Current WRT World #1 and #2 Polo Gutierrez (right) and Alejandro Cardona (left)
Let's be real. There is a ton of talk out there regarding the state of professional racquetball. Much of that talk over the past few years has hinged on the growth issue. When you look at current data regarding participation numbers, racquetball has lost roughly 1.5 million participants over the last 5 or so years.
Though this may be contributed to health clubs and their current business models, much of the focus for the loss is the lack of an accessible professional tour in the broader media landscape. With things being as they are with access, the general public is still mostly unaware of professional racquetball. There is just too much competing for their various blocks of 1 to 3 minutes of time throughout their days. And racquetball isn't even close to gaining access to those who might find some of our action visibly appealing even if we could manage that content effectively. Whatever the thinking and opinions are, when you mention the state of professional racquetball, this is often on the top of the debate list. But let's push that aside for now.
Current IRT World #1 and #2 Kane Wasalenchuk (right) and Rocky Carson (left)
I want to address talent. As far as play goes, for a number of years, I've been hearing about how good the players of the past were. I would hear how they were ferocious competitors and how the level of talent was deep, in a time of deeper interest in racquetball. With most of that being true on a number of levels, let's consider just how times have changed. Racquet technology and the manner in which people learn and participate in racquetball is the big change. Things are different now and with that said, it's this writer's opinion that when it comes to the level of skill, today's racquetball is great shape.
Some might point to the International Racquetball Tour's very few dominating players as a sign that the level of play has dropped. You can even argue that is true for the World Racquetball Tour also, with their #1 and #2 players generally ending up playing on Sundays. Having a small number of dominating players was probably the case back in the "hay days" of racquetball also, though maybe it wasn't generally felt as deeply as it is for today's engaged racquetball enthusiasts, who type in the right words on their screens to know which of the top pros are doing what. If we can hold on to that thought for just a second, it can be argued that today's young talent is not only different in their abilities on the court, but progressively better.
Reigning U19 World Champion Mario Mercado playing Bobby Horn and the broadcast - WRT. (I really liked this kid.)
When I look at some of the talented young players today, especially from Mexico and South America, I see a crop of players that are completely skilled at mastering a racquetball court. When we watch the best player of all time (arguably...?) Kane Waselenchuk play and because he is winning, we tend to put his ridiculous ability to combine creative form and consistency together to point to phrases like "never seen before" or "on another level". All very true statements when it comes to him. But I would argue that the very type of racquetball that Kane puts together so religiously, can be seen in many of the younger players today. The style, smoothness and creativity has spread to where it's almost common now to make shots that look uncommon. In the general sense of evolution, that level of play can be seen in some of these young guys and was on display this past weekend. And looking at both IRT and WRT tour draws for this past weekend, I see many names that point to what I am talking about. (How the pro tours respectively play out is another matter.)
The answer to "why men's professional racquetball is in a good place" is...
There is some serious talent out there.