Jake Brendenbeck and Daniel De La Rosa
In the last two Racquetball Restrung podcasts, much of the talk was focused on aspects that were missing in the current crop of professional racquetball players outside of the elder statesmen of the top three. In the podcast conversations, both Cliff Swain and Sudsy Monchik took similar views. Where Swain noted that he didn't see anyone really targeting the current dominant IRT number one player, Kane Waselenchuk, Sudsy had a more overall take on the broader aspects of what it takes to rise and perform on the level of dominance. That these two are able to have such definitive and valid views is directly attributed to both Swain and Monchik spending much of their careers on the pro tours being the dominant player of their time, in their prime. So, as I watched the live stream on Enetlive of the International Racquetball Tour Florida Pro-Am, I tended to look a bit more critically at some of the players that much of the podcast talk indirectly leaned towards.
As far as typical IRT stops go, this one turned out to have a clearer opportunity to identify some of the individual aspects of two players who would be classified as within reach of attaining dominance. Jake Brendenbeck and Daniel De La Rosa. (To quickly clarify, classifying them as within reach, doesn't mean they are necessarily close to dominance, only that they may be in reach of it if they are able to master higher level aspects of their game, related to their respective desire.) Both players had very interesting results and clear opportunities to push through some upside levels. Jake Brendenbeck scored a win over Kane Waselenchuk before losing to Sebastian Franco and Daniel De La Rosa showed completely dominant play by not losing a game until the 3rd game of the pro final, having relatively easily played past Cliff Swain, Jose Rojas and Sebastian Franco.
Brendenbecks win over Kane was a test he put on the current dominant champion. (Calling Kane the current dominant champion almost seems like an understatement for the G.O.A.T.) Waselenchuk was returning off of a recent surgery and started off with some small visible signs that he may have returned too soon. That said, Jake appeared to come out doing all the things anyone would need to do to show success against Kane. He put real pressure on Kane, the type of pressure that is rarely put on Kane these days. Jake did what he was supposed to do, put Kane to the test. That Waselenchuk had to DNF is the result to expect if he came back too early to compete at the highest level of the sport. Of course, people will be talking about all sides of this and mostly say that Kane was hurt. Sure, he was. But Jake did exactly what he had to do and he (and many) will be looking back at this. And, well, to quote a text I received from Evan Pritchard, editor of The Racquetball Blog, right after their match, "If I'm Brendenbeck's coach, I'm saying you should have won in 3 or 4 at most, because you should have recognized what to do against your opponent." He went on temper that with statements about players in their particular stage of development. He gives a good perspective of his view with Rocky Carson's win recap on The Racquetball Blog. His thoughts are in line with where I'm taking things later in this entry.
IRT # 2 and International Racquetball Federation #1 Rocky Carson
What is more notable to me about Jake, is the result in his next match with Sebastian Franco. These two guys are good friends and have spent a significant amount of time together touring. Whether Jake will be able to properly grow and separate his business on the court with his environment off the court, is something that was on my mind as I watched the match with Franco. There where also signs of mental fatigue, with Brendenbeck having gone through a big moment in the Kane match. Of the players I'm talking about in this entry, Jake is the one that plays both tours regularly, the IRT and WRT. So for him, that plays a major factor in the levels of pressure here, because on the WRT, he may be significantly more socially engaged with players on that tour and some people will gauge the level of play on the two tours based on his results.
In De La Rosa's case, it was clearly a matter of physical conditioning. His skill level can be off the charts during some spurts of play. So when he steps in confidently, he can raise a seriously high bar talent-wise. His conditioning became clearly visible when he stepped in with Rocky Carson to play the final. Carson is someone who has excelled his career testing professional racquetball players with physically drawn out 5 game matches. I can't help but wonder what a world class, professionally tuned DLR would have looked like in the 3rd, 4th and 5th game. The way Daniel was in tune with his game this weekend, I don't think it would have went 5. Rocky Carson is a case in point of when you are running in a peak and dominating form. And with De La Rosa, it may be more of a simple matter of dedication to physical conditioning that separates him from being a dominant professional at the highest level of play. He would be able to more easily master key moments if he is feeling strong.
If I could do so, I would ask these specific players about their critically thinking. Are they satisfactorily addressing the physical preparation, (beyond being just status quo in-shape), as well as their situational and mental preparation before they walk through the court door? Are they addressing the type of thinking that once on the court, can be called to task for the management of the game/opponent and not allow any one situation to manage their results for them? I know, easier said than done. Yet they are the ones most positioned to really make the sport work for them beyond a bit of notoriety and some logistical comfort when it comes to travel and provisions. I would include Jose Rojas (pictured here,) similarly in this questioning, though his break-through issues may require a different type of focus or management in some degree.
In a sense, there may be a linear future for the professional tours and the sport of racquetball that could rest on their shoulders. The tours would continue to survive well without these players taking things to the next level and even continue to run without them. The tours have always been filled with good journeymen players. But the tours are currently more interesting with these players showing up. And similarly in line with my questions to them, I would further ask them, are they imagining what the sport could look like on their shoulders?