A Quick Recap of the Tour’s Tier 1 & Grand Slam Finals
By: Kelly R. Diesel
It was a roller coaster ride for the International Racquetball Tour’s (IRT) rankings this past season, and the world’s fastest sport proved that everyone on the court had a chance to end the weekend with a championship added to their resume. The 2018-2019 IRT season was filled with exciting Tier 1 (T1) tournaments all over the country, the top-class US Open and even an additional Grand Slam (GS) event outside the country in Bolivia! Here’s a look at the finals of every Tier 1/Grand Slam tournament from the 2018-2019 IRT season:
MWRA Season Opener in Laurel, Maryland T1
In Maryland we got to see #7* Samuel Murray, from Baie Comeau, Quebec Canada, reach his first-ever Tier 1 final in his IRT career. Murray faced off against #2* Rocky Carson, from Ladera Ranch, California and fans got to witness some entertaining rallies and some top-level performances from both athletes. Carson took game one rather easily by a final score of 15-7 and you could tell this was Murray’s first time in the finals on the big stage. Murray buckled down in game two and gave Carson everything he could handle and then some, showing great talent and little emotion…except those occasional screams and fist pumps on his killshots. Carson showed his experience and mustard out a tough game two win, 15-12, and took home the season opener T1 tournament.
23rd Annual UnitedHealthCare US Open in Minneapolis, Minnesota GS
The US Open in Minneapolis is far superior to most events in so many ways, but the action on the court lived up to the hype that always leads up to the star-studded event in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”. #1* Kane Waselenchuk, residing in Austin, Texas, captured his 14th US Open and his 11th US Open championship consecutively. No one has ever played and dominated the sport like Waselenchuk and his talents were on full display at the Target Center.
Without competing on Tour since early May at the end of the 2017-2018 season, Waselenchuk hit the court and picked up right where he left off and found his way to the finals against #6* Daniel De La Rosa, residing in Gilbert, Arizona. De La Rosa was defeated 15-11, 15-6 but shared a special moment on the court with Waselenchuk after the final point before the media and fans surrounded them both. De La Rosa may feel bitter about the singles final, but should feel sweet about that doubles final he and his partner put on against Waselenchuk and his teammate.
The 2018 US Open Doubles final was everything the fans wanted and more, a rematch of one of the greatest doubles battles in the history of the sport. Waselenchuk and his partner #96* Ben Croft, from Lake Bluff, Illinois faced off against De La Rosa and his partner #5* Alvaro Beltran, from Tijuana, Mexico and put on the perfect show for all the fans watching online and those in the building. De La Rosa and Beltran took a 12-3 lead in game one before Waselenchuk and Croft scored seven straight, cutting it to 12-10. De La Rosa and Beltran found their magic and finished off game one 15-11 and cruised to the championship in game two at 15-6, knocking off the 3x US Open doubles champions.
John Pelham Memorial Tournament of Champions in Portland, Oregon T1
The finals action that came out of the John Pelham Memorial Tournament between #1 Waselenchuk and #5 Beltran may have been, “the greatest racquetball action Portland has ever seen,” according to #24* Charlie Pratt, Portland racquetball native. Waselenchuk came out with drive serve to each side that were absolute blisters. Beltran has plenty of hand speed and great reaction time, but only showed a few examples of those talents in game one, losing 15-6. Game two started and both players seemed to be having trouble finding a way to put points on the board, as it was only 4-4 for over 20 minutes. Waselenchuk (37) and Beltran (39) showed just how much they wanted it by sacrificing their bodies for the points rally after rally. With Waselenchuk at match point, Beltran managed to get himself back in the box, back-and-forth and even score a few points along the way, before eventually losing 15-12. Beltran stood toe-to-toe with the “King” of racquetball and seemed to take that confidence with him into other tournaments in the season.
