Season by Season Narrative Summaries
5/18/09: After a conversation on meetandplay and with Jason Mannino, I decided to move any editorialization from the
Year End Titles link and instead
create a season by season summary to try to capture the essence of the season in a couple of paragraphs. These summaries are editorial in nature, represent my opinions and those opinions may not necessarily be shared by other pro tour fans, observers or players.
2016-17: Tour Champion: tbd
- Sept 2016: First event of the year: no Croft (still injured presumably). Tons of "upsets" in the 32s, as the guys ranked 9-16 take a
beating at the hand of players who don't play the tour as frequently. Franco, Zelada, McClellan, Collins, Mercado and Pratt
all upset by lower ranked (but probably better) players. Long time player Alejandro Landa entered his first IRT tournament
since the 2015 US Open and promptly beat #5 seed Jose Rojas in 3-straight; he then advanced past fellow upset winner Bredenbeck
to make the semis as a #21 seed (the highest seeded player to make a semi since I started capturing seeds in 2010). It seems like
every time Landa enters a tournament he upsets a ranked player and makes the quarters or semis.
- Sept 2016: Other start-of the season observations: the diversity on tour is starting to really show. Just four of the tour's
top 10 players are now American-born; 4 from USA, 1 Canada, 2 Mexico, two from Columbia and one from Costa Rica. 9 of the next 10
ranked players are from the USA, but the real power on tour is slowly migrating south. This is no surprise; the rise of the WRT
(which is heavily populated with Central and South american players) and the rise in popularity of the game in these countries
will only continue to drive this trend.
- Oct 2016: Kane handily wins his 12th US Open (9th in a row) with a 2,2,6 win over #2 Rocky Carson. As noticed by Evan Pritchard
at theracquetballblog, Sebastian Franco's quarterfinal appearance is the first time a South American has advanced to the quarters
of a major tournament. Up and coming player Jake Bredenbeck had split the first two games with Daniel De La Rosa in their quarterfinal when he injured his shoulder diving, causing him to retire. Later that night though, he showed up in his Pro doubles match and played
*left handed* ... even drive serving at some point. However the news on his shoulder is not good: he tore the labrum in his shoulder.
He opted to rehab instead of going straight to surgery, so we may not see him on the tour for a while.
- Oct 2016: Relatively new touring pro and Maryland native Mauricio Zelada takes an offer to start working for Gearbox Racquetball in San
Diego and abruptly quits the IRT. He finished 2015-16 season #12 with two quarter final appearances, but thanks to his involvement
with Gearbox presumably will now exclusively play on the WRT. He also broke his contract with the IRTNetwork, which may have
some longer term effects on the viability of that company to continue operating.
- Nov 2016: Landa strikes again: as a #15 seed he takes out #2 Seed Rocky Carson in a 2+ hour marathon match in Atlanta. Its just the third time that a #1 or #2 seed has lost a non-forfeit match in the round of 16 since 2010. Thanks to a compressed schedule for the
tournament and the existence of doubles, Landa has just 90 minutes to rest before he plays his quarter final match (which he
wins in 3 close games over Allen). He loses in 5 close games to De La rosa in the Semis (who injures himself at the end of the 5th game and defaults the final), but all told he spends more than 8 HOURS on the court over the course of just 2.5 days, making the semis in singles and finals of doubles.
- Jan 2017: Kane cruises through the draw again and has won every event thus far on the season without dropping a game; he's
60-0 in 21 matches (one forfeit win). It'd be a pretty unbelievable feat to finish a season without dropping a single game...
2015-16: Tour Champion: Kane Waselenchuk: his 11th pro tour title
- Sept 2015: Alvaro Beltran reportedly fined for playing in a competing tour event held by the WRT in his home town
of Juarez Mexico. Given that nearly every regular player ranked outside the top 10 also plays WRT events, we wonder
what the offical rule is with IRT players. I suspect the IRT is either top-8 or top-10 protected by non-compete contracts,
similarly to the way that certain players can or cannot play in non Tier-1 events.
