Given the way Kane Waselenchuk is playing this International Racquetball Tour (IRT) season, punctuated by his dominant performance in the US Open final, when he gave up only 8 points in defeating the IRT's #1 player, Rocky Carson, it begs the question "who can beat him?"
After Sunday's final, we asked Waselenchuk which of the other IRT players could beat him. "All of them," he said. "They're the best racquetball players in the world. They can beat me if I'm not playing my best."
True enough, but perhaps too kind. We think there are some players whose game styles match up better against Waselenchuk than others. Players who can put pressure on him with their serve, and can make winning shots when saving balls are going to do better against Waselenchuk. We're talking about making diving winners here, not diving ceiling balls that will simply give Waselenchuk another opportunity to roll the ball out.
By putting pressure on Waselenchuk via the serve, we mean drive serving. Not all the players drive serve effectively enough that they use that serve against each other. Carson, Jack Huczek, and Jason Mannino all hit primarily lob and half lob serves. Huczek's drive serve is OK, but he often foot faults and when there are side-judges looking for that, it will get called, decreasing his drive serve's effectiveness.
Shane Vanderson also served half lobs during the US Open. But he can make diving winners, which isn't something that all other players do. And pulling a rally out with a saving shot like that is the second feature that we think will be important to beating Waselenchuk.
Alvaro Beltran can drive serve effectively and make a winning shot with a rally saving dive. Thus, we think his game style is most likely to defeat Waselenchuk. It's no surprise that they went five games in their match in the US Open quarter finals.
Mitch Williams also has the service game to put pressure on Waselenchuk, and did win a game against him in their Round of 16 US Open match. But does Williams have the game during the rally to come out on top? He's been close in matches with the players ranked above him, but Williams still needs to have a breakout win or better a number of wins over the players we've mentioned above to show that he could be a threat for #1.
The other elements that Waselenchuk's opponents need if they are going to come out on top is patience, confidence and discipline. Discipline to take the right shot in a rally, and patience to keep taking that shot even though it won't be successful 100% of the time, and confidence to know that the right shot will be successful most of the time.
The problem with these elements is while the top racquetball players rarely lack for confidence they aren't always so patient or disciplined. Part of that is the nature of the game. Racquetball rewards aggressive play, so often players, especially at the IRT level, try to making a rally ending shot every time they hit the ball. However, going for a winner on each shot will often mean that the shot does not end the rally in the shooter's favour. Can you say "skip?"
In sum, to beat Waselenchuk you need a strong drive serve, preferably one that puts him on the move. Then during the rallies you need to take the right shot, and keep taking it even if he's hit winners off a couple of them. Also, when he doesn't quite put the ball away during a rally, you need to be able to make some diving winners, snatching rally victory from the jaws of defeat.
And in doing so, you just might find what you need to beat Kane Waselenchuk.