Monday, January 18, 2021

The astonishing Mr. Murray

A week on and it’s still astonishing to think that Samuel Murray is an International Racquetball Tour (IRT) champion. Not astonishing because of the luck involved. Luck played little role in Murray’s win, as he defeated Javier Mar, Daniel De La Rosa, Alejandro Landa, and Conrrado Moscoso to win the Suivant Consulting Pro-Am title in Lilburn, Georgia last weekend. The last three of those players - De La Rosa, Landa and Moscoso - have all won IRT events and have nine titles between them (4, 4, 1, respectively). Murray beat them, so now he joins them as an IRT champion.

Rather it’s astonishing because few saw it coming. Indeed, in the IRT pre-tournament discussion Dean Baer, Todd Boss and Favio Soto were unanimous in their prediction of a Murray loss to Mar in the Round of 16 (prediction at 44' of video). So, none of them even thought Murray would play one of those past champions, because they didn’t have Murray getting out of the 16s! To be fair, in the fantasy entries only one of 22 entries had Murray getting past the quarterfinals with 7 of 22 having him lose to Mar and 13 having him lose to De La Rosa.

Astonishing because of where Murray's come from. He grew up in Baie-Comeau, Québec (~21,000 population) on the north shore of the St Lawrence River some 700 km (420 miles) east of Montreal. You wouldn’t pick Baie-Comeau as the origin of a star in any sport, let alone in racquetball, but as a coach we know likes to say “they have to come from somewhere.” So Murray's win is a real "small town boy does good" story.

Astonishing because when Murray was a junior no one was thinking "Sam’s going to be an IRT champion." He was overshadowed by Coby Iwaasa, who was a phenomenal junior player. Murray did beat Iwaasa to win U16 at the 2010 Canadian Junior Championships, though Iwaasa is three years younger than Murray. He didn’t win U18 singles in Canada, and didn’t win any titles at the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Junior Championships.

But Murray persisted. In 2014, he won his 1st Canadian title by teaming with Vincent Gagnon to win Men’s Doubles at the Canadian Championships. Another Men’s Doubles title came in 2016 (with Pedro Castro), and that win helped Murray go to the 2016 IRF World Championships. He was the only Canadian man to come home from that Worlds with a medal: a bronze in Men’s Singles, which was Murray’s first medal for Canada.

Murray followed up that success by starting to play the IRT full time in the 2016-17 season. He only made it past the 16s twice that season - one quarterfinal and one semi-final - and finished ranked 14th. Not the kind of results that would make you think that he would win an IRT event, let alone that “Murray could be #1” someday, which is the kind of talk that has surrounded the likes of De La Rosa and Moscoso from the time they started on tour.

He’s only missed two events over the past four seasons, and been in the top ten each of the last three seasons, including making his first final in September 2018. There’s a common saying that success is a lot about showing up, and Murray has continued to show up.

In doing so, he’s achieved something few other players - and only one other Canadian - has achieved: an IRT title. What other astonishing achievements will be in Murray's future?

Probably more than we think.

Follow the bouncing ball….

Monday, January 11, 2021

Acuña wins Men's Open, Meneses Men's Elite at Suivant Consulting Pro-Am

Andres Acuña won Men’s Open on the weekend at the Suivant Consulting Pro-Am in Lilburn, Georgia. Acuña defeated Alan Natera, 6-15, 15-12, 11-8, in the final. In the semi-finals, Andres Acuña beat Alejandro Herrera, 15-4, 15-12, while Natera knocked of Gabriel Garcia, 15-11, 11-4.

Garcia was a surprise semi-finalist, as he was seeded 31st. But he knocked off 2nd seed Mario Mercado in the Round of 32, 8-15, 15-11, 11-8, and then had convincing wins over 15th seed Dylan Pruitt, 15-4, 15-3, in the Round of 16 and 7th seed Majeed Shahin, 15-2, 15-7, in the quarterfinals, before falling to Natera.

Men’s Open Doubles

In the Men’s Open Doubles final, Kadim Carrasco and Conrrado Moscoso defeated Natera and Javier Estrada, 10-15, 15-13, 11-5. Much was made of Moscoso playing Open Doubles, as that was his 3rd division - along with International Racquetball Tour (IRT) singles and doubles, which he also played with Carrasco - and people questioned whether it would hamper his performance in IRT singles, which is the most prestigious division.

Maybe less would have been said if Moscoso had won singles, but, of course, he lost to Samual Murray in the final, 11-9 in the breaker. Yet can we blame him for playing Open Doubles? There was $1000 to the winner of Open Doubles, which undoubtedly helped out his pal Carrasco. They lost in the quarterfinals of IRT Doubles, as they were seeded 5th and drawn against 4th seeds Alejandro Landa and Sudsy Monchik, who won in a breaker, putting Moscoso and Carrasco out of the money.

So, the Open Doubles money may have been the only money Carrasco won on the weekend. He lost in the Round of 32 of singles, and usually only the Round of 16 pays out. But this was a Grand Slam event, so it might have been different.

Given that they travelled from Bolivia to be at the tournament - not an inexpensive trip we assume - it’s difficult to suggest that they shouldn’t have thrown their hats in the Open Doubles ring.

Meneses wins Men’s Elite

We don’t often mention Men’s Elite results on The Racquetball Blog, but this weekend’s Men’s Elite division wasn’t won by a man, or even a woman, as Micaela Meneses is still a junior. She was entered in U18, though lost to top seed Andrew Gleason in the quarters.