- Sept 2015: Ben Croft returns to the tour after rehabbing from a serious shoulder surgery and drops what he calls "a rehab start"
game in the round of 16 to Felipe Camacho. Croft notes that he only was present at the event so as not to drop round of 16 points
and was clearly not ready to play, having only even been on the court once prior to the event. Croft took to social media to call out Camacho as an "A player" as he apparently was smack-talking on the court during a match where Croft was clearly struggling. Camacho's
best ever result on tour prior to this was likely a round-of-32 defeat of Mauro Rojas in Fresno 2015 and had never even come close
to advancing past the round of 16 beforehand. Camacho eventually beat fellow upset winner Bradley Rogers in the quarters to advance
to the semis for the first time of his career.
- Oct 2015: Waselenchuk wins an unheard of 11th US Open title in October, beating upset-minded Daniel De La Rosa in the final.
Thanks to a rankings quirk, Kane entered the event seeded #2, which enabled De La Rosa to meet the #1 seeded Carson in the semis, where
he prevailed in a barn-busting 12-10 5th. De La Rosa at age 23 is who many pundits believe may take over on tour, but he falters in
the every next tournament, dropping a round of 16 match to Sebastian Franco (who then goes on to make his first career semi).
De La Rosa struggles in the next few tournaments, losing in the quarters in Davison and then no-showing in Garden City. The US Open
semis-loss is the second such upset loss in the season's sole major for Carson, who similarly was upset in the semis of the 2014
US Open, a loss that significantly hurt him at season's end (when he lost the points by just 32 points).
- Oct 2015: A number of regular player absences at the Atlanta event made for some weird seedings: #11th ranked Felipe Camacho
was seeded 5th by virtue of Waselenchuk, Croft, and Marco Rojas missing the draw, and then Camacho getting the lucky seeding scramble.
Other regulars on tour also missed the draw: Diaz and Fuhrman opted to play in the WRT event close to home. Thanks to the weakened draw,
both DC-area native Mauricio Zelada and Matthew Majxner made a quarter final for the first time, each "upsetting" a player ranked
slightly ahead of them at the time. Felipe Camacho also made the quarters in this tournament, with only Daniel
De La Rosa facing a seeded tour player in his quarter final. This has turned into a game-changing season so far for Camacho.
- Nov 2015: Waselenchuk withdraws from Davison event with a shoulder injury, too late to re-make the draws so he gets yet another
"loss by forfeit" instead of loss on the court. The main beneficiary is Brad Schopiery, who gets his career best result with a
bye into the quarters, where he pounded Felipe Camacho to make the semis (previous career best: round of 16). The bigger news was
the huge upset of Swain over Beltran in the round of 16, who then made shorter work of #6 seed Allen to make the semis at the ripe old
age of 49. Fringe tour player Tom Fuhrmann opted to enter the competing WRT event instead of the IRT event, perhaps signifying a change
in his playing status. Croft still MIA, nursing his surgically repaired shoulder.
- Nov 2015: Sebastian Franco is the next recipient of a gift into the semis as De La Rosa forfeits his round of 16 match in
Garden City. This enables Franco to get an easy quarter final win over Scot McClellan to make his 2nd semis of the season. In the next
event, yet another surprise early round loss from Alvaro Beltran (this time to Mario Mercado) paves the way for yet another
of the tour's newer players to make their way into the later rounds for the first time. Mercado, who had never advanced beyond the
round of 16, makes the semis in St. Louis. It seems like every week there's another first-timer in the semis this year, perhaps
a sign that a changing of the guard is coming. Camacho, Franco, Schopiery, Swain, Mercado. Lots of surprises this year.
- Dec 2015: Ben Croft announces that he has to take the rest of the season off due to lingering issues with his off-season shoulder surgery. Croft has only played in 2 events and has fallen out of
the top 8 at this point (he sits at #11 as of this writing), so (in his words) there's little incentive to continue to play to keep
his protected ranking so he might as well shut it down for the season. He hopes to come back perhaps by the last event of the season.
