Monday, August 20, 2018

Post Worlds Thoughts

The 2018 International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships ended on Saturday in San José, Costa Rica, and the 19th Worlds were remarkable in many ways. Let’s review them.

On Court

This was the third World Championships with gold medalists from three different countries. This year players from Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico won gold. This first happened in 2006, when gold was taken home by players from Canada, Mexico and the USA, then again in 2014, when gold went to Colombia, Mexico and the USA.

This a far cry from the years when the USA swept gold at Worlds. That’s happened five times: 1981 - the first World Championships - 1992, 1996, 2004 and 2008. And for the first nine World Championships gold only went to the USA or Canada.

But this year no Canadian or USA women reached the podium for the first time ever. If you needed any proof of how the balance of power has changed in racquetball, there it is.

Gabriela Martinez’s win in Women’s Singles was the first by a teenage woman. The other Women’s Singles World Champions all won for the first time in their 20s except for Cheryl Gudinas (USA), who was 33 when she won for the first time in 2000.

Martinez isn’t the only player to win singles as a teenager though, as Jack Huczek (USA) won his first Men’s Singles World Championship at 19 in 2002. But Huczek’s birthday is in January and Martinez’s in August, so she won at a younger age.

However, Martinez wasn’t the youngest gold medalist in San José. Valeria Centellas of Bolivia, half of the team that won Women’s Doubles (partnering Yasmine Sabja), won Girl’s U16 Doubles last year at the World Junior Championships, so she has to be younger than Martinez, who turned 19 earlier this month. Centellas could be the youngest Worlds gold medalist ever.

In Men’s Singles, Rodrigo Montoya of Mexico wasn’t only the second World Champion from Mexico (after Alvaro Beltran in 2000), he is the second World Champion born on June 4. Egan Inoue (USA) who won two World Championships (in 1986 & 1990) was also born on June 4. Furthermore two other Men’s Singles World Champions were also born in June: Andy Roberts (USA) and Sherman Greenfeld (Canada).

Off Court

The IRF has improved how international events operate in recent years. They’ve implemented a referee development program, so no athletes need to referee at either senior or junior events. That’s great.

Also, they have implemented live streaming of matches at events, so those of us who are not at the event can follow the action. Those matches are also available for re-watching after the fact, in case you want to see it all again - “how did he win that match?!?” - or just enjoy some great racquetball on line.

But the IRF is also APPALLING in some of the ways that it communicates, or rather fails to communicate, what is happening or going to happen at their events. Case one: last week the results of the quarterfinals were not available on line promptly after the matches were over. Those results were not even up the next morning!

When this situation was related to an IRF official, he seemed unconcerned. We related this story to a racquetball enthusiast who responded “how is it possible for us to be a legitimate sport if we can’t even manage this?” Good question.

But, hey, why talk about last week, when we can talk about today? The IRF’s biggest event - their World Championships - just happened and you’d think their website would be shouting the names of the new champions. And you would be wrong.

The IRF website states who will be in the finals, although only surnames are used and it’s not clear who is in which final. If anyone is thinking "well, we know which of those players is playing which event," you are part of the problem here, because the website needs to speak to everyone who comes by, and perhaps especially people who aren't so familiar with the game, because you want to bring them into the game. Make it clear! Moreover, according to the website the finals are apparently happening on “Friday,” when they actually happened on Saturday. The little graphic listing the matches looks good, but it's failing to communicate all the relevant information.

A great aspect of the internet is that information can be communicated quickly and efficiently. IRF communications too often fail on both counts. Case two: consider that if you were looking for information on the World Championships two weeks ago - that is, prior to it happening - and you went to the IRF site to find out who was playing for each country, let alone the draws, you would not be able to find that information. Indeed, it wouldn’t have been obvious that the most important IRF event was going to be happening the following week from their website. That’s atrocious.

Case three: apparently there was a team competition at Worlds, although it’s just a by-product of the individual events with countries getting points for how well their players do in each event. But can you see the results of the team competition on the IRF website today, two days after the event wrapped up? No, you cannot.

The failure to communicate is also frustrating, because it’s not that difficult to accomplish. But it requires planning, and the people to do it, although the people wouldn’t have to be on site. Someone would need to get the results to the person promptly though, perhaps by text message, and then that individual could update the website with the results. Also, writing promotional releases for events isn’t too difficult, if there’s enough lead time so adequate planning can be done to accomplish the task.

The IRF seems to be failing to recognize the importance of communicating its results, and it needs to make better plans for how to communicate results in the future.

Follow the bouncing ball….

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Bolivia & Mexico win doubles at 2018 IRF World Championships

Valeria Centellas and Yasmine Sabja of Bolivia are the first women racquetball World Champions from South America as they captured gold in Women’s Doubles at the 19th International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships in San José, Costa Rica. The Bolivians defeated Mexicans Monserrat Mejia and Alexandra Herrera, 8-15, 15-14, 11-2, in the final.