2019 California Open in Canoga Park, California T1
Below the sunny hills of Malibu in the wonderful city of Canoga Park, California, racquetball brings together an entire community. The West Valley Athletic Society Fitness Club hosted a tremendous IRT Tier 1 event this past January, and has hosted three Tier 1 tournaments in the last two IRT seasons! Canoga put on a show and featured both a men’s singles and doubles division that did not disappoint! The men’s singles final was a rematch of the 2018 US Open singles final between Waselenchuk and De La Rosa. De La Rosa showed a little more fight for this final in California, showing off his tremendous hand speed and getting some impossible balls before the double bounce. “King” Kane wouldn’t let De La Rosa pull off the upset though, taking a 15-8, 15-10 victory and capturing his 2nd Tier 1 tournament of the season.
De La Rosa did get to take home another doubles victory with his partner Beltran, but the Mexican duo had all they could handle when they took on #7* Murray and his teammate #3* Alex Landa, from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. In a nail-biter of a first game, De La Rosa and Beltran edged out a tough fought win by a final score of 15-11. In game two, we got to see more emotion from “Big Canada” Murray, than we’ve seen in the last three years. Murray absolutely crushing balls into the corner for kill shots and Landa backing him up with some tough serves started to get the best of the Mexican Duo, but experience and confidence in those moments proved to be the final factor as De La Rosa and Beltran took game two 15-8
41st Annual Lewis Drug Tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota T1
For 41 years the Lewis Drug Tournament has been the “bar-setter” for Tier 1 tournaments on the IRT, and this year was no different. Great racquetball action from Thursday night through Sunday afternoon, with a marvelous dinner banquet on Saturday night…and did I mention the racquetball action? Waselenchuk and De La Rosa meet in the singles finals for the third time (US Open/California Open), and unfortunately for De La Rosa and fans awaiting this match-up, we never got to see that next level that fans have come to expect from Daniel. Waselechuk grabbed his third Tier 1 victory of the season with final scores of 15-4, 15-2.
There was nothing for De La Rosa to celebrate in the doubles division of the Sioux Falls tournament either. He and his partner Beltran were bounced in the semi-finals thanks to a three-game upset from #4 Andree Parrilla, from San Luis Potosi, Mexico and his partner #9 Rodrigo Montoya, from Chihuahua, Mexico. Montoya and Parrilla faced off against a doubles team that was certainly seeking redemption after reaching the finals of another Tier 1 IRT tournament, Murray and Landa. After game one looking like such a toss-up between both teams, Montoya and Parrilla winning 15-11, fans buckled in for what looked to be a three-game doubles final. Montoya and Parrilla didn’t like that idea of a three-game final and got off to an early lead, never giving it up to Landa and Murray and taking home the victory 15-11.
34th Annual Shamrock Shootout in Chicago, Illinois T1
Waselenchuk brought his talents and dominance to the Windy City in Chicago for the 34th Annual Shamrock Shootout. “King” Kane gave up a total of 19 points to his opposition from the round of 16s through the semi-finals. It was an IRT finals match-up we’ll never get tired of seeing, #1 Waselenchuk facing off against #2 Carson for the 79th battle. Waselenchuk showed Carson and the entire IRT community why he is called “King” Kane. Carson made some unbelievable serves and some top-class gets, but it was Waselenchuk who came out on top 15-10, 15-10.
Waselenchuk wasn’t done winning that weekend, as he and his teammate Croft found their way to the finals to face some familiar faces…the Mexican duo of De La Rosa and Beltran. It was tough to tell who wanted to see this finals doubles match-up more, the passionate fans who love this great sport or these incredible athletes who put on the greatest show every time they step onto the court. In a highly anticipated rematch of two of the greatest doubles teams of all time, it was Waselenchuk and Croft who regained their claim as the greatest. In a three-game final that gave fans everything they could hope for, Beltran and De La Rosa ran out of gas and were defeated by scores of 11-15, 15-9, 11-5.