- Mar 2016: Kane wins the Lombard, IL event and gives up a grand total of 19 points in four matches. Just a crazy show of
dominance in the event. His Semi-final win over Alvaro 2,0,0 was "injury aided" but he dominated DLR in the final.
- Apr 2016: Kane withdraws from the Ohio event last minute due to a medical issue. Statement from the tour: "Top ranked Kane Waselenchuk pulls out of The 8th Annual Raising Some Racquet For Kids tournament in Ohio. After trying to battle through the pain, Kane was admitted into the hospital this morning for emergency incarcerated hernia surgery. We will keep you updated as information is released." Post at IRT-tour.com:
http://www.irt-tour.com/kane-did-great/ . This injury clearly was still affecing him a month later at the Florida event, where he played
a tough Bredenbeck opponent and had to retire in the 5th. This is troublesome for Kane, because in his absense Rocky picks up two
tournament wins and, with two events back, Kane basically has to at least win one of them to guarantee the year end points title.
- May 2016: Sebastian Franco continues to make his mark on the tour; he's now made 4 semis and a quarter final this season after
not ever advancing past the round of 16 in seasons' past. He entered the Florida event ranked 9th but easily handled the 8th ranked
Camacho (himself also experiencing a big 2015-16 season) to advance. He also easily handled upstart Bredenbeck to make another semi. Franco
may not quite have the points to put himself into the top 8, but he's proved that he can beat those guys in the 5-8 section of the rankings.
- May 2016: Faced with having to win one of the remaining two events, Kane cruises through the draw in Portland, showing a bit of rust but otherwise winning. In the final against De La Rosa, observers on irtnetwork.com's live feed noted that Kane looked like he was playing hurt and
were postulating that he may very well forfeit the match after losing the first game 11-5. However, disagreement midway through
the second game resulted with the two coming nose to nose on the court. This seemed to energize Kane, and he ended up stepping up his
game (injury or not) from there out, taking the 2nd game and eventually the match (5),9,3,3. This win sealed Kane's 11th title thanks to
Rocky's semis loss to De La Rosa. For good measure, Kane went on to take the season's final event the following weekend in Reseda, again
beating DLR in the final to seal his latest dominant title.
- May 2016: final top 10 observations: De La Rosa finishes the season by making 4 of the last 5 finals, but it wasn't enough to get him past Rocky Carson for #2 on tour. However one has to think that the torch may have been passed in terms of who is the 2nd best player on tour.
2014-15: Tour Champion: Kane Waselenchuk
- Three missed tournaments early in the season (plus a fourth tourney with a forfeit loss in the quarters) due to the same inner-ear condition that plagued him earlier in his career cost Kane Waselenchuk the #1 seed in tournaments starting in 2015 ... but more importantly, looked (at least for a bit) likely to cost him the #1 season end title. It did not look like there would be enough events in the year to make up for the third dropped event, giving Kane a huge dis-advantage over players like Rockey and Alvaro (who never miss an event). As late as May, Kane was still the #2 seed and #2 ranked (by a nominal amount of points). But according to
points analysis, thanks to a late-season tourney addition, the last event of the season in Fresno ended up being a winner-take-all between Kane and Rocky; whoever wins, takes #1
for the season. Sure enough, Kane swept through the tournament w/o dropping a game and clinched his 10th #1 title. He was 42-1 on
the season (his sole loss being a quarter final default in the Nov 2014 Kansas event), but more impressively he only lost TWO GAMES the entire season. He was 123-2 in games for the year; he dropped a game to Beltran in the semis of Sarasota, and he dropped one game
to Rocky in the San Marcos final. Just an unbelievable show of dominance from the 10-time champ. Any question about who the greatest
player to ever play this game should now be more than answered. Kane now has 10 titles, missed two seasons in his prime, and hasn't lost on the court in a non-injury situation in years. The better question for Kane might be whether he's defeated again before he retires.
- Long time part-time player Alejandro Landa burst onto the scene early, making the semis of the first two events that he played on the season, including the US Open. It remains to be seen of Landa will play more of the tour; he's never played more than half the events in a season but has multiple quarterfinal and semi final appearances. He was the highest seed, by far, to make a semi-final on the season (seeded 13th and 14th in his two runs).
