The 16th Annual US Open Racquetball Championships is in the books, getting the 2011-2012 IRT season off to an exciting start. The Rocky Carson-Kane Waselenchuk final was hard fought to the finish, with Carson taking the first game. Kane roared back to win games 2-4 to take his 7th US Open title and extend his unbeaten streak to 122 wins in a row. Click below for recaps and see how it all played out.
Click HERE to view the pro draw.
by IRT Intern Seth Brody
Waselenchuk d Carson (7-11, 11-2, 11-4, 11-7)
Rocky showed signs of life this time against Kane, but Kane had the same response as always. Win.
The most anticipated match of weekend began with an unexpected start. Kane Waselenchuk, trying to hold on to his amazing unbeatable win streak, looked slightly out of the normal range of play as game 1 began against #2 in the world, Rocky Carson. Carson would put the pressure on Waselenchuk just enough to post 11 points while keeping Waselenchuk to 7. This would be Waselenchuk’s second game lost this season since he lost one to Anthony Herrera at the Kansas City Open.
Game two looked like a change in season for both players as Waselenchuk found his mojo and drove up the score to 8-0 before a Carson get prevented a doughnut. Waselenchuk stole game two easily with a score of 11-2. As the big show rolled on, game three wasn’t looking any brighter for Carson. Waselenchuk kept Carson on the ropes the whole time. Carson was clearly out of his element. A quick surge to get on the board was huge for Carson but Waselenchuk shut off Carson’s power supply to take game three 11-4.
The last opportunity for Carson was finally here. He showed that he could win against Waselenchuk and now he needed to prove that he could win two more. Carson started out strong and took an early lead at 5-3, the largest lead he had since game one. Waselenchuk was in no way playing poorly, but seemed to be adjusting to Carson’s play. As these two juggernauts of the sport played on they were all square at 7-7. This was clearly the turning point in the game and possibly the match for Carson, as long as he could break away from Waselenchuk and score multiple points in a short amount of time. However, Waselenchuk finally outshined his competitor. Carson wouldn’t deviate from his original game plan and it seemed to affect his focus as Waselenchuk easily attacked Carson’s serves. Carson finally took a much-needed timeout to refocus. Waselenchuk needed that timeout as well as he used it to devise a four-point game plan to win the entire match. Waselenchuk kept to his strategy better than Carson to his allowing Waselenchuk to win game four 11-7.
In great fashion, the 16th US Open Championship would go to the 7-time winner, Kane Waselenchuk. As the season continues, with many more stops around the country, the question remains…how long can Kane Waselenchuk keep his winning streak alive?
by IRT Intern Brendan Giljum
Semifinal 2: Kane Waselenchuk defeats Jose Rojas 1, 2, 3.
Kane came into this game on a 119 match win streak, and his 120th win was as easy as 1,2,3, as the score suggests. Jose had almost taken a game off Kane a couple of years ago and Waselenchuk was out early to make a statement. He started game one with a very interesting backhand lob serve that had Jose confused right off the bat and worked for an early ace and several points. Game one depicted the flow of the whole match and Kane had control from the start like normal. He cruised to a game one 11-1 victory. Much could be said about game two, with every shot Kane hit hit hard and placed perfectly. Jose was no match for him in the second either falling 11-2. It appeared Jose was playing defeated from the beginning until game three when he came out strong and moving everywhere on the court to keep rallies alive. There were several rallies where Jose forced Kane to have to dive and really exert himself for the ball, but whenever Rojas gained any sort of momentum, Kane was there to steadily crush it immediately after. Kane continued his dominating performance over Jose and won game three by a score of 11-3.
