By the Two Bens: Croft (#3 in the World) and LoBue (#3 in the local league)
Just mention the words “US Open” to a racquetball player and it is sure to spark conversation. It’s the one tournament people miss important occasions for, the one players plan for a year in advance just to make sure their spot is secured. The US Open draws almost 700 players from sixteen countries from around the world, all looking for the most coveted title in racquetball. It’s the marquis event that brings out the most fanatical of the racquetball fanatics. The court, the lights, the music, the fans, the atmosphere, and the show are just a few of the countless reasons why if you love racquetball, you should never miss the US Open.
Located in the heart of beautiful Minneapolis, The Target Center is the perfect venue to host racquetball’s biggest event. The electric atmosphere in the city alone gets me pumped up to play. Who knows, I may have a little US Open of Tennis hangover. Watching their commercials and promotional videos the weeks leading up to the event builds the anticipation to the point of feeling obligated to watch the tournament. I wish racquetball could do something similar to tennis, but that’s another discussion for another day.
Personally, the US Open is my favorite major event of the year. It’s one of the few events where I feel like a professional athlete. From the portable court, to the grandstands, to the fans, the box seating, and VIP area, it’s all proof why the US Open is the highlight of the IRT season. When I first land in Minneapolis, it’s obvious there’s a big tournament going on because racquetball bags throughout the airport are plentiful. This is one of the rare times I have to check the bag tag of my Head Ultra Combi to make sure it’s mine! And the shuttle ride over to the hotel is usually packed with racquets, club bags, and familiar faces.
Going to the club the first time is exciting but exhausting at the same time. Saying hi and catching up with all of your racquetball friends from around the world is impossible in one night. But being at the club opening night is what racquetball is all about. Everyone is in a great mood, everyone is itching to play, and everyone has his or her game face on. For me, Wednesday night is the most fun of any day at the Open. It’s the time where I can relax, sip my water, and flashback to the good old days of battling in the amateur divisions. For a few minutes I lose myself watching some old timers go at it, or some kids running around with huge smiles on their faces. Unfortunately it’s short lived, because the real reason I’m in Minneapolis is to play for a US Open title! Once we’re done smacking the ball around with the sponsors at the annual Wednesday night charity doubles, it’s back to the hotel to begin my monotonous tournament routine.
By Ben LoBue
My first ever racquetball tournament experience was a big one – Memphis, TN for the 2007 US Open Championships. I was fresh to the sport and frankly, pretty uninformed about professional racquetball. While I spent most of my time selling product and pulling shoes for customers to try, I can confidently say that Memphis was a great host. The BBQ was amazing, Beale Street was a blast, and the tournament itself was nothing short of spectacular. To top it all off, Racquetball Warehouse sponsored players Rocky Carson and Rhonda Rajsich both won to make for a truly memorable experience.
Now 4 years later, I have learned way more than I ever expected and feel like an integral part of the national fraternity of racquetball fanatics. This year, my second year in Minneapolis for the US Open, was my first experience playing in a national tournament. Things I learned: practice with the correct ball well in advance, use your warm up wisely, and bring more than one racquet gripped the way you want it. I lost. First round. Tie Break. Thanks for a great match John, I had a lot of fun and I’ll get you next time!
As Croft mentioned, the atmosphere in Minneapolis couldn’t be better for such a grand event, and for those that lose early, this is important. The best entertainment is watching the top pros play on the clear court, especially after the light show lead in and an always-interesting selection of entry songs. Nothing else can provide the same level of appreciation for how amazingly talented these top players are than seeing it up close. After full days of meeting, mingling and watching there is always a tournament party to attend where you can see your court opponents, friends and idols let loose a little, and after 5 long days that go by in a flash, you are sad to leave but ready to go home.
Our goal in sharing this experience with all of you is to one, encourage anyone who hasn’t been to the Open to start planning for next year now, and two, to thank everyone who made this phenomenal event possible. Most of all – thanks to all the players. Let’s keep growing this event every year, as it will only make the sport stronger. If you can’t make it to the US Open, check out the IRT schedule and find the nearest event you can attend, you won’t regret it!