Player Preview: Top 4 at Ektelon Nationals presented by Penn
Ektelon Nationals presented by Penn starts in just a little over a week and ends the 2010-2011 IRT Season. What do the top players on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) bring to the court? And do you agree with our take on the rising stars on the Tour? Here’s a quick read on the top four. Check back on Wednesday for numbers five through eight and the up-and-comers on Friday.
Kane Waselenchuk is the man to beat, with over 100 match wins in a row. He’s dropped a few games along the way, including one in the U.S. Open Championship against Alvaro Beltran, who holds the distinction as the last person to hand him a defeat. As Beltran rehabilitates from knee surgery, others vie for the chance to deliver Kane’s next loss. Jack Huczak and Rocky Carson have each taken him to four games. Carson’s forced five, twice. Yet, the mere mention of games-lost points to his dominance. Does it also reveal dents in his invincibility? Not to him – he’s already set to tie Cliff Swain’s record of six #1 year-end titles and has stated that his goal is to extend his winning streak to 200. In the meantime, he continues to hone his unorthodox mix of power, soft shots, changing speeds, and unpredictable angles in order to add more victories on his record-setting run.
Rocky Carson carries the solitary honor of capturing three of racquetball’s major titles during the same year. Ranked #1 for the 2008 season, he’d like to claim one win that’s eluded him the last three years: a match victory against Kane Waselenchuk. Carson did take the Corona Open Championship by beating local favorite Alvaro Beltran, who sent him packing at the U.S. Open Round of 16’s. Tough tournaments in the first half of the season spurred him on in the back. Mentally and physically fit, court savvy Carson can cover every inch of the hardwood. Yet, he prefers to dominate the center, keeping opponents off-balance and on the defensive. More recently, he’s added power to his pinpoint control. With a string of nine finals and competitive rallies the scores don’t show, Carson will try to take the best out of five in the championship match.
Early-round upsets in the beginning of the season sent the world’s #2-ranked player to the #4 spot in the draw, facing the same wall at the semis that blocked Carson in the finals: Kane Waselenchuk. Consistent and steady play propelled Huczek’s late-season rise to the #3 slot, which means he’ll face the bottom half of the draw before meeting the man at the top. His opponents will include Carson, with whom he’s split bouts the two times they met this season. The title at the Cactus Salon NYC ProAm came with Husczek’s win. He’d like to replay that performance in Fullerton.
Ben Croft separated himself from the pack, firmly establishing his place in the top four on the tour. Fueled by emotion, he’s known to reverse the usual order of scoring by losing points from technicals. Most often, it’s Waselenchuk and Carson handing this consistent semifinalist the most frustration, as Croft’s been unable to push past his nine semifinal appearances. Exchanging ranking positions with Huczek means he’ll challenge Waselenchuck en route to the finals. No matter. He contests every point, throwing his body around with agility and speed. Look for workhorse Croft to fight to for a spot on Sunday and the first professional title in his career.