Semifinal 1: Rocky Carson defeats Chris Crowther 1, 9, 5
Chris Crowther and Rocky Carson took the court in stylish fashion with a lavish introduction accompanied by a display of lights in one of the most anticipated matches of the tournament. Crowther, coming in absolutely on fire was looking to make a serious ranking shift and upset by defeating the number two player in the world, Rocky Carson. Game one started out completely the opposite of what Chris had expected as he went down 10-0 before getting a point and eventually losing the game 11-1. He seemed to be nervous and very stiff with his shots allowing Rocky to dance around the court and maintain position. In game two, Chris did much better job of using his size to his advantage and taking up most the court making Rocky have to dive all over the place around him. Much to Crowther’s disadvantage though, Rocky was able to remain calm and fight back whenever Chris took the lead, eventually winning a close one 11-9. Game three saw Crowther jump out to an early 4-2 lead by just playing smart, hard racquetball. Both players went back and forth in very long rallies until Crowther hit what looked like an emotional wall at 5 points. It seemed like he knew the end was coming and didn’t play as smoothly anymore. This allowed Rocky to dominate and control the rest of the game winning it 11-5.
Waselenchuk d Pratt (11-1, 11-4, 11-2)
by IRT Intern Seth Brody
Another great showing by Kane as he brought nothing less than his A+ game. Pratt played his best and gave an effort, yet it just was not enough to take down the king.
As this match started, with Charlie Pratt coming off a great win over Alvaro Beltran, Waselenchuk didn’t want to hear any of it. Waselenchuk busted out the gates with a huge 6-0 lead before Pratt played it smart and called a timeout. Pratt scored once but Waselenchuk’s commitment to excellence gave him 11-1 in the first game. Game two was tight at first as Pratt managed to hang with the big show for a few minutes. However, a storm was a brewing and Waselenchuk scored 11 with ease. Game three would be Pratt’s last chance to make a statement and tear down the throne. Yet, Waselenchuk was on fire as he displayed a game of power and finesse. With ridiculous shot followed by another ridiculous get, Waselenchuk made Pratt pay for his gesture to the crowd trying to get them rowdy. Waselenchuk hushed Pratt’s racquet and stole this game 11-2. Pratt maintained good composure and tried his hardest but his experience was no match for the experience of the one who holds the 119 straight match wins record.
Carson d Vanderson (11-5, 11-0, 11-6)
Carson won this match easily as Vanderson continued to skip shots and could not fix his errors.
With the immense pressure of the US Open, playing on the all-glass court, and trying to go home a champion #2 Rocky Carson took on #7 Shane Vanderson. Game 1 started out in favor of Carson with a comfortable grasp of the match. Vanderson’s dilemma was not being able to keep his shots in play. Skip after skip, Vanderson only managed a few points as Carson took game one 11-5. Game 2 is one that Vanderson would like to put in the past and forget about. Carson wasn’t giving up his huge lead as it eventually led to his 11-0 win. Vanderson didn’t change up his strategy against Carson. Vanderson’s frustration may have helped him score a few points to gain a small lead on Carson in game three however Vanderson’s skipping days weren’t over yet. After Carson brought the game to a tie at 6 each, Carson ran away with the match. Vanderson’s unforced errors gave Carson the game (11-6) and match.
#6 Chris Crowther d #3 Ben Croft 11-9, 11- -2, 11-8
by IRT Intern John Beninato
This was very hard-fought and emotional quarterfinal. From the very beginning, Crowther’s drive serve was working well. He used his drive serve to get a quick 3-0 lead and ran Croft around the entire court, making him dive. Chris was moving fast, so Ben switched to a lob serve to try and slow the pace of the game. Crowther kept making great shots and Ben started missing shots and got a warning for hitting the ball after the rally. This one was very close but ended with Crowther on top, 11-9. The second game started with a very quick 6-0 lead for Crowther. Ben was obviously upset that he was not getting points and missing shots. Croft got very emotional and was given 2 technicals for hitting the ball after the rally. Crowther steamrolled Croft in this game 11- -2. Ben knew that he had to pull it together and control his emotions if he had any chance at forcing a game 4. Croft finally got some points on Crowther and seemed to be settling down a bit. Chris was making it really tough for Ben to get some momentum because his drive serves were incredible and led to easy points. Crowther was up, but Ben starting to push and dig deep for points, which seemed to be working. Ben was putting some pressure on Crowther and came within 1 point of tying it up. The players went back and forth for a little while, leading some to believe that Croft would take the third game, but Crowther surged forward and won the game, and the match, 11-8.