While there were new champions on the women’s side, Mexican Alvaro Beltran won his 4th Men’s Doubles World Championship, as he and Daniel De La Rosa came back from a game down to defeat racquetball legends Rocky Carson and Sudsy Monchik of the USA, 10-15, 15-9 11-2. It marks the first time Carson is without a gold medal at Worlds since 2006, as he won gold in Men’s Singles at the last five events. Beltran has now won Men’s Doubles in three of the last four World Championships.

If you missed the finals, you can view them again via the IRF Facebook page.

18th IRF World Championships
August 10-18, 2018
San José, Costa Rica

Men's Doubles - Final

1) Alvaro Beltran & Daniel De La Rosa (Mexico) d. 3) Rocky Carson & Sudsy Monchik (USA), 10-15, 15-9, 11-2

Women's Doubles - Final

7) Valeria Centellas & Yasmine Sabja (Bolivia) d. 1) Monserrat Mejia & Alexandra Herrera (Mexico), 8-15, 15-14, 11-2

Follow the bouncing ball....

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Martinez & Montoya win singles at 2018 IRF World Championships

Gabriela Martinez of Guatemala upset the three time defending Women’s Singles World Champion Paola Longoria of Mexico to win her 1st Women’s Singles Championship Saturday at the 19th International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships in San José, Costa Rica. With the win, Martinez, 19, becomes the youngest Women’s Singles Champion. Previously, Christie Huczek (née Van Hees) was youngest at 21. Longoria won her first title at 23. She is also the first woman from outside North America to win an IRF World Championship.

Rodrigo Montoya of Mexico won the Men’s Singles World Championship by defeating USA’s Charlie Pratt, 15-14, 15-9. Montoya is the second Mexican Men’s Singles World Champion after Alvaro Beltran, who won it in 2000.

In the Women’s Singles final, Martinez came out with her left arm wrapped, as she hurt it in the Women’s Doubles semi-finals on Friday. In fact, Guatemala forfeited that semi-final in the third game, when Martinez couldn’t continue to play. So there was some concern as to whether Martinez would be able to play in singles final.

Thus, it wasn’t a surprise when Longoria took a 6-0 lead in game one. She maintained the lead throughout that game, although Martinez got within four at 12-8 before Longoria closed it out, 15-8. But if you take the first six points at the start away, then they were pretty even.

Game two started similarly to game one, as Longoria took a 4-1 lead. But Martinez slowly built up the points from there. She got six points to lead 7-4. Longoria called a time out, and then closed the lead to 7-6. However, Martinez held Longoria at 6, as she went on to win game two, 15-6, helped by two ace serves and a couple of skips by Longoria late in the game.

They were back and forth earth in the tie-breaker, and tied at 4-4. Then Martinez scored six unanswered points, including three ace serves, to reach match point at 10-4. Longoria called her second timeout at that point, and then got the serve back with a backhand serve return winner.

She hit a service winner to make it 10-5, and it looked like the comeback was on. A Longoria forehand made it 10-6. However, Martinez snuffed out the comeback with a great backhand pinch shot.

On the first match point, Longoria had a set up off the back wall that she played with her forehand. But it skipped. With that unforced error, Martinez dethroned the three time Champion and claimed her first Women’s Singles Championship.

The Men’s Singles final went back and forth. Montoya was ahead early in the game, 8-3, and then Pratt found his stride and looked to be in control as he went ahead 11-10. However, Montoya had a resurgence, and scored four point to get to game point at 14-11.

But Pratt denied Montoya game point not once, but twice, and then proceeded to tie the game at 14-14. It looked like he won the game with an ace drive serve to the left side, but Montoya appealed that it was short and the line judges agreed, overturning the call.

Montoya then got the serve back with a forehand shot that went cross court from left to right. On his 3rd game point, the referee called a two bounce get on Pratt, but he appealed that he had got the ball before it bounced twice and the line judges agreed.

Clearly, it was going to take something special to win this game, and Montoya provided that on the next rally, as he dove to the right side in the front court and hit a roll out winner to take the first game 15-14.

Like game one, game two was streaky. Pratt went up 4-0, and then Montoya scored eight points to lead 8-4. Pratt tied it at 8-8. Again Montoya responded with four more points to lead 12-8. He was able to close it out from there, hitting a forehand pinch shot to get his first match point at 14-9. Montoya drove serve to the left side, and it looked to be a comfortable opportunity to return the ball, but Pratt skipped it with his backhand, which was a sad ending to a good match.

In the singles finals, neither Longoria or Pratt played poorly, though perhaps neither played their absolute best. However, Martinez and Montoya, respectively, were just a little bit better, and when the competition is close - as it usually is in a World Championship final - that’s all that is needed.

If you missed the matches, you can see them at the IRF Facebook page.

18th IRF World Championships
August 10-18, 2018
San José, Costa Rica

Men's Singles - Semi-finals - Friday

Men's Singles - Final - Saturday

4) Rodrigo Montoya (Mexico) d. 3) Charlie Pratt (USA), 15-14, 15-9

Women's Singles - Final - Saturday

6) Ana Gabriela Martinez (Guatemala) d. 1) Paola Longoria (Mexico), 8-15, 15-6, 11-6

Follow the bouncing ball....