- Beltran achives a #1 seed in the St. Louis event that immediately follows the US Open, by virtue of his briefly passing Rocky in the rankings and Kane skipping the event. With only 14 entries to the pro division, IRT commissioner Mannino and IRT staff member John Scott are forced to play to fill out the round of 16 draw. Entire pro draw will take place in just two days. Opportunistic players looking to gain valuable ranking points (to say nothing of prize money) must be kicking themselves at the missed opportunity.
- Long time tour player Chris Crowther missed an event for the first time since the 2005-6 season under rumors that his sponsor (E-Force) was no longer paying his travel expenses. This likely ends the effective career of Crowther on the pro tour, with his having spent the last decade in the top 10 (and mostly in the top 6). He played a couple of WRT events close to home, but his last match on tour looks to be
a round of 16 forfeit to Swain in Davison. He still finished the tour ranked 12th despite missing the last half of the season.
- Top-10 player Tony Carson suddenly dropped off the tour in November 2014. Reportedly he stopped playing due to a combination of injury and work reasons. He's re-appeared at the end of the season, presumably healthy again, but he played only a handful of events afterwards (mostly in the mid-west, presumably drivable from his him in Colorado).
- Long time tour player Ben Croft underwent shoulder surgery in late April 2015, causing him to miss the events at the tail end of the season. Luckily he hadn't missed a tourney all year so he should maintain his top 8 ranking despite the injury. He was 5th on tour when he went under the knife and fell to 6th in the season-ending rankings. He returned for the first event of the new season.
2013-14: Tour Champion: Kane Waselenchuk
- Kane continues his dominance on tour, winning his 9th title with a couple of tournaments to spare
- Kane's sole loss on the season was in the season opener to Jose Rojas, where he was hampered by an injury and lost in four. Rojas went on to take that tournament for his 2nd pro title.
- Despite Kane's dominance on tour, thanks to missing two events early in the season he was actually seeded 2nd at the season's fifth event (Rocky was seeded first). Kane won that event and every event the rest of the way.
- Rocky and Alvaro continued their even-handed competition for the 2nd/3rd spot on tour, trading off spots in the final for most of the season. In the end, Rocky squeaked out the #2 spot for the season.
- The big riser for the year was Daniel De La Rosa, who finished the season comfortably 5th in the rankings playing the tour full time for the first time (the year prior he was in the top 10 despite missing half the events).
- Jansen Allen broke into the top 8 thanks to a consistent run of quarterfinals, but could not keep that lead going into the start of the next season (where he was seeded 9th in the opener, just missing out on the bye into the 16s.
- Legend Cliff Swain played just four events but finished 13th on tour thanks to becoming the 2nd oldest player ever to make a pro semi final in his father's memorial Red Swain event in November 2013.
- Charlie Pratt had a career best semi-final appearance in Florida in early 2014; this helped push him to an 11th place finish on tour, putting him back in the top-10 periphery where he had resided from 2009-2011.
2012-13: Tour Champion: Kane Waselenchuk
- Kane wins his 11th straight "Major" in October, and collects his 8th US Open title.
- Kane wins his 12th straight "Major" in May, finishing off a 41-1 season.
- Kane's sole loss on the season was an injury forfeit loss in the final of the March 2013 Denver event.
- Alex Ackermann and Daniel De La Rosa have major runs at the US Open, which assists both of them to top10 or near top 10 season-ending rankings.
- Ruben Gonzalez plays his final pro tournament at the US Open in October, losing in the 32s but still ranked #16.
- Tony Carson breaks into top 8 at the expense of Andy Hawthorne in Nov, finishes 7th on the season.
- New Jersey Open missing Kane (knee injury recovery), Croft (getting married), Pratt (ankle injury). Allows surprise semifinalist Nick Montalano. Montalbano's career best showing prior to this was making three main draws (losses in rounds of 16).
