Back to the Grind in Canoga Park: Coast to Coast Cali Open
Racquetball Junkies Get Their Fix – The Drought is Over!
It had been about two months since the last tier one event, and racquetball fans everywhere were starved for some high-powered action. All the regulars were back in the draw, including Alvaro Beltran after he missed the last couple of tier one events.
Round of Sixteen
All top seeds in the qualifying rounds advanced to the round of sixteen to face one of the top eight players. Kane Waselenchuk made quick work of Alex Landa, and Rocky Carson made quick work of Taylor Knoth; both finished their matches in three games. Other three-game matches included Ben Croft defeating Daniel De La Rosa, Andy Hawthorne over Javier Moreno, and Shane Vanderson taking care of Anthony Herrera.
Jose Rojas controlled his match against Juan Herrera, winning the first two games 11-2 and 11-3, before Juan caught fire and won the third game 11-5. Jose got back on track and in control of the match to win the fourth game and match 11-2, 11-3, 5-11, and 11-1.
There were two highly anticipated round of sixteen matches. The first was #8 seed Charlie Pratt against #9 Tony Carson. Tony has been trying to edge his way into the top eight spots, but Charlie stands at the door keeping him out. So far this season Charlie has advanced to the quarterfinals in three of the first four tier one tournaments. Tony made it through the qualifying rounds every tournament, but hasn’t been able to advance past the round of sixteen.
Every time these two rising stars face off it is normally a tight battle. Canoga Park was no exception. Charlie edged out the first game 11-9. Tony took advantage of his opportunities and took the second game 11-8. Game three was a mirror image with Charlie on top 11-8. Tony was locked in during the fourth to even the match with an 11-5 win. It was nip and tuck in the fifth with both players creating opportunities out of nothing and playing for broke. Tony carried his momentum into the fifth game and had a couple more things go his way. He advanced to his first quarterfinal of the season by defeating Charlie Pratt 9-11, 11-8, 8-11, 11-5, and 11-8.
The other must-see match of the round was #4 Chris Crowther versus #13 Alvaro Beltran. The top players will be happy when Alvaro regains his ranking so that he won’t have to qualify and feed into a top player during round of sixteen (Alvaro is recovering from injuries that dropped his ranking the past couple seasons). This tournament it was Crowther who drew the short straw and had to face Alvaro early in the tournament. While Alvaro won nine of their previous ten match-ups going into the tournament, most went to four or five games.
Both players came out firing. Chris blasted missiles and Alvaro showcased his sharp-shooting ability. The two traded blows and marched forward. Chris looked sharp and connected on his shots. The play was close, but Chris took the first game 11-9. Alvaro wouldn’t go quietly. He continued to make great gets and showcase his soft hands to push game two into extra innings and won 12-10. In game three, Alvaro continued to ride his momentum and kept Chris off-balance and frustrated the entire game. Alvaro cruised to an 11-2 win and appeared to be on the fast track to the quarterfinals. Chris regrouped, reloaded, and brought the heat in the fourth game. He fired lasers just out of Alvaro’s reach and evened the match by winning game four 11-4. The tie-breaker was all Alvaro. Chris seemed spent from the grueling match and Alvaro’s shots fell in when he wanted. Some skips from Chris, coupled with him appearing to lose a step of quickness, allowed Alvaro to cruise ahead, win game five, and advance to the quarterfinals 9-11, 12-10, 11-2, 4-11, and 11-2.
The quarterfinals were set to showcase Kane Waselenchuk vs. Tony Carson, Jose Rojas vs. Alvaro Beltran, Ben Croft vs. Andy Hawthorne, and Rocky Carson III vs. Shane Vanderson.
Kane advanced easily in three games over Tony, 11-6, 11-5, and 11-1. Rocky took the first game off Shane 11-5 in less than ten minutes. Shane turned it around and smoked roll-outs to win the second game 11-5, but just as quickly Shane turned hot, he turned cold, and Rocky went on to win the match in four games 11-5, 5-11, 11-1, and 11-6.
The Croft-Hawthorne match was tight early. Both players have similar styles, but Ben had an 8-2 record against Andy in tier one events leading into the tournament. Andy played Ben tough, matching him get-for-get and shot-for-shot. Ben had a couple more things go his way and won the first game 11-8. Game two was a lot of the same with Ben also winning 11-8. In game three, Andy didn’t play poorly, but Ben was a lot more locked in. He kept Andy scrambling and moved on to with the match in three games, 11-8, 11-8, and 11-2.