#5 Jose Rojas d Andy Hawthorne #4 11-4, 11-8, 8-11, 11-2
by IRT Intern John Beninato
Both players were fighting hard for points and had some incredible shots and dives. Jose started the match with an early lead in the first and Andy had to fight to get points on him. Andy had some great gets and tried to string together some points, but ended up dropping the first game 11-4. Game two started with another early lead by Jose and Andy started to get frustrated because he could not score many points. Hawthorne started to pull it together and got some points, but Rojas was running him around the court and ended up winning the second game 11-8. As game three started, Hawthorne entered a must-win situation. He got a lead on Jose and he made some adjustments to his game. Andy was using a drive serve in the beginning of the match, but switched to lobs and started getting some points. Andy fought hard and forced a fourth game after winning 11-8. The way that these players were hitting the ball, 5 games seemed to be the probably course for the match. However, Jose wanted to close out the match in 4 and it showed when he got a 6-1 lead on Andy. Hawthorne had to hit some unbelievable shots to get side-outs, but he just could not get the points he needed. Jose ended up winning this game and the match with an incredible off-balance forehand kill shot.
Round of 16’s
by IRT Intern Brendan Giljum
#2 Rocky Carson defeats #15 Daniel de la Rosa 0,1,6
Rocky Carson came right out of the gates hot and played as dominant as one would expect the number two ranked player in the world. He dominated Daniel from the start and didn’t allow him to even touch the score board in game one, winning it 11-0. Much could be same about the second game as well. Carson’s drive serves were more than perfect in their location and velocity all match long and they allowed for Rocky to maintain court control. Carson ran away with a 11-1 lead in game two. The third game started about the same until de la Rosa began playing smart ball. Daniel made a small run at the lead making the score 5-3 and applying pressure on Rocky forcing him into some rare skip balls. Carson made sure to not let this match slip away from him though and finished strong with a 11-6 game three victory to take the match.
Q13: #4 Andy Hawthorne defeats #36 Kris Odegard 1, (0), 3, (6), 12
by IRT Intern Brendan Giljum
Some called this match as a potential upset in the round of 32’s, as Andy Hawthorne, new to being ranked so high, and Kris Odegard, top Canadian player went to battle it out in the early round match. In game one, Hawthorne controlled every aspect of the ball movement and worked his opponent to a smooth 11-1 win. Odegard looked either still asleep or nervous as he continually hit set ups for Andy to smash. Game two was the complete opposite though, with Odegard maneuvering brilliantly around the court and making shots that forced Hawthorne to give him great open opportunities to end rallies. Kris responded in full force with a powerful 11-0 statement that he was not going to be retired easily. Each player seemed to learn from their opposition’s last game and adapt in the next, as Andy was able to take game three with smart play 11-3. The same could be said about Odegard in game four as he was down for a bit and then battled back to take a huge 11-6 win forcing a tiebreaker. The tiebreaker was one of the most epic battles I have ever seen. The crowd, that wasn’t there at the start of the match, began piling in and making their voices heard to add to the excitement. Andy went up early in the match, but Kris was not done and he fought back making the score 6-3, then 6-4. After Hawthorne scored a couple more points, Odegard saw his chance and put together rally after beautiful rally, taking a 9-8 advantage. Both player went back and forth not willing to give in and pushing the game into extra points. After some late controversial calls by the referee, Hawthorne eventually took the lead and didn’t look back, taking the game and match 14-12.
