The Valentine Open Singles Recap | By Kelly R. Diesel
The International Racquetball Tour (IRT) wrapped up its second Tier 1 (T1) tournament of the 2019-2020 season this past weekend in Laurel, Maryland. The Sportfit Total Fitness Racquet Club hosted the world’s top racquetball athletes, and a crowd that would have concerned that local fire department. The club was packed all weekend long for The Valentine Open and the action on the court did not disappoint!
Round of 16s:
Back on the court for the first time this season, #1 Kane Waselenchuk, who resides in Austin, Texas made quick work of his first matchup in the Round of 16s when he took on #27 Carlos Kellar Vargas, from Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Waselenchuk wasted no time on the court, got straight down to business and gave Vargas a brick wall to get through. Vargas battled but soon realized just how good the “King” of racquetball is, losing by a final of 15-1, 15-4.
Mario Mercado, from Cali, Colombia, faced off against young World and Pan American Games Champion, Rodrigo Montoya, from Chihuahua, Mexico when they met for their Round of 16s. A nail-biter of a first round, #10 Mercado inched out a victory over #7 Montoya with 15-14 victory. Mercado stayed consistent with what worked in his first game, and found a way to upset the #7 ranked player on Tour in Game 2 with a 15-11 final. Mercado is now 2-0 overall when facing Montoya!
There was a battle of the Franco’s this past weekend in Maryland, as the #8 ranked player on Tour Sebastian Franco, from Cali, Colombia faced off against #16 Gerardo Franco, from Monterrey, Mexico. Sebastian struck first and took Game 1 rather easily, by a final of 15-6. Gerardo turned the tables in Game 2 though, as he stayed in control of the service box and finished Sebastian off by a final of 15-12. In the Game 3 tiebreaker, fans got to witness both Francos giving their all for a chance at the Quarter-Finals. Sebastian found his way past Gerardo by a final of 11-9 and also evened up his overall record against Gerardo, 1-1.
#4 ranked player on Tour, Alex Landa, from Juarez, Mexico had all he could handle in his Round of 16 match against #17 Robert Collins, from Kapolei, Hawaii. Landa came into this match with a 2-0 overall record over Collins, but it was anything but routine facing Collins in Maryland. With a comfortable Game 1 victory at 15-5, Landa may have thought past his opponent and Collins took full advantage. Collins found ways to keep finishing off rallies and transition them into scoring in the service box, taking Game 2 15-7! Landa buckled down in Game 3 though, not giving Collins much to work with and putting away set-ups, rather than leaving them for Collins to capitalize. Collins fell short and was eliminated 11-4, as his overall record with Landa is now 0-3.
One of the most surprising results of the weekend in Maryland came in the Round of 16s when #3 on Tour Andree Parrilla, from San Luis Potosi, Mexico battled against #22 Andres Acuna, from Costa Rica, San Jose. Acuna came out firing and Parrilla didn’t have an answer for him as Acuna took Game 1 15-4. Parrilla, who didn’t lose a single Round of 16 match last season, found his confidence and skill set in Game 2, winning 15-7. Game 3 was up in the air until Acuna saw the light at the end of the tunnel, leading his way to the Quarterfinals by a final of 11-7 and completing the biggest upset of the season thus far.
#9 ranked player on Tour, Sam Murray, from Baie-Comeau, Quebec found himself in a barn-burner of a match against the young phenom #14 Eduardo Portillo Torres, from San Luis Potosi, Mexico. With both players going back-and-forth in Game 1, it was anyone’s game to win. Portillo made the executive decision that it was HIS game and took Game 1 by a final of 15-14, with the hopes of upsetting “Big Canada”. Murray wasn’t too fond of the idea of an upset and really made smart decisions in Game 2, winning it 15-13. In the Game 3 tiebreaker, Murray demonstrated the difference in rankings between the two. Smart decisions, great serves and well-timed killshots led Murray past Portillo (11-5) and into the Quarterfinals. Portillo continues to improve his game, impress the fans and grab national attention.
The “Mexican Monster”, Alvaro Beltran from Tijuana, Mexico faced off against the powerful Jake Bredenbeck, from Marine, Minneapolis in their Round of 16s in Maryland. Beltran was 2-1 in his previous matches with Bredenbeck, and extended his overall record to 3-1 with final scores of 15-8, 15-10. Bredenbeck looks forward to getting back on the court for the US OPEN in one week!
#2 ranked player on Tour, Rocky Carson, from Ladera Ranch, California had a scare in his first match in Maryland when he faced Thomas Carter, from Wheaton, Illinois. Carter came out with loads of confidence in himself and his game, pushing Carson to take bad shots and leave the ball up for Carter. With a 12-2 lead in Game 1, Carson finally started putting together some consistent scoring and battled back. It wasn’t enough in Game 1 as Carter took the 15-5 victory! Carson had not lost a single Round of 16s match in his last 20 (dating back to the 2017-2018 season), and he didn’t plan on slipping up here. The Rocky Carson that the Tour expects to see made his way onto the court and never looked back, taking Game 2 15-6 and Game 3 11-3. It was in Maryland last year that Carter reached his furthest round at an IRT T1 event when he met Murray in the Quarter-Finals before losing. Carter continues to improve his game and impress.
