Monday, January 18, 2021

The astonishing Mr. Murray

A week on and it’s still astonishing to think that Samuel Murray is an International Racquetball Tour (IRT) champion. Not astonishing because of the luck involved. Luck played little role in Murray’s win, as he defeated Javier Mar, Daniel De La Rosa, Alejandro Landa, and Conrrado Moscoso to win the Suivant Consulting Pro-Am title in Lilburn, Georgia last weekend. The last three of those players - De La Rosa, Landa and Moscoso - have all won IRT events and have nine titles between them (4, 4, 1, respectively). Murray beat them, so now he joins them as an IRT champion.

Rather it’s astonishing because few saw it coming. Indeed, in the IRT pre-tournament discussion Dean Baer, Todd Boss and Favio Soto were unanimous in their prediction of a Murray loss to Mar in the Round of 16 (prediction at 44' of video). So, none of them even thought Murray would play one of those past champions, because they didn’t have Murray getting out of the 16s! To be fair, in the fantasy entries only one of 22 entries had Murray getting past the quarterfinals with 7 of 22 having him lose to Mar and 13 having him lose to De La Rosa.

Astonishing because of where Murray's come from. He grew up in Baie-Comeau, Québec (~21,000 population) on the north shore of the St Lawrence River some 700 km (420 miles) east of Montreal. You wouldn’t pick Baie-Comeau as the origin of a star in any sport, let alone in racquetball, but as a coach we know likes to say “they have to come from somewhere.” So Murray's win is a real "small town boy does good" story.

Astonishing because when Murray was a junior no one was thinking "Sam’s going to be an IRT champion." He was overshadowed by Coby Iwaasa, who was a phenomenal junior player. Murray did beat Iwaasa to win U16 at the 2010 Canadian Junior Championships, though Iwaasa is three years younger than Murray. He didn’t win U18 singles in Canada, and didn’t win any titles at the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Junior Championships.

But Murray persisted. In 2014, he won his 1st Canadian title by teaming with Vincent Gagnon to win Men’s Doubles at the Canadian Championships. Another Men’s Doubles title came in 2016 (with Pedro Castro), and that win helped Murray go to the 2016 IRF World Championships. He was the only Canadian man to come home from that Worlds with a medal: a bronze in Men’s Singles, which was Murray’s first medal for Canada.

Murray followed up that success by starting to play the IRT full time in the 2016-17 season. He only made it past the 16s twice that season - one quarterfinal and one semi-final - and finished ranked 14th. Not the kind of results that would make you think that he would win an IRT event, let alone that “Murray could be #1” someday, which is the kind of talk that has surrounded the likes of De La Rosa and Moscoso from the time they started on tour.

He’s only missed two events over the past four seasons, and been in the top ten each of the last three seasons, including making his first final in September 2018. There’s a common saying that success is a lot about showing up, and Murray has continued to show up.

In doing so, he’s achieved something few other players - and only one other Canadian - has achieved: an IRT title. What other astonishing achievements will be in Murray's future?

Probably more than we think.

Follow the bouncing ball….

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