The Bridge from Kansas City to Minneapolis
A US Open Preview by Bryan Shaw
The official tier one kickoff, the 12th Annual Ghost of Georgetown Championships by Novasors provided non-stop battles through the round of sixteen. Half of those matches went to five-games, and another went four. With so many matches going the distance, the quarterfinals were pushed back with the last match of the day playing into the wee hours of the morning.
While most of the usual suspects were in the mix, a couple of fresh faces battled through the qualifying rounds. Others, including Jose Rojas, Ben Croft, Rocky Carson, and Kane Waselenchuk matched their finishes from last year’s event while Shane Vanderson and Chris Crowther slipped a round. Andy Hawthorne ended up with an impressive push, jumping up a couple of rounds.
Round of Sixteen
Friday opened with Rocky Carson facing Alex Ackermann and Shane Vanderson meeting Alvaro Beltran in the round of sixteen matches. Alex had an impressive showing by getting through a tough qualifying draw, but faced an uphill battle against the #2 ranked player in the world. Rocky dominated the match as the line in Vegas would suggest, knocking off Alex in a quick three.
Shane Vanderson was the victim of bad luck to find that Alvaro would feed into him after advancing through the qualifying round. Alvaro spent a lot of last season injured and didn’t play most of the stops. That means that his rank is artificially low based on his talent and ability. Until the season gets a few tournaments deep, we will see a lot of crazy matchups in the opening rounds. This tournament, it was Shane who had to face a potential top-four talented player in the round of sixteen. Shane didn’t give up. After dropping the first two games, he battled back to win the next two and force a fifth game. But he ran out of gas as Alvaro locked in for an 11-2 victory in the fifth game.
The next set of sweet sixteen matches featured #8 Charlie Pratt vs. #9 Anthony Herrera. With both players developing so early in their careers and so close in the rankings, it was destined to be a great match. It was. There were a ton of great dives, gutsy shots, and all around great racquetball. The players traded games until Anthony was able to eek it out 11-9 in the fifth for the reward of facing Kane Waselenchuk the next round.
Speaking of Kane, he showed that he wasn’t sitting on his duff all summer as he gave Felipe Camacho a rude awaking into main draw wasting no time with a 2, 1, 1 finish.
The round of sixteen matches scheduled for 1:30pm showcased Ben Croft vs. Alejandro Herrera and Tony Carson vs. Jose Rojas. Ben wasn’t quite locked in and Alejandro played great ball considering that he doesn’t play all the stops. It took Ben four games to advance to the next round.
The last time that Tony and Jose played was during Pro Nationals where Tony pulled an upset taking out Jose in five games. This tournament Jose was locked in and focused his opening round and he advanced past Tony 5, 3, 6.
Both 2:30pm round of sixteen matches went the distance. The first was #5 Andy Hawthorne vs. #12 Juan Herrera. While on paper and based on last year’s results Andy should have advanced, and he did, but it took maximum effort and that is something that plagued Andy last year. He needs to beat the players ranked below him more quickly and efficiently. At this level, the extra rallies and games affect his ability to be fresh for later rounds.The next 2:30pm match featured #13 Javier Moreno vs. #4 Chris Crowther. This match had a similar vibe to the Vanderson/Beltran match. Javier didn’t play most of the stops last season. But if he had, he’d likely be ranked much higher than thirteenth. As it is, the seeding resulted in a really challenging opening round match for Chris. The players traded games before Javier was able to take control of the fifth and pulled off the upset for a chance to face off against Andy Hawthorne next round.
The quarterfinal round opened with one of the best potential matches of the tournament – Rocky Carson vs. Alvaro Beltran. It was a tight match spanning several hours, giving the viewers all they could handle. The players traded great shot after great shot and great get after great get. Eventually it was Rocky winning 11-9 in the fifth game to push on.
