Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Who can beat Kane Waselenchuk? REPRISED

After Kane Waselenchuk won the 2008 US Open, The Racquetball Blog did a piece on who we thought had the best chance to defeat him. Based on the game styles of the top players at that time - Rocky Carson, Jack Huczek, Jason Mannino, Alvaro Beltran, Mitch Williams, and Shane Vanderson - we gave Alvaro Beltran the best chance to beat Waselenchuk.

So when Waselenchuk lost to Beltran in his next tournament in January 2009, we weren't that surprised.

Since then Waselenchuk hasn't lost on court, but his challengers have changed. Carson and Huczek are still battling with him, but Mannino and Williams have retired with Vanderson talking of following them at season's end, and Beltran's been troubled with a knee injury.

However, there are a couple of new players looking to knock off Waselenchuk. Ben Croft and Jose Rojas are strong young American players who are certainly talented, and have the pedigree of winning the Junior World U18 championship twice. The other players who have done that - Carson, Huczek and Sudsy Monchik - all went on to be #1 on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT).

Can Croft or Rojas beat Waselenchuk? The first thing they'd have to do is not beat themselves. The New Orleans Hornets upset the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles in the first game of their playoff series in part because the Hornets only had three (3) turnovers - tying an NBA playoff record for fewest turnovers in a game.

However, both Croft and Rojas have shown a tendency to beat themselves. In his last match with Waselenchuk at the Mexico Open, Croft took three technicals, so lost three points. You can't be giving back points against Waselenchuk, because they are just too hard to come by. Those weren't the only technicals Croft has received this season, so he needs to focus his emotions so that they are not adversely effecting his performance.

The emotion Croft plays with has undoubtedly helped him get to where he is, but when you play with fire you have to be careful not to burn yourself.

Rojas is a different case. The way he hurts himself is by playing inconsistently. He's become a top 8 player this season, but he's also lost in the 16s more often than he's made the semi-finals (4 to 2, respectively). Inconsistency is not uncommon in a young player, such as Rojas, who'll be 21 at the end of the month.

However, some of his inconsistency is inherent in how he swings right now, especially on his backhand. Most any racquetball coach will tell you that you want to swing flat through the hitting zone, which means you want your racquet to travel parallel to the floor as it moves to the point of contact with the ball. That flatness is very hard to accomplish if you have your elbow against your body, and when Rojas sets up on his backhand his elbow is tucked into his body.

Of course, it's not impossible to hit the ball this way, and when Rojas connects he hits nice shots with a lot of power. But having the elbow close to the body generally means a pendular swing, and Marty Hogan made a very nice career hitting this way, but it's going to be less consistent than a flat swing.

Rojas can become more consistent, perhaps by changing his swing to be flatter. Croft used to use a two handed backhand but has changed to a one handed technique and his game is the better for it.

It's quite possible that Croft or Rojas will be the player to end Waselenchuk's streak. However, if they are going to do so, they will have to stop beating themselves first.

Follow the bouncing ball....

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