There was a buzz leading up to the Rojas-Beltran match. Beltran was a perfect 3-0 in their head-to-head match-ups leading into the tournament. However, most of those occurred before Alvaro’s knee troubles when he was ranked near the top and Jose was climbing up the ladder. Jose has drastically improved in the past couple seasons, so the fans were eager to see how this match would play out.
Alvaro was off to a slow start and Jose was pumped up. Jose controlled most of the first game and took advantage of Alvaro’s mistakes, winning game one 11-5. Game two was much tighter as Alvaro settled into a groove. Smart choices and timely execution pulled game two in Alvaro’s favor, winning 13-11. It was if Alvaro figured out the game plan against Jose as he quickly finished the next two games to move on to the semi-finals, 5-11, 13-11, 11-0, and 11-4.
The first semi-final featured a familiar pairing seen this season: Ben vs. Rocky. Rocky was the strong favorite going into the match, winning twenty-one of their prior twenty-three match-ups, including the prior eight times they have battled. Play was tight early as Ben was zipping all around. Rocky built leads at 7-2, 8-3, and 9-5. Ben chipped back and made some unbelievable gets. He pushed ahead to take the lead and edge out game one 12-10. Ben appeared to still be in Rocky’s head at the beginning of game two jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead. Despite Rocky’s body language appearing to show that he was out of it, he fine-tuned his passes at kept them out of Ben’s diving reach. Rocky tied it up, pushed ahead and built a large lead. Tempers boiled over late in the game as both players were frustrated with each other, but Rocky’s racquet did the talking at the end, winning game two 11-5. Rocky stayed on course and controlled the rest of the match to win in four games, 10-12, 11-5, 11-4, and 11-2.
The second semi-final was the most anticipated match of the tournament, featuring Kane Waselenchuk and Alvaro Beltran. The history was that Alvaro is the last player to defeat Kane, and it occurred three years ago on the Canoga Park courts. Many think that Alvaro is the most likely person to derail Kane’s winning streak. The pressure was on, and Kane seemed a little tight early in the match. He skipped more than normal and Alvaro looked comfortable. It didn’t take too long for Kane to focus like a laser on the task at hand and start rattling off points. Once he got some momentum going, he cruised ahead to an 11-4 victory in game one. After that Kane kept the pressure on and never allowed Alvaro to get into a groove. The match ended up a little anti-climactically as Kane finished off Alvaro in three quick games, 11-4, 11-2, and 11-2.
It was Sunday. That meant that Kane Waselenchuk and Rocky Carson were going to meet in the final, just like they had in three of the first four tier one tournaments of the season. The question was if the time off gave Rocky enough time to study the video and work out a better game plan, or if Kane already figured out the adjustments Rocky was planning to make and developed the opposing game plan.
Similarly to his start against Alvaro, Kane came out a little tight. He was skipping a lot more than normal. Rocky did a great job of controlling center court and frequently caught Kane going in the wrong direction. Rocky built a 4-0 lead, then 6-4, then 9-4. Kane made a run to bring it within a few points, but skipped a forehand setup to give Rocky his third chance to take game one, which he did, 11-7.
Game two was all business for Kane. He was locked in and converted quick points. He mixed in some no-look-between-the-legs forehand pinch-kill shots for good measure. The game was over in less than ten minutes, 11-1.
Many fans figured Rocky was going to be down for the count after a deflated game two, but Rocky regrouped and jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Kane was skipping again, but ground out some points to tie it at 3-3, then caught fire to take a 6-3 lead. The play went back and forth, and Rocky pulled within one point being down 8-9. Kane dialed up the heat on his serve to forth a ceiling ball from Rocky. Kane killed it with his backhand from his ear and went on to win game three 11-8.
Rocky missed several opportunities in game four early, but still managed to jump out to a 3-0 lead. Kane earned a side-out and rattled off five quick points to take the lead. Rocky mixed up the pace on his serves and shots and it affected Kane’s timing. Rocky tied it at five, took the lead 6-5, then Kane tied it at 6-6 and crept ahead to 7-6. A skip from Kane allowed Rocky to tie it at 7-7, and a penalty hinder on Kane gave Rocky the lead at 8-7. Rocky skipped a big forehand setup to allow Kane to tie it at 8-8. Kane pushed ahead, and laid down a flat forehand down the left wall to win game four and the match, 7-11, 11-1, 11-8, and 11-8.