But in Elite, Meneses, a young player from Bolivia who was seeded 20th, defeated Chad Beacher, 15-10, 11-15, 11-2, in the final. In the semi-finals, Meneses beat top seed Benjamin Horner, 15-6, 15-8, in the semi-finals, and in the quarters squeaked by Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT) regular Maria Renee Rodriguez, 15-14, 15-14.

Meneses also won Mixed Open Doubles, as she and Landa defeated Rodriguez and Shane Karmelin, 8-15, 15-12, 11-1, in the last game of a three team round robin. Earlier, they’d beaten Aaron Booker and Kanesha Madison, 15-8, 15-5.

What's next?

When will we see pro racquetball next? The IRT hopes to play the 36th Annual Shamrock Shootout in Lombard, Illinois March 11-14, and the LPRT’s next event is the Sweet Caroline Open, April 29-May 2. But those both depend on COVID conditions, and who knows what that will be like in two or three months time?

Until then, we recommend checking out the matches from the Suivant Consulting Pro-Am. From the quarterfinals on, only one singles match didn’t go tie-breaker - and that was a 15-11, 15-13 result, and all the last three doubles matches - both semis and the final - went breaker. You can check all of that out at the IRT media outlets: The IRT YouTube channel or the IRT Facebook page.

2021 Suivant Consulting Pro-Am, January 7-10, 2021
Lilburn, Georgia

Men’s Open Final

1) Andres Acuña d. 3) Alan Natera, 6-15, 15-12, 11-8

Semi-finals

1) Andres Acuña d. 5) Alejandro Herrera, 15-4, 15-12
3) Alan Natera d. 31) Gabriel Garcia, 15-11, 11-4

Quarterfinals

1) Andres Acuña d. 8) Joe Kelley, 15-14, 15-6
5) Alejandro Herrera d. 4) Set Cubillos, 15-6, 15-11

3) Alan Natera d. 11) Matt Fontana, 15-3, 15-9
31) Gabriel Garcia d. 7) Majeed Shahin, 15-2, 11-7

Men’s Open Doubles Final

1) Kadim Carrasco & Conrrado Moscoso d. 3) Javier Estrada & Alan Natera, 10-15, 15-13, 11-5

Semi-finals

1) Kadim Carrasco & Conrrado Moscoso d. Erick Cuevas Fernandez, 15-7, 7-15, 11-8
3) Javier Estrada & Alan Natera d. 2) Maurice Miller & Troy Warigon, 15-6, 15-9

Follow the bouncing ball….

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Murray gets 1st IRT win at 2021 Suivant Consulting Pro-Am

Samuel Murray won the 2021 International Racquetball Tour (IRT) Suivant Consulting Pro-Am in Lilburn, Georgia Sunday as he defeated 7th seed Conrrado Moscoso in the final, 15-7, 8-15, 11-9. The win is Murray’s 1st IRT title, and he becomes the 41st player to win an IRT event. Murray’s the first new IRT winner since Moscoso won his first in March 2019 in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Afterwards, Murray said he was “trying to stay in the moment,” and “take one point at a time,” and really didn’t know how he was able to win. But Murray was “really happy” he was able to make it to Lilburn, as there are some travel rules going to and from Canada because of the COVID pandemic.

Murray has been able to play at home, as some courts were open. His brother also plays, so the two of them did some training together, and Murray tried to stay in shape generally, hoping for a racquetball event to happen.

His hopes were answered, and the result? “C’est incroyable,” said Murray.

Early on, it looked like it would go the other way, as Moscoso scored the first four points of the match. But Murray got on the board with a drive serve ace to the right side, one of the few drive serves he hit in the match. Murray relied on a variety of lob serves and a Z serve to the left side - Moscosco’s backhand.

But Murray went from 4-0 and 5-2 down to 11-5 up. Moscoso got a couple points more before Murray closed out game one, 15-7.

Moscoso did what great players do after losing a game. He stepped it up in game two, again going to a 5-2 lead. Yet again Murray responded, as he scored six straight points to take the lead 8-5.

But Murray didn’t score any more points in game two, as Moscoso put up 10 unanswered points to level the match at a game a piece.

The breaker was close all the way with the lead going back and forth. Murray led 3-1. Moscoso led 6-3. Murray led 7-6. And Moscoso led 9-8. Murray called a timeout.

He got the serve back with a forehand return of a lob serve that he short hopped. Murray tied the game with a backhand that ended a scramble rally. They went back and forth, and then Moscoso got hit by the ball that gave Murray his 10th point.

On his first match point opportunity, Murray lob served to the left, so Moscoso drove the ball hard and low cross court. Murray dove forward to get the ball and rekilled it for the match winning point. A great end to a great match.

Murray is the 2nd Canadian player, after Kane Waselenchuk, to win an IRT event. He did so in his second IRT final. He was also a finalist in Laurel, Maryland, where Murray lost to Rocky Carson.

If you missed any of the Suivant Consulting Pro-Am action, check out the IRT media outlets: The IRT YouTube channel or the IRT Facebook page. There were some great matches that are well worth seeing - or seeing again.

2021 Suivant Consulting Pro-Am, January 7-10, 2021
Lilburn, Georgia

Final - Sunday

5) Samuel Murray d. 7) Conrrado Moscoso, 15-7, 8-15, 11-9

Follow the bouncing ball….