World Racquetball Tour #2 Alex Cardona
In February, I wrote about how I thought professional racquetball was in a good place. In that entry, I pointed to how I saw some players today are incorporating more dynamic types in their play. This type of play has typically been seen in the upper tier of players and I mentioned how I noticed many of those flashes with much of the young talented players that are finding their way to play on tours.
There is something to be said of development. Without having to say so, but I will, good coaching is probably the best way to make immediate improvement on the level of play, because a coach's job is to take raw talent and hone it. Individually working with a coach can identify key aspects that hold players with top end potential back. But ultimately, in singles, it's an individual sport and when a player finds himself on a court with another player, he must measure his own weight against his opponent.
I didn't talk about the difference playing on either the International Racquetball Tour and the World Racquetball Tour can make on how players play. I think I can honestly say, that, I'm not the only one that looks to see how regular WRT players do when they play regular (touring) IRT players when they meet, especially when they are within the same age range. Judging by looking at the Men's Pro draw results from this past weekend's Battle of the Alamo Regional Tournament in San Antonio, Texas, one would think that WRT players still have a long way to go before they can start being able to shake up an IRT draw. This event was mostly followed outside of Texas because it was the next to last Ladies professional Racquetball Tour stop of the season, but it was also a Tier 4 IRT satellite stop. There were two top 10 IRT players participating as well as two WRT top10 players taking part.
International Racquetball Tour #4 Daniel De La Rosa
The most interesting look is the Quarter Round results of IRT #4 ranked Daniel De La Rosa and WRT Ranked #2 player Alex Cardona. Note the score, 2-11,11-5,11-4,11-6... a huge swing in the De La Rosa victory. I know you can't read everything in the results, but they are results. And it says a ton seeing as how Cardona is almost a given to show in any WRT final four. We know that it may not be all about talent, because Alex definitely has the tools, but this was a drubbing after a strong start and says to me "mental". What was the difference? What was the dynamic on the court? What were they thinking of each other? These are questions I wish I knew that I may never know. I do know some things though. I know Cardona has always been a significant force on the WRT from the start, in relationship to the talent. De La Rosa though has had to build up his presence over the past few years on the IRT, playing seasoned IRT professionals. So, I guess I may have just answered my own "What was the difference?" question.
World Racquetball Tour #3 Jake Brendenbeck
Looking at WRT #3 Jake Brendenbeck's results, I'm tending to think there might be something to my thought that he might need a short break from playing so much on that tour. He was on the same side of the draw as IRT #7 Jansen Allen (whom he lost to late last year,) but couldn't get past Javier Mar, who is an awesome talent from Mexico that doesn't regularly travel on either tour. (At least from what I know of both tours.) Jake lost to Mar 11-5,13-11,12-10. I find this score very interesting because I believe Brendenbeck has the player with the most upside when it comes to matching talent and possibilities. But with him, it's his mental make up and I think it could have something to do with the closeness-player culture on the WRT. They tend to spend a ton of time together as buddies. I can't help but think that might be something to look at when it comes to working on the mental stuff.
International Racquetball Tour #7 Jansen Allen
It's just about the end of this season and currently, WRT players are not ready to compete and expect the same levels of success as IRT players. I think everyone who watches these things knows this. But knowing this, watchers tend to look for signs of improvement with this measure. I haven't seen any head-to-head signs myself.
And the Javier Mar(s) of racquetball. The WRT initially identified guys like this and offered them opportunities to play on a tour regularly. But you can't do that with everyone. And eventually, it becomes a closed system if only a hand full of players have the tour's full support. I noted the WRT high on last year's Restrung Magazine's 2014 Top Ten because of the momentum they were carrying regarding professional play in Mexico and creating interest. I still like what they are doing, but I'm wondering if they are in danger of getting stuck with a revolving cast of players, that may not progress enough to challenge IRT players on a significant level. The WRT currently has a sole manufacturer sponsor model, and they have to figure out how they can facilitate the same way for young players outside of that sponsor's coverage. (Or grow significantly.) I know they work with the Reaching Your Dream Foundation to provide these opportunities, (a great thing,) but the WRT needs to figure out how to use that model to be more inclusive, more revolving and create sustainability with that partnership.
Early this season, I posted A Year Of Young Moves, where I noted some things along this line of thinking, as it has to do with growth in the sport. I'm looking at how things are currently looking for men's professional racquetball and I'm thinking both tours would benefit from thinking of progressive ways to identify young talent, and creating ways to use that young talent to individually pay for themselves.
Looking at just the play. There is professional. And there is professional. There are levels.