- There was some rumors of Kane's possibly losing the season-ending title by virtue of missing too many events, which was partly due to Rocky's having earned more cumulative season points by the time the last event had rolled around. This turned out to be baseless; the rules on the tour allow the dropping of two events, which in Kane's case were two missed events due to injury. In reality the only way Kane would have been in jeopardy is if he missed the season-ending event.
2011-2012: Kane Waselenchuk
- Kane featured in nytimes article
- Kane fft in NYC pro am final ends a streak of 134 (137?) on-court wins
- Kane's injury causes him to miss the next two events, which were subsequently won by first time winners
Ben Croft and Jose Rojas. Rojas win over Beltran extends his own futility in finals to 1-20.
- Ruben's farewall tour, failing to make the top 10.
- Rojas ' climb up the rankings; finishing 3rd on tour.
- Sudsy returns and plays a few events.
- Vanderson announces retirement at the end of the season; he continues to play most of the events in 2012-13 though, still finishing in the top 10 on tour.
- Beltran returns in earnest to the tour, making four finals, finishing the year 5th but probably supplanting Rocky Carson as the 2nd best player on tour with several head-to-head wins towards the end of the year.
2010-2011: Kane Waselenchuk
- Kane Waselenchuk completes his third straight dominant tour victory, winning 12 of the 13 tournaments he entered and with a 52-1 match record (his lone loss a semi-finals forfeit to Huczek in NYC in January 2011), and extends his personal streak of matches won on the court (i.e., not counting forfeits) to well over 100. The real news of this season follows...
- The 2010-11 season marks an interesting transition for the tour, and Racquetball in general. This is the first
season in years without the major sponsors of Verizon, Motorola or Choice Hotels. The US Open, a staple for
15 years in Memphis with marquee host club The Racquet Club, has moved to Minneapolis. And, after being held
at the Downtown YMCA in Houston for 28 straight years (every year since 1983), USAR national singles is moving to
a new site. The 2011 National event will be held in Fullerton, California and will be combined with a Pro event called "Ektelon National Singles," marking a new era for the two marquee events on everyone's racquetball Calendar.
On the IRT side, 2010-11 marks the first new season under new leadership. Mannino's first order of business
was to implement some rule changes designed to address fan concerns about pace of play and player behavior. However,
the re-introduction of 2-serves to the pro game marks a seismic shift in player strategy. And, the first three
events of the season the impact of this new 2-serve rule was evident. Power players and heavy drive servers
were experiencing better success than the control players. Chris Crowther made the final of the 2nd event of
the season despite having advanced past the quarters in exactly one tournament in over 100 attempts previous and
was ranked 5th on tour after languishing for years on the periphery of the top 10. Ben Croft made the semis of the
first three events, catapulting him to the #2 ranking on tour after the US Open and resulting in a #1 seed in
the 2010 Corona Open draw when Waselenchuk skipped the tournament to nurse an injury (coincidentally, the first time
in the history of the tour that a #1 seed in a pro draw did not have a previous tournament win). And, Mitch Williams had two
semis appearances (and one injury fft) despite himself only ever advancing past the quarters twice in 70 pro
tournaments prior to this season.
Meanwhile, the control players on tour struggled to keep up. Huczek dropped out of the top 4 rankings within the first
three events for the first time in a decade. Vanderson struggled in the early parts of the season and (making matters
even worse for Shane) he was forced out of the US Open to deal with a horrible family tragedy, missing out
on valuable rankings points (and prize money) at the worst possible time. Carson made two of the first four finals
of the season ... but was upset in the round of 16 at the US Open and in the quarters of the Cali Major, costing
him major tourney points that are sure to be felt at the end of the season. Beltran (whose game isn't necessarily
a control or a power game) slowly worked his way back from an injury that basically cost him the entire 2009-10 season,
making the finals of the US Open and putting himself on track to regain top-4 status.
