Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Waselenchuk likely to retire

Kane Waselenchuk announced he will likely retire this off season last Saturday after winning the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) Florida Regional Championships. Waselenchuk has been the dominant IRT player since 2008 during which he has lost only twice on court (i.e., not by default), and he’s been #1 twelve times since 2004.

At 36, Waselenchuk is not a young athlete (he'll be 37 in November), but he’s still at the top of his sport, as evidenced by Waselenchuk’s five IRT tournament victories this season, including winning singles and doubles (with Ben Croft) at the 2017 US Open.

However, he won’t finish as the #1 IRT player this season. Rocky Carson will be #1, as Waselenchuk injured his knee at the 2018 Los Angeles Open in January, which led to him missing four events. He also missed one event prior to his injury, and those absences will stop Waselenchuk’s run at #1.

Waselenchuk didn’t say he was going to retire for certain, but that he was “about 90% sure” he would. Thus, Waselenchuk left the door open for a return. But if he doesn’t return, should we be surprised?

Some people suggest that an athletic career lasts 20 years. Ten years to get to the top, then 10 to stay there, and then the athlete is often done. Waselenchuk first became noticed 20 years ago at the 1998 Canadian National Championships, when he finished 3rd in Men’s Doubles with Mike Green.

In 1999 at just 17, he won the first of three consecutive Canadian National Championships in Men’s Singles by defeating the 10 time Canadian Champion Sherman Greenfeld in the final. He played on Team Canada eight times from 1998 to 2002, winning the 2002 Pan American Championships.

But it was on the IRT that Waselenchuk made his reputation. He reached the semi-finals in his first IRT event: the 1999 Bud Light Pro Nationals in Las Vegas, where he beat Derek Robinson in the quarterfinals, Jack Huczek in the semi-finals, and went five games with Cliff Swain in the semi-finals, losing 11-8 in the tie-breaker.

Waselenchuk’s second IRT event was the 2000 US Open, and he knocked off Jason Mannino, who was the defending champion, in the Round of 64, which is the earliest a defending champion has lost at the US Open (note: Sudsy Monchik lost in the 64s at the 2001 US Open, but that was due to a pre-tournament injury but after the draw was finalized). Waselenchuk reached the quarters, losing to Alvaro Beltran in five games.

Waselenchuk won his first IRT event in Chicago in October 2001, when he was playing just his 7th IRT event. He did it by beating Mannino in the Round of 16, Mike Green in the quarterfinals, and Sudsy Monchik in the semi-finals without losing a game to any of them. In the final, he faced John Ellis, who forced Waselenchuk to a breaker after losing the first two games. Waselenchuk denied Ellis the comeback by winning the breaker, 11-8.

He didn’t look back from there, finishing 4th in the 2001-02 season, 2nd in the 2002-3 season, and then 12 seasons as the #1 IRT player interrupted only by his suspension for the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons.

Will he be back? Waselenchuk wouldn’t be the first athlete to retire early and near the top of his sport, even within racquetball. Jack Huczek retired in 2011, when he was still in the top 4. Waselenchuk also wouldn’t be the first player to retire due to an injury, as Monchik’s was forced into retirement because of a back injury.

His age and recent injury are one thing, but when Waselenchuk said he’s “not too sure I enjoy this like I used to” that’s when alarm bells should ring. Sport really needs to be enjoyed, especially sport at the highest level, because it takes a lot of work and many sacrifices to get to that level and even more so to stay there. If it’s not fun, if the pain starts to outweigh the pleasure, then it’s time to stop.

There’s been much talk over his career of Waselenchuk being the best player of all time. Better than Swain or Monchik or Marty Hogan. The Racquetball Blog would be happy to make that argument, but really it’s bar-room talk: an issue that’s fun to discuss, but can’t be definitively answered. In our idea of heaven, we’ll get to spend eternity seeing Waselenchuk at his best playing the others at their best, and then we’ll know for sure who was the best.

Waselenchuk finished Saturday by saying “the run’s been great, and if this is the last one then, man, it was fun.” It was fun. And often it was astonishing. We aren’t likely to see the likes of him again.

Until we do, of course, because there’s always a next one. Then we’ll argue about whether the next one is better than Waselenchuk.

Regardless of whether he plays again, Waselenchuk’s place in racquetball history is assured.

Follow the bouncing ball....

4 comments:

Dave Negrete said...

Great writing Evan as always.

Margo Scott said...

Great article!

Margo Scott said...

Great article!

millhead said...

Yep - I agree with Negrete - great writing. King Kane was a one in a generation athlete and we should be thankful we saw the GOAT in his prime and until know. How many more US Opens will he win?