Bolivia Open in Bolivia GS
Thanks to some outstanding efforts by the IRT staff and board and some top-class performances by the IRT athletes, a Grand Slam racquetball event was able to take place for the first time in the Tour’s history in Cochabamba, Bolivia! From March 27-31 the IRT showed its international colors down in Bolivia for an amazing event and venue that ended up shocking most IRT fans!
After getting swarmed by the Bolivian press and media as soon as the plane touched down, players got to tour the great city of Cochabamba and take in the sites, but they all knew they were there for one reason…dominate the court. After an impressive semi-finals victory against #5 Beltran, the #23 ranked player in the draw and the hometown hero, Conrado Moscoso, from Chuquisaca, Bolivia found his way to the finals against #2 Carson. Moscoso was feeling the nerves and the pressure of the situation in game one, as Carson tried to shut the door early with a 15-6 win. Game two woke up Moscoso and lit a fire inside the local racquetball phenom, as he edged past Carson with a 15-14 game two victory. Game three was absolutely ALL Moscoso. Hearing those passionate fans screaming his name and cheering him on against one of the best to ever step on the court gave Moscoso the confidence he was looking for as he upset Carson and took game three and the Bolivian Grand Slam title home by a final score of 11-2.
Moscoso also took home the doubles championship with his other hometown hero of a partner Roland Keller, from Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
2019 Florida Open in Sarasota, Florida T1
The Tour headed back to “Sunny Sarasota” at the end of April and the whole IRT community finally got to witness what most believed would never happen…the fall of a “King”. #5 Beltran faced off against #1 Waselenchuk in the quarter-finals of the Sarasota Tier 1 tournament and both athletes put on the type of show you’d expect in the US Open finals. Belran took game one and for the most part, controlled everything inside the court for that first game. In game two we saw “King” Kane wake up a little bit and get back to his killer drive serves and his hard to counter return of serves, also not missing a killshot and winning 8-15. In game three Beltran seemed like he had already played in this situation and was ready for everything Waselenchuk had to hit at him. After an 11-8 game three victory, the “King” had finally been defeated.
Beltran didn’t stop with his quarter-finals victory over #1 Waselenchuk, he carried his momentum and confidence all the way to another Tier 1 final against #3 Landa. After taking out #2 Carson in their semi-finals match up, Landa had his sights set on the “Mexican Monster” that is Alvaro Beltran. Beltran and Landa went back in forth in their Sarasota Finals match, but the “Monster” seemed to be running short on fumes by the end of it. In two very similar types of games, it was Landa who pulled out the 15-13, 15-12 victory and took home the Sarasota title!
2019 Syosset Open in Syosset, New York T1
The Tour wrapped up the season with an outstanding event in the concrete jungle in the state of New York. The Voice of the IRT, Dean Baer from Syosset, New York put on and directed this fabulous Tier 1 tournament for the Tour and it did not disappoint! #1 Waselenchuk took on #2 Carson in the men’s singles final and it seemed that “King” Kane was eager to get that “King” title back.
Waselenchuk, who struggled in his semi-finals match against #4 Parrilla, set up a game-three-tiebreaker that foreshadowed the dominance we’d see in his Syosset Finals match against Carson. After not allowing Parrilla to score in game three of the semi-finals, Waselenchuk stayed greedy with the amount of points he’d give up to his opponents, only allowing Carson to score seven total points in two games. With final scores of 15-3 and 15-4, Waselenchuk seemed to be proving a point to all those who found joy in his quarter-finals departure back in Sarasota.
The 2018-2019 IRT season was not only one of the greatest seasons ever in the Tour’s history, it is also something to build off of and keep the great tournaments coming. Venturing out all across the country to major states and cities is one thing the IRT is used to, but going outside the country for a Grand Slam event is something the Tour is attempting to pull off every year going forward! Show your support of the Tour and its players by following them online on all their social media platforms, or by checking out the live stream videos/archived tournament footage from their Facebook and YouTube sites!! The 2019-2020 IRT season will begin before you know it, so be sure to catch up on all the great racquetball action you might have missed! * All rankings are singles rankings and are current after the 2018-2019 IRT season *