- Injuries and absences on tour started to add up. For the 2nd time in two seasons Mitch Williams had to retire
from a match with an arm injury. This time, it cost him a finals spot in the US Open and resulted in a labrum tear
(or was it a dislocated shoulder?) keeping him out for 4-6 weeks. After a setback during rehab, he retired from the tour effective 1/31/11. Meanwhile, Alvaro Beltran's attempt to return from a season-ending knee injury in 2010 saw him make a couple of finals earlier in the season, but he re-injured the knee and (apparently) had a second operation, costing him the bulk of the 2010
-11 season. He returned for the final event of the season still maintaining the #10 ranking, but at age 32 and being right at the typical age that pro racquetball players retire anyway, Beltran may be done on tour.
- Speaking retirements, Jack Huczek suddenly announced his retirement
from the pro tour on 5/24/11. Huczek has finished his MBA from Oakland University and has taken a job with Ericsson.
The intended effect of the 2-serve rule has yet to affect the consensus #1 player, who continued his unbeaten
streak into its third season. But Kane was dropping games in the early part of the season. The 2-serve rule
allows power players such as Crowther and Croft to control sections of the match with the serve and gain traction
towards taking games off of Kane. However, Kane himself has a fantastic drive serve to right-hander's backhands that
can be lethal as well.
- Up and coming players for the season were led by Charlie Pratt, who made 5 quarterfinals on the year without ever having made one previously. Pratt suffered an upset though at the season ending event at the hands of another rising junior, Taylor Knoth, who reached the quarters of the Ektelon Nationals. Tony Carson got some marquee wins and made four quarter finals this season, including at the season's ending grand slam. Jose Rojas' first full season on tour saw him reach a couple of semis and consistently place at least in the quarter finals, and he had reached the #5 ranking by the end of the season. Finally Anthony Herrera made a quarter final for the first time in his career.
- Heading into the 2011-12 season, the pro tour may face a crisis of a different order. There's so little money on tour
that there is barely a "tour" at all. With Williams, Huczek and possibly Beltran retiring, there may be barely enough guys
regularly touring to fill out the top 8 seeds at each tournament.
2009-2010: Kane Waselenchuk
If his 2009 title (while going 49-1 on tour) was considered "dominant," then there's no other way to describe his 2010 title other than "other-worldly." Kane won all 8 of the tournaments he entered (he missed one event mid-season due to the flu), ended the season in the middle of a 58-match winning streak (easily the best ever seen on tour), and ends this season having won the last 14 touranments he has entered. However, the most astonishing accomplishment of the season was his "games" won-lost record. He finishes the season a perfect 34-0 but was 102-3 in games. He only lost three GAMES all season. There is not much room for improvement on Kane's season.
In other tour news, It was a tough year on the tour's players from an injury standpoint. Alvaro Beltran missed basically the entire year after tearing knee ligaments just before the season started. He made just one appearance; making the semis in the season's last event in his home country in Tijuana.
Mitch Williams suffered a partially torn labrum in his hitting shoulder but only missed one tournament because of lucky scheduling.
Jack Huczek started the season as a model of consistency, becoming the beaten finalist in each of the first 6 tourneys before suffering a lingering right quadriceps injury that cost him his competitiveness for the rest of the season.
Ben Croft served a 3-tournament suspension at the beginning of the season for events stemming from an on-court incident with Chris Crowther last last season but roared back to make the semis of the US Open in his return. He also made his first final of his career and finished 6th in the year end rankings.
Jason Mannino ended a 15-year touring career by being appointed the new commissioner of the tour and winning the one event that Waselenchuk missed.
And lastly Jose Rojas played 6 of the 9 events on the year, made two quarterfinals and broke into the top 10 for the first time.
2008-9: Kane Waselenchuk
After a two year absense from the tour, 3-time pro champion Kane Waselenchuk made his return at the season opening 2008 Motorola IRT World Championships in Denver. Having absoloutely zero rankings points he was forced to qualify for a number of events at the beginning of the season, leading to discussions about whether in the future a "protected" ranking should be used for players who have laid off the tour for injury or other reasons (the ATP Tennis tour uses such a system for 6-month or greater injury layoffs for its players and creates an artificial ranking for such players for their first few tournaments back. However, the situation arises so rarely in Racquetball that a policy change may be deemed unnecessary).
