21 And 12 Are Big Numbers
A dozen times, Kane Waselenchuk has won this title. 12 US Open Championships is more than all former champions combined. It was also his 100th tour stop win. (He received a unique gift from the IRT marking this milestone... check it out @restrungmag on Instagram.)
Right now, Kane remains untouchable. He is regarded as the greatest player of all time by most. As he has over the last several years, arrived focused and ruthless. He shut players down quickly and commanded the court with apparent ease throughout his draw. Year after year, Kane sets his sight on the new number and this year, at the 21st US Open Championships, Waselenchuk grabbed the "12".
Waselenchuk and Rodrigo Montoya
Some quick notes on his run this year. In the round of 16, he met Rodrigo Montoya from Mexico. Montoya, who doesn't play often in the states is considered by many insiders in Mexico top shelf good. Montoya managed to score the most cumulative points on Kane with 12. Kane followed that up in the next round by keeping the winner of the last World Racquetball Tour stop, Andre Parrilla, to zero points. Sebastian Franco, currently ranked 8th on the International Racquetball Tour was left to 10 points. Jose Rojas, IRT # 5 scored 9 cumulative points and 2007 US Open Champion Rocky Carson scored 10 cumulative points in the best out of five final.
There is Kane and there is the rest of the field. Period. Waselenchuk had some interesting words during his champion's speech, stating, "When you go, I go." Kane was referencing International Racquetball Tour President Jason Mannino. It was a very interesting statement to those who are aware of the dynamic professional racquetball has been developing over the past couple of seasons with two separate men's tours. Kane is the foremost separating factor in terms of overall level of play.
The UnitedHealthcare US Open continues to be the flagship of racquetball, the biggest racquetball event on the planet. Every serious, professional level player makes this tournament a must attend event. With all the talk about the sport of racquetball on the edge of falling into obscurity, this event is the big one. People show to play and talk serious racquetball. It flashes with what racquetball could look like when you drop an all glass court and work in the lights and a booming sound system. Doug Ganim, who this year was inducted into the USA Racquetball Hall of Fame has been heading up this event since the beginning. It is a massive organizational and fund raising effort, and racquetball is the type of sport that breeds no shortage of volunteers thanks to USA Racquetball, so, bringing it all together is no small endeavor. The biggest racquetball draw spread between two clubs paired with the show court dropped in Minneapolis' Target Center. (Being from NYC, I can only imagine what that thing would look like dropped in Grand Central Terminal. I've seen the Tournament Of Champions squash event happen year after year there and know the faster paced crashing action would be well received during rush hour.)
The only thing (or person) in racquetball right now with more reach is Paola Longoria. As far as dominance, she runs the level of play and the level of reach. This Mexican superstar grabbed her 7th US Open title. She is a disciplined athlete and knows how to execute on the court. And this... her "Verified Account" on Twitter now has 235+ thousand followers and her @paolongoria "Verified Account" on Instagram boasts 132 thousand followers. Fitting for this talk show hoping, magazine appearing marketing powerhouse. I am not exaggerating when I say her cumulative reach rivals that of racquetball.
Paola Longoria and Samantha Salas during the Women's Pro Singles Final
Since the addition of Pro Doubles to the US Open 3 years ago, Paola has seen her individual time on the show court reduced because of the time the doubles play takes up. She also won the Women's Pro Doubles title this year with long time doubles partner Samantha Salas. She also met Salas in the Women's final. Even with her reduced singles time on the all glass court, there was still opportunity to view her court dominance and how she controls player movement often from the backcourt. Smart. She's set up to keep playing at these levels for some time.
Left to Right: Jose Rojas, Waselenchuk, Ben Croft, Marko Rojas
Pro Doubles has changed the way the available show court time is designated for good reason. Doubles play is fast and the crowd gets raucous. Kane Waselenchuk and Ben Croft came into the event as two-time defending champions but were stopped in the semifinals by Jose and Marko Rojas. The brothers from the city of Stockton in California (upset the defending champs in a contentious 3 game battle and went on to win the championship. It was an emotional event for the brothers who have been dedicating to tour on the IRT through sponsor difficulties of late, at least for Jose Rojas, who has spent much of his young yet extensive pro career as a primary player for Ektelon, a now defunct racquetball brand. Rojas, according to his own words was close to calling it quits this summer and found some support from Gearbox Racquetball and is now all in. His semifinal showing win in Doubles with brother Markie who himself is #8 on the IRT, is a good bump in appeal for the tour.
Granted, there were a ton of story lines in the draws but these two sum up to top shelf play. You can get match details from our friends at The Racquetball Blog. The US Open sets up and drops early in the pro racquetball season. For years, it has been setting a bar for the rest of the sport's season and with that, there is always a hope that during the rest of the year, there are sparks that lead to more events like this.