This weekend's International Racquetball Tour stop wasn't promising anything spectacular. By that I mean, it was coming off of a crazy big US Open and going into St. Louis without Kane and fill-ins to make 16. Seeing the best racquetball players in the world is still what their season is all about, so anything can happen, but it's easy to feel like you're not expecting anything surprising.
Then I read this, "Worst match I've been involved in since I've been on tour for multiple reasons. Excited to get back home to Hudson and take it easy after a long month." - a statement posted by Ben Croft. That was definitely an eye catcher. He was refering to being disqualified during the fourth game with a match up with Rocky Carson in the round of 8. The post garnered 24 comments, one of which read, "Very poorly ref'd match. Not everyone is capable of seeing the ball at that level of play. Clearly that is what happened here. Unfortunately these same people have an effect on players rankings. ..money and frustration level. Wish there was something they could do to o prevent this from happening. Just seems so unfair for these professional athletes to have this happen to them. Very hard to watch when this happens."
Now, there are always two sides. I say this because I know that Ben has two camps. Love and hate. Some fans love his passion and his unrelenting drive on the court. Some fans just see him as quarrelsome and a baby when he doesn't get his way on the court. I'm trying to be objective here. But the difference in views really go to both extremes by notable camps.
I personally am on the fence with some of the things he does. But what I would like to point out this time, is the back story going into this weekend.
Sometimes, Ben gets looked at as a threat after guys like Jose Rojas and Daniel De La Rosa, who manage to keep their footing in the top 5. His budding rivalry with both Rojas brothers will be something to watch out for. Before the US Open he split outcomes with the brothers. Losing to Markie and winning against Jose. At the Open, he managed to convincingly get by Markie. It's not surprising though. The US Open is a big time event and Croft shows up on the big court a ton when he is driven by these kinds of things.
He was carrying a lot of personal momentum into his Quarterfinal match-up with Rocky Carson at the US Open. During that match there was a significant swing for Ben. He was playing like a beast during the first 2 games and looked completely in control of things. The third game saw him on the loosing side after serving with match points about 6 times. Rocky played the court and the refs brilliantly. At the start of game 3, you could see a noticable difference in Croft. Understandibly. I think he still might of been carrying some of this added emotional weight and apprehension about officiating this past weekend.
Both players have clearly engaged refs and the line judges with discontent excessively. This is not atypical for these two when they play each other. Not too long ago, I threw out Hero Vs. Anti-hero, comparing the two in terms of how fans perceive them related to what they do on the court. Their approach to this type of thing is also very different. Whereas Ben is more straight up confrontational with officials, Rocky has a way of mind-gaming the refs. With both players driven and incorporating ref engagement, there has to be some sort of feeling on the other, in terms of what they think the other is doing. It's not always that difficult to see, or hear. (At the Open, during the Pro Doubles final, in which Ben and Kane Waselenchuk where playing Rocky and Alvaro Beltran, there was a clear moment. There had been some sort of long rally and intense engagement with the refs. Ben, about to serve on the right side, looked back at Rocky, also on the right and gave him a serious looking "Don't laugh!" Seriously... that match had energy like that cracking in the air with intensity.)
Croft's comments after this weekends loss makes a ton of sense when you consider what happens between him and Carson on the court and when you look at the draw. That meeting led into an important 8 spot, which is a defining line between traveling to play being worth it or not for a professional. And Croft, it seems, is just unable to contain his frustrations successfully. My thought is that he is probably seeing things in retrospect and feeling things should have gone differently on his end.
But what does the IRT do in response to this kind of stuff? Does it do anything at this point to reign things in? Or does it do nothing and let the 4 Tech rule do it's thing. Is this a player issue or a reffing issue?
I tend to feel this is a player - rule enforcement issue. And any mandates taken by the tour to control this kind of stuff has to be comprehensively and clearly defined and stricly implemented, along with exploring options like instant replay. Some players have been successful with squeezing by set rules and doing things they are not supposed to do. It may be time to start nipping things in the bud. Regardless of who they are.