Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Waselenchuk's victory in Laurel revisited

With the US Open starting on Wednesday, we’re taking another look at the last International Racquetball Tour (IRT) final: the 2019 IRT Valentine Open in Laurel, Maryland, where IRT #1 Kane Waselenchuk needed a tie-breaker to defeat IRT #2 Rocky Carson, 15-(-1), 11-15, 11-4. It was a remarkable match, and the first time Carson has won a game off Waselenchuk since the IRT changed to the best of 3 games format in January of 2018.

But it didn’t look like Carson was going to do that after game one took less than 13 min, which included a Carson timeout. Carson served first in the game, and then only served three more times before Waselenchuk scored 15 points.

Waselenchuk’s 12th point came when Carson hit the ball to the back right corner for what looked like a winner. Against a mere mortal, it probably would have been. But Waselenchuk’s no mere mortal, and he hit the ball forwards while facing backwards, just getting his legs out of the way, as he swung across his body.

After that rally, Carson smashed the ball into the back wall in an act of frustration. The referee assessed Carson with a technical, which reduced his score from 0 to -1.

He did get a chance to get back to 0, as Carson got a sideout at 14-0 when he hit a side-side-front shot that made the front wall. But Waselenchuk hit a winning backhand return off Carson’s drive Z serve to the right to deny Carson a point in the game. Waselenchuk won the game on the next rally.

Thirteen minutes start to finish with nothing to suggest game two would be any different.

And it wasn’t any different at the start, as Waselenchuk scored the first five points to lead 5-0. So, Waselenchuk scored the first 20 points of the final.

But then the tide turned, although not quickly. Carson got the serve back with a forehand winner, and got his first point when Waselenchuk skipped a backhand serve return of a Carson drive serve to the right side. But after 9 more rallies it was still only 5-2.

Then Carson scored four points on consecutive rallies to take a 6-5 lead with his 6th point coming off a great overhead forehand pinch shot. He wouldn’t relinquish the lead, though they were tied at 7-7. Carson broke that tie with three straight points for a 10-7 lead from there, and Waselenchuk never got closer than three until Carson won it 15-11.

Game two took 34 min, more than two and a half times longer than game one.

Carson carried the momentum over to the breaker, as he took a 3-0 lead. But Waselenchuk scored 11 of the next 12 points to come back and win the game, 11-4, and the match, 2-1. Waselenchuk and Carson have won the first two events of the 2019-20 IRT season.

It seemed like the story of the match was Waselenchuk skipping balls for awhile in the second game. While Carson played well after game one, and he forced some of the skips from Waselenchuk, there were more than a couple unforced errors by the IRT #1.

Where does this put Waselenchuk going into the US Open? His US Open record is impeccable. Waselenchuk hasn’t lost a US Open match since 2002, and has won the last 11 US Open titles and 14 overall. There shouldn’t be anything to worry his fans about.

And yet, the IRT has more up and coming players now than in recent memory. These guys are young, so often inconsistent, but they all have talent and can get hot. If Waselenchuk has to play a few of them, then it could make his road to his 15th title one of the most difficult he’s faced.

Also, Waselenchuk is playing doubles with Ben Croft, so that’ll be an added burden on the man who’ll be 38 next month, especially as we’re sure he’d like to win doubles again. He and Croft have won the US Open IRT Doubles title three times, but they lost last year to Alvaro Beltran and Daniel De La Rosa.

Still, we find it difficult to imagine who will beat Waselenchuk in Minneapolis. Sure there are guys who could do it. Maybe. If the planets all align. If one of them finds a four leaf clover before the match. We're saying it's possible.

But we’re not betting on it.

Look for the US Open IRT action from Minneapolis via the usual IRT media outlets: The IRT YouTube channel or the IRT Facebook page.

Follow the bouncing ball….

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