The next quarterfinal match paired Kane Waselenchuk against Anthony Herrera. Kane continued his typical dominance to quickly win the first two games, but he’ll have to wait until next year for the challenge of finishing a season without dropping a game as Anthony fought as hard as he could and snuck game three 12-10 before losing 11-6 in the fourth.
The third quarterfinal match of the evening showcased #3 Ben Croft against #6 Jose Rojas. The match was tight. Points were close and tension mounted. Ben won 11-9 the first two games before Jose earned the third 11-7. Ben locked in and controlled the fourth 11-2 to advance to a semi-final berth.
The last match of the evening on Friday was Andy Hawthorne vs. Javier Moreno. This was anticipated to be a dynamite match. Both players have great shots and getting ability, and the feeling was another five-gamer was in order. Andy won the first two before Javier won a tight third 11-9, but he couldn’t hold as Andy won the fourth 11-6 and advanced to face Kane the next day.
The semifinals on Saturday were actually a little anticlimactic. Kane wasted no time getting down to business, knocking off Andy 5, 3, 0. It helped prove that Kane was still on top of his game and Andy is having a tough time breaking into the top four. There was a buzz of anticipation as to if Ben’s work in the offseason was enough to contend with Rocky and Kane. Rocky answered the question as he held control of the matchup and finished Ben 1, 4, 5.
Spectators were clamoring for another spectacular match as they had been starved after the quarterfinals. Was Rocky able to get it figured out over the summer? Did he have an answer for the Mr. Automatic, the Kane Train? Whatever progress Rocky made over the summer was countered by Kane’s progress over the summer. Kane kept clicking and showing why he is one of the best to ever grace the court, knocking off Rocky in three games: 3, 5, 1.
Looking forward to the US Open, the main focus will be defending points. Kane won last year, so of course he has the most to lose. Rocky was upset last year in the round of sixteen by Alvaro Beltran in an unlucky early round matchup, so as long as Rocky advances past the round of sixteen he’ll pick up ground. Alvaro, on the other hand, needs to get to the finals to defend his points from last year. Andy Hawthorne, Charlie Pratt, and Jose Rojas all made the quarterfinals last year, so they need to advance just as far this year to hold even on Grand Slam points early in the season. Ben Croft made the semifinals so he potentially has a lot to lose by not making a solid run at the tournament. With both Jack Huzcek and Mitch Williams retired as they made the semifinals and quarterfinals last year, respectively, there are some opening for some other players to make a significant impact on their rankings, with actually more opportunity than typical years.
While a Grand Slam presents the opportunity for more upsets since top players have to appear in the round of 32 instead of the round of 16 like a tier one tournament, it is highly unlikely that a top sixteen player would get upset in an opening round. They are just that good. The top four ranked players participating in the tournament should be Kane, Rocky, Ben, and Jose. Expect them all to get deep. Andy, Chris, Shane, and Charlie will likely make a push as well, but the wildcard is Alvaro. He will give a high ranked player fits in the early rounds, and really affect their season by being a serious contender in the early rounds. On the cusp you’ll see Anthony Herrera, Tony Carson, Javier Moreno, Juan Herrera and Alejandro Herrera. While they pose legitimate threats for an upset, being threats for consecutive upsets in the same Grand Slam appears unlikely.
With the US Open appearing earlier on the schedule this year than normal, players only had one tier one to try and get a feel for themselves and their competition. The US Open is a major focus for every pro as it represents major ranking points early in the season. Expect all the pros to bring their best, and as a fan, hope for a little magic.
by Bryan Shaw, CPA
About the IRT: Founded in 1990, the men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) features 300 players competing in over 20 Top-Tier and more than 50 Satellite tournaments in Latin America, the United States, and Canada. Pro/Am tournaments draw professional, amateur, and college entrants during the September through May competitive season. Pro/Am tournaments can draw over 700 professional, collegiate, and amateur players from juniors to master competitors. The amateur players compete in age and skill divisions ranging from beginner to open level for both singles and doubles.