Monday, July 25, 2016

Mexico wins 1st Overall Team title at 18th IRF World Championships

Mexico won the Overall Team title for the first time in World Championships history at the 18th International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships in Cali, Colombia on Saturday. Indeed, they almost swept the team competitions, which are a result of points awarded to the players based on their performances in the medal round. Mexico won the Women's Team competition, and was one point behind the USA in the Men's Team competition.

The USA had won all Overall Team competitions at Worlds except one, as Canada won the overall title in 2000, when the team competition was run as an actual competition with countries playing two singles matches and a doubles match against each other in men's and women's divisions. That format was changed in 2014 to the current one.

Mexico has won the Women's Team title three consecutive times now, while the USA has won the Men's Team title every year since 2002, when Canada won.

Tournament Thoughts

The IRF live streamed matches on the last three days of competition, so people outside of Cali could see the action. Those productions were generally good, and the IRF will be putting those videos on their YouTube channel in the coming days, so if you missed any of the action, or want to review it, check that out. Also on their YouTube channel, the IRF posted match videos from earlier in the competition, as well as interviews with various players and IRF people, and that was a welcome addition to the tournament.

Paola Longoria. Although it might be funny to say, it didn't seem to us that Paola Longoria played her best in the Women's Singles semi-finals and finals. Funny, because Longoria won both matches in two straight games and gave up only five points in three of those games. But Longoria's performance standards are very high, so it seemed she made more errors than she normally does. It's a testament to how good Longoria is that she can defeat players when she isn't playing her best.

And this slight reduction in quality could have contributed to Mexico's loss in the Women's Doubles final, as Mexico was up against a couple of wily veterans in Americans Aimee Ruiz and Janel Tisinger. Mexico needed Longoria and her partner Samantha Salas to be at their best to defeat the USA, but they weren't quite there. The Americans had a clear plan of what to do, and they were able to execute that. Mexico still almost won that final; they were only three points away from the gold, but being a little bit off can be the crucial difference between gold and silver.

Rocky Carson. The Racquetball Blog just passed its 8 year anniversary, and for that entire period Rocky Carson has been World Champion. It's an incredible record of excellence. He's 37 now, and was pressed for the win more this year than in any of his previous World Championships, as he needed three games to win both the semi-finals and finals. Previously, Carson had only played one tie-breaker in either the semis or the finals in winning his other World titles.

Can he win again in two years? It doesn't seem likely, but then it wouldn't have seemed likely that Carson would win five titles in a row back in 2008, so we aren't going to bet against it. However, Carson will be 39 in two years, and Father Time is undefeated, which could be a factor preventing Carson from extending his World Championship streak to six.

American Women. For some time now, we have suggested the state of American women's high performance racquetball has not been good, and their performance at Worlds this year was perhaps the worst ever, despite winning gold in Women's Doubles. Worst ever because for the first time no American woman was in the semi-finals at Worlds.

There had been Women's Singles finals with no American twice previously, as Canadian Christie Van Hees (now Christie Huczek) defeated Chilean Angela Grisar in the 2006 final, and Longoria beat Canadian Jennifer Saunders in the 2012 final. But in 2006, American Cheryl Gudinas was a semi-finalist and in 2012 both Gudinas and team-mate Rhonda Rajsich were in the semis.

The issue is the American women are generally older than their competition, and there aren't young American players coming along to takeover from the veterans. Team USA this year had two players over 30 (Rajsich, who'll be 38 in October, and Tisinger, 33) and one over 40 (Ruiz, 41), and their other player, Michelle Key, will be 28 next month. Rajsich and Key lost to players who will be 17 and 22, respectively, this year.

Moreover, looking at the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT) rankings, outside of Rajsich and Key there are only three American players in the top 20: Da'monique Davis (18th), Adrienne Haynes (19th) and Sheryl Lotts (20th), and two of those are over 30 (both Davis & Haynes are 31; Lotts is 26).

Thus, the issue for the USA is that there are few younger American women playing high level racquetball, which doesn't bode well for the future. In their favour, Kelani Bailey, who's just graduated university this year, was on Team USA for the Pan American Championships this year, so she's a promising prospect.

But they need more than one.

IRF Rule Changes

The IRF will be changing a few rules, and those changes will be effective September 1. The three key ones are (1) that players will have only 3 appeals per game which is down from 5 a game (IRF matches can involve line judges, and a player may appeal to those line judges if the player believes the referee's call is incorrect; if the line judges both disagree with the call, then the call will be overturned), (2) players will be allowed only two minutes of rest time between game two and three, which is the same as between games one and two, and down from the current five minutes between games two and three. Finally, (3) the IRF will adopt the two serve rule, which reportedly was asked for by the players, rather than one serve that has been the rule for perhaps two decades.

Those first two rule changes seem reasonable, but we are not in agreement on players having two serves. Part of the rationale was to be consistent with the professional tours, which use the two serve rule. The pro tours also use the win by two points rule in each game, which the IRF does not use, and there's no indication the IRF are going to adopt that rule, although we'd be in favour of them doing so.

The common thought is that allowing players to have two serves will encourage them to drive serve more, which is an exciting part of racquetball. But we feel that allowing two serves hurts players with good drive serves more, as their opponents will be able to just wale on the ball in an attempt to get a lucky serve, comforted by the knowledge that if their serve is a fault, they will get a second opportunity to put the ball into play.

Good drive servers, like Paola Longoria or Mike Green, don't need two serves to be effective drive serving. But poorer drive servers will be more effective with two serves, because they are being freed up to drive serve on first serve, when they might not have done so with a one serve rule.

Moreover, poorer drive servers are likely less effective because their technique is not good. With two serves, they will likely drive serve more, and over the course of a long tournament, like the World Championships, which lasts over a week, these players could be more susceptible to injury, because they are trying to produce maximum force with poor technique.

So, for these reasons we aren't in favour of the change to two serves, but no one asked us.

18th IRF World Championships
July 15-23, 2016
Cali, Colombia

Overall Team

1st: Mexico
2nd: USA
3rd: Bolivia
4th: Canada
5th: Ecuador

Men's Team

1st: USA
2nd: Mexico
3rd: Bolivia
4th: Canada
5th: Ecuador

Women's Team

1st: Mexico
2nd: USA
3rd: Guatemala
4th: Canada
5th: Bolivia

Men's Singles

GOLD: Rocky Carson (USA)
SILVER: Daniel De La Rosa (Mexico)
BRONZE: Conrrado Moscoso (Bolivia), Samuel Murray (Canada)

Men's Doubles

GOLD: Alvaro Beltran & Javier Moreno (Mexico)
SILVER: Jake Bredenbeck & Jose Diaz (USA)
BRONZE: Alejandro Herrera & Sebastian Franco (Colombia), Kadim Carrasco & Carlos Keller (Bolivia)

Women's Singles

GOLD: Paola Longoria (Mexico)
SILVER: Gabriela Martinez (Guatemala)
BRONZE: Maria Jose Vargas (Argentina), Samantha Salas (Mexico)

Women's Doubles

GOLD: Aimee Ruiz & Janel Tisinger (USA)
SILVER: Paola Longoria & Samantha Salas Solis (Mexico)
BRONZE: Frédérique Lambert & Jennifer Saunders (Canada), Jenny Daza & Adriana Riveros (Bolivia)

Follow the bouncing ball....

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