Kane won his first three tournaments back and was undefeated half way through the season before Alvaro Beltran beat him in the semis in January 2009's California Open. This loss would prove to be the ONLY loss of the season for Kane, who finished the year by sweeping the tour's three Majors, winning 10 of the 11 tournaments he entered, and compiling an astounding 49-1 record for the season. Statistically speaking, this was the greatest season ever (surpassing Marty Hogan's 44-1 record in 1977). Kane completes the season easily winning his fourth Pro title at the age of 27 and starts discussions about whether or not "King" Kane can surpass Cliff's 6 titles.
Kane also reached a number of interesting landmarks. His 24-match winning streak to end the season is one of the tour's longest in recent memory (though not close to Hogans' 54-match winning streak in the 76-77 season). He pushed his career W/L Percentage to .847, surpassing (for the time being) Hogan's long standing career mark in known sanctioned Pro events. He swept the three major tournaments (the first time that had happened since he himself performed the feat in 2004-5). And he had even veteran players wondering if he had any competitors that could stand in his way of 3-4 more titles in a row.
2008: Rocky Carson
From the onset, the 2007-8 season looked as if it would be a statement season by Huczek. He had won his first title the prior season had won most of the tournaments he had entered. The tour's other top competitors had the summer to consider their games and how to adjust to a suddenly dominant-looking Huczek. Kane was still suspended and no one knew if he would ever return. Were we about to see a significant shift away from the power games of the tour's more recent dominators? It seemed so: all four of the tour's top players were less pure "power" players and relied more on finesse and athleticism. It seemed like a Yellen-esque transition away from the power game of the early 80s.
The tour was jolted at the season opening Motorola 2007 World Racquetball Championships in Denver. This was the first event of the season and was a new Grand Slam tiered event. Some people complained about having such an important points event so early in the season, and in a high-altitude city to boot (however; Tennis has always started its season with the Australian Open; so having a major event early on is not unprecedented in a racquet sport pro circuit . Players who stayed in better shape or who were used to playing at altitude had the advantage. Sure enough, for the first time in recorded pro tour history the #1 and #2 seeds were ousted in the round-of-16. Through expiring points, Mannino actually entered the season ranked #1 and lost to Polo Gutierrez 11-8 in the fifth while Huczek fell in 4 games to veteran journeyman Javier Moreno. The door was opened and #3 Rocky Carson took advantage, winning the Grand Slam event and taking a commanding points lead over his closest rivals.
The season devolved more or less to be the Rocky-Jack show. Of the tour's remaining 13 events that year, Rocky and Jack met in the finals no less than 10 times. Rocky took 6 of those 10 meetings, the most important of which was at the US Open in October. By winning the season's first two majors and consistently reaching the finals, Rocky was able to open up a slight gap over his rival and eventually clinch the title prior to the season ending Pro Nationals. The season was cruel to Huczek, who after his season opening loss made EVERY tournament final the rest of the way. It wasn't enough. Eyewitnesses reported that Rocky had "figured out" Jack's game at Memphis; while the stats don't necessarily show this, Rocky definitely held the upper hand and never seemed like he was going to relinquish the title all season.
2007: Jack Huczek:
The racquetball world is shocked when 3-time defending pro tour champion Waselenchuk tests positive for banned
substances and is suspended from competing for two years. This suspension gives the tour's top players (Huczek, Mannino, Carson and Beltran) renewed hope for a #1 ranking. Jack Huczek, who nearly pipped Kane for the 2005-6 crown, took control of the tour early by winning the first four events. However, at the season's first Grand Slam Huczek was upset in the semis and Mannino took the crown and significant points burst.
Mannino kept the pressure on Jack, winning 2 of the next 5 events, but as the season wound down Huczek found his rhythm and pulled away. Mannino suffered a couple of quarterfinal losses later in the season that cost him the points needed to challenge Jack for the title. At the season ending grand slam Pro Nationals event, Huczek beat Jason in the final and took the title by about 150 rankings points. Jack finishes the season winning 9 of 13 events but splitting the two majors with Mannino, who finishes second. The season also demonstrates