Thursday, August 7, 2008

World Championships - Preview

Dateline : July 26, 2008 

The 14th World Championships begin August 1st in Kingscourt, Ireland and run to August 10th. The biggest question in Ireland may be this: will the Americans sweep the competition?

Two years ago, the USA swept the team competitions, winning men's and women's titles, and won two of the four individual competitions. Jack Huczek won men's singles while Aimee Ruiz and Laura Fenton won women's doubles. Huczek and Ruiz are again playing for the USA, but the 2006 Women's Champion, Canadian Christie Van Hees won't be in Ireland to defend her singles title.

Men's Events

Huczek's victory in 2006 was his third consecutive world title, which is more than any other male racquetball player. Only Michelle Gould (USA) and Cheryl Gudinas Holmes (USA) have won as many World Championships as Huczek. If he wins number four, Huczek will be in a class by himself.

His greatest competition will come from fellow American Rocky Carson, who finished number 1 on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) ahead of Huczek, who came second. Carson and Huczek met 10 times in the 2007-08 IRT season with Carson winning six times and Huczek four,* so if they meet in the final, it will be difficult to pick between them. 

Alvaro Beltran of Mexico, as well as fellow Mexican Javiar Moreno and Canadians Mike Green and Vincent Gagnon, are also strong contenders for the men's singles title, but a betting person would have to think a Huczek-Carson final is most likely.

A Mexican team has won three of the last four World Championships in men's doubles, and one of those winning teams will trying to get their second title and make it four of five for Mexico, as Gilberto Mejia and Polo Gutierrez Sotres are back representing Mexico. They won the World Championship in 2002 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The Mexicans main competition will come from Americans Jason Thoerner and Mitch Williams and Canadians Kris Odegard and François Viens.

Women's Events

There will be a new women's World Champion in Ireland, as the reigning champion Canadian Christie Van Hees failed to qualify for the Canadian team. There are several strong candidates for the women's crown.

Cheryl Gudinas Holmes, as the number 2 ranked Women's Professional Racquetball Organization player, would be the favorite, but she should have strong competiton from Angela Grisar (Chile), Paola Longoria (Mexico) and Jennifer Saunders (Canada). However, a Gudinas Holmes victory would be her fourth World title, more than any other women racquetball player, and she'd be the only four time winner unless Huczek also wins.

There's some uncertainty as to who the second American women in singles will be. Rhonda Rajsich was named to the team, but suffered severe injuries when she was attacked near her home in California. Rajsich will play if she's able, although one would have to think she hasn't had much time to train for Worlds. If Rajsich isn't available, then Kristen Bellows will be in Ireland.

In women's doubles, American women have won every World Championship since 1981 but one, and this year Aimee Ruiz will try to get her second consecutive World title. In 2006, she and Laura Fenton took the title defeating Chileans Angela Grisar and Fabiola Marquez, but this year Ruiz's partner is Jackie Paraiso.

If Paraiso and Ruiz win in Ireland, it will be Paraiso's seventh World title in doubles. She's won twice with her sister Joy MacKenzie (1996 & 1998) and Kim Russell (2002 & 2004), and once each with Fenton (1994) and Malia Bailey (1990).

The strongest possibilities to upset the Americans will be Canadian Champions Geneviève Brodeur and Véronique Guillemette, Angela Grisar and Fabiola Marquez of Chile, who were the silver medalists two years ago, and the Mexican team of Rosy Torres and Paola Longoria, who's playing both singles and doubles.

Team Competitions

In Santo Domingo, the USA swept the team competitions, and they would have to be the favorites to do so again in Ireland. However, it can be difficult to win both individual titles and team titles. Two years ago in the women's team final between the USA and Canada, Christie Van Hees, who'd won the individual title, lost to Rhonda Rajsich, and the US doubles team of Ruiz and Fenton, who'd won the doubles crown, lost to Lori-Jane Powell and Josée Grand'Maître. It was Cheryl Gudinas Holmes's victory over Jennifer Saunders in the deciding match that carried the day for the US.

Nonetheless, with Carson and Huczek playing singles for the US, it will be difficult for any other country defeat the American men's team. Similarly, the American women have won every women's team title at Worlds, so they would have to be the favorites to win again.

Separate men's and women's team competitions are played after the individual competitions. The countries playoff by having their two singles players and doubles team face off in a best of three matches. The overall title is determined by combining the men's and women's team results.

Players from 27 countries are entered in the 2008 Racquetball World Championships to be held from August 1st to 10th in Kingscourt, Ireland.

2006 World Championship Results - Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Men's singles
1. Jack Huczek (USA)
2. Shane Vanderson (USA)
3. Abraham Pena (Mexico) and Gilberto Mejia (Mexico)

Men's doubles
1. Alvaro Beltran & Javiar Moreno (Mexico)
2. Jack Huczek & Rocky Carson (USA)
3. Mike Green & Brian Istace (Canada) and Cesar Castro & Jorge Hirsekorn (Venezuela)

Women's Singles
1. Christie Van Hees (Canada)
2. Angela Grisar (Chile)
3. Cheryl Gudinas (USA) and Jennifer Saunders (Canada)

Women's Doubles
1. Laura Fenton & Aimee Ruiz (USA)
2. Angela Grisar & Fabiola Marquez (Chile)
3. Josée Grand'Maître & Lori-Jane Powell (Canada) and Naomi Wakimoto & Toshiko Sakamoto (Japan)

Team Competitions

1. USA
2. Canada
3. Mexico
4. Venezuela

1. USA
2. Canada
3. Japan
4. Mexico

1. USA
2. Canada
3. Mexico
4. Bolivia

(* sources:, International Racquetball Tour , R2 Sports , International Racquetball Federation)

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