Mercado didn’t have the record books on his side coming into his Quarterfinals match against Waselenchuk. The two had previously met five times in past tournaments, with Waselenchuk taking all five matches. Game 1 looked to be all Waselenchuk with a 7-0 lead, until Mercado battled back with six consecutive points of his own. Those six would be the only points Mercado would score though, as Waselenchuk flipped the switch and finished off Game 1 at 15-6. Unfortunately for Mercado the results would not change for their sixth meeting, with Waselenchuk taking Game 2 as well at 15-8.
Another surprising result from the Valentine Open came in the Quarterfinals matchup between Landa and Franco. The #8 ranked player on Tour, Franco, jumped out to a 6-0 lead in Game 1 before Landa finally got on the board. Franco continued his dominance throughout Game 1 and finished off Landa 15-3. Game 2 was an exact opposite of Game 1. Landa jumped out in front right away and held a 10-4 lead before Franco started finding the same confidence he had in Game 1. As Franco started to make it a tight match, Landa continued to separate himself once in the service box, holding a 12-7 lead. Franco responded with seven consecutive points and put himself on top 14-12, before taking home the victory at 15-14.
Murray took on Acuna in a three-game tiebreaker for their chances at a spot in the Semi-Finals. Games 1 and 2 were very similar in their scores, but the winners of each game changed. In Game 1, Murray jumped out to a 10-0 lead before finishing it off 15-3. In Game 2, Acuna jumped out to a 9-1 lead before capping it off at 15-3. Acuna got on the board first in Game 3 with a 2-0 lead before “Big Canada” stepped up his game and took control. With consecutive well placed serves and constant killshots, Murray went on to win Game 3 by a final of 11-6.
In a matchup we’ve now seen 50 times, it was only fitting that the 50th matchup between Carson and Beltran would go to a three-game tiebreaker. Carson seemed to be in control in Game 1 with a 4-1 lead, but it didn’t take long for the “Mexican Monster” to rattle off seven points of his own and create his own lead of 8-4. A timeout taken by Carson seemed to be the right move as he came out of it with four quick points, knotting it up at 8-8. Beltran stayed focus and put together some points to take a 14-9 lead before finishing Game 1 at 15-11. Game 2 was very similar in style except for Carson completing the comeback and taking it 15-10. The “Mexican Monster” just didn’t have it in Game 3 as Carson eased past him 11-3. Carson now holds a 28-22 overall record over Beltran.
Franco entered his Semifinal matchup against Waselenchuk with the numbers stacked against him. Franco was 1-7 (.111) in his overall Semi-Final matches in his career on Tour, while Waselenchuk entered the match at 126-12 (.914) in his overall Semi-Final matches. Waselenchuk found his way to an 11-3 lead in Game 1 before Franco buckled down and battled his way back into the match. Franco held off several game-point serves from Waselenchuk and crawled his way into a 14-11 game, until Waselenchuk finished it off 15-11. In Game 2 Waselenchuk looked to be sprinting into the Finals as he grew a 9-2 lead in just eight minutes from the start of the match. Franco couldn’t battle back in Game 2 and was sent home by a final of 15-7.
In the other Semifinal match, fans of the Tour got to see a battle of the nicknames, “Big Canada” takes on “Racquetball’s Golden Boy”. Murray vs. Carson is a matchup the Tour has seen 10 different times now, but the results have all been the same. In Game 1 both players were going back-and-forth, scoring a couple points here before the opponent scored a couple of their own. With an 11-6 lead in Game 1, Murray looked to be in control of the match until Carson started drilling some tight Z-serves. Carson closed the gap and even took a short lead at 12-11, which Murray didn’t know how to handle. Carson continued to cruise and took Game 1 at 15-11, scoring nine unanswered points from the 11-6 deficit he previously faced. Game 2 wasn’t as close as Murray seemed to be stuck on the comeback he gave up in Game 1. After a brief tie at 3-3, Carson jumped in front and never looked back, sending himself into the Finals with a score of 15-4. Carson is now 10-0 overall against “Big Canada” Murray.
Due to Internet complications at the Club in Maryland, the Finals of the Valentine Open were not broadcasted live, however you can find the entire match online at the IRT’s Facebook page.
The Finals in Maryland weren’t exactly traditional when you think of a matchup between “King” Waselenchuk and Carson. Frustration set in early for Carson as he couldn’t get much to go his way on the court. A technical for hitting the ball after the rally was given out to Carson, which happened to be the only point he scored in Game 1, 15,-1. Game 2 looked to be a similar result for Waselenchuk as he found a lead at 5-0 to start, but Carson stayed focused rather than frustrated and got down to his usual business. Slowing down the pace of play and capitalizing on balls left up got Carson back into the game and a lead at 7-5. Back-and-forth they went scoring a couple here and there, until Carson held a 14-11 lead. A FLATTY at the middle of the front wall gave Carson his 15th point and pushed them both into a three-game tiebreaker!
Waselenchuk found himself down 3-0 in Game 3 before the “King” started to take back his crown. Tight and tough serves and some soft hands in the front-court gave Waselenchuk some breathing room. With a short 5-4 lead over Carson, Waselenchuk began to separate himself and grew a 10-4 lead. With a cross court ball that inched past Carson into the back-left corner of the court, Waselenchuk captured his first T1 IRT victory of the 2019-2020 season! “King” Kane is now 77-3 overall against Carson.
The next IRT event will be the 24th Annual UnitedHealthcare US OPEN from October 2-6 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota hosted by Tournament Director, Doug Ganim! For more details about the IRT or the Tour’s events, check out: www.irttour.com
Click HERE to read our media guide.