Saturday, May 6, 2023

Martinez wins 2023 LPRT Sweet Caroline Open

Gabriela Martinez defeated Brenda Laime, 15-11, 15-7, to win the 2023 Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT) Sweet Caroline Open in Greenville, South Carolina on Saturday. On paper, it was a big upset, as Martinez was seeded 17th and Laime 6th, but Martinez is a former International Racquetball Federation (IRF) Women’s Singles World Champion, so it’s not too surprising that she’s winning on the LPRT.

What is surprising is that Martinez has been in more IRF Women’s Singles finals at the World Championships than she has LPRT finals: 3 versus 2. But she’s won both of her LPRT final appearances, while only winning one of the three IRF finals. Her relatively low LPRT ranking is due to her only playing half of the events (4 of 8 prior to this weekend) this season, and not getting further than the Round of 16 in any event prior to this weekend.

In doubles, top seeds Paola Longoria and Samantha Salas beat #2 seeds Alexandra Herrera and Montserrat Mejia, 15-11, 15-6.

Martinez never trailed in game one of the singles final, and had leads of 7-2 and 11-4. Yet Laime kept working, and managed to tie the score at 11-11.

Martinez regained the serve, when a penalty hinder (or avoidable) was assessed against Laime, who hit a drive serve to the left that came off the side wall and into the middle preventing Martinez from a direct shot to the front wall.

Laime never served again, as Martinez hit winners on the next four rallies, including two directly off her serve. The second of those was a clean ace drive serve to the right side that ended the game, 15-11.

In game two, Martinez ran out to an 11-1 lead, despite Laime calling both her timeouts. Laime managed to put some points together and got within five at 11-6, so Martinez called a timeout.

That led to an exchange of sideouts, 6 in all, before Martinez broke the deadlock with two points, the second of which was another drive serve ace to the right side that made it 13-6.

Still, Laime kept at it, and Martinez needed nine rallies to get the last two points, and close out the game 15-7, and the match in two straight games.

Both games of the doubles final were close early. In game one, Herrera and Mejia came back from 8-3 down to tie Longoria and Salas at 9-9. But Longoria and Salas were better down the stretch, as they won it 15-11.

In game two, the shift came after they were tied 6-6, as Longoria and Salas got six points on as many rallies to lead 12-6. Herrera and Mejia got the serve back at 13-6, but Salas and then Longoria hit winning serve returns on back to back drive serves to put themselves back in the service box, where they closed out the game on the next two rallies.

Salas was player of the match, and you don’t have to look further than the last rally to see why, as she drove twice to keep the ball in play. The second dive led to Herrera skipping a shot, which gave her opponents the winning point.

The ultimate tournament

The 2022-23 LPRT season ends next month with the LPRT at the Beach tournament June 15-17 in Chesapeake, Virginia, where the season ending #1 ranking will be on the line. Longoria has been #1 for 11 straight seasons, but this year Mejia has won more tournaments - 4 to 3 - so Mejia has a chance to be unseat Longoria, and finish #1 for the first time in her career.

There are other ranking uncertainties also. Perhaps Erika Manilla could pass Alexandra Herrera for 3rd. Laime may crack the top 5; she’s 6th now and did much better this weekend than Jessica Parrilla, who currently is slightly ahead of her in 5th.

Martinez may have an outside chance to get into the top 10, as she was 19th prior to this weekend. Martinez’s didn’t play in South Carolina last year, so her points for winning will be all new. She did play at last year’s season ending event, where she finished in the quarters, so Martinez will have to defend those points next month and perhaps better them if she hopes to be in the top 10 for the second consecutive season.

Also, Maria Jose Vargas may be able to crack the top 10. She was 12th going into this weekend, and 80 points behind Salas in 10th. Helping Vargas's case is that Salas did better than her at last year’s season ending event (semi-final versus Round of 16, respectively), so it could be possible for Vargas to get into the top 10.

She’s been in the top 10 nine of the last ten seasons, including the last five consecutive. If Vargas makes the top 10, she’ll tie Cristina Amaya for 9th most career top 10 finishes.

While nine top 10 finishes is impressive, it's well off the record, which is 22, held by Rhonda Rajsich. Even more impressive is that she did it in 22 consecutive seasons. Indeed, Rajsich has been in the top 10 every season of this century, beginning in 2000-01. But Rajsich has only played one event this season, so there’s no way she could crack the top 10 even with a win next month in Virginia. Her streak will be broken.

That'll be the end of an era.

If you missed any of the action from South Carolina, check out the LPRT YouTube channel.

2023 LPRT Sweet Caroline Open
Greenville, South Carolina - May 4-7, 2023

Final - Saturday

17) Gabriela Martinez d. 6) Brenda Laime, 15-11, 15-7

Doubles - Semi-finals - Saturday

1) Paola Longoria & Samantha Salas d. 5) Kelani Lawrence & Hollie Scott, 15-10, 15-4
2) Alexandra Herrera & Montserrat Mejia d. 6) Natalia Mendez & Maria Jose Vargas, 15-8, 15-7

Doubles - Final - Saturday

1) Paola Longoria & Samantha Salas d. 2) Alexandra Herrera & Montserrat Mejia, 15-11, 15-6

Follow the bouncing ball….

1 comment:

Neil D. said...

Dear Racquetball Blog staff...

What has become of Kane? Do you think he'll be back?