 players ever to battle it out in the draw of a century, but unless there is a major advancement in the time machine, that’s not going to happen! I am honored to have been around for all three of the most dominant players to play the game we love. So I can’t answer the question with any validity; all I can do is embrace the fact that they are the greats of our sports and enjoy hearing your argument of why you think one is greater than the others!
Ben Croft is a top-ranked pro racquetball player on the men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) and the Business Manager at Racquetball Warehouse, a top supplier of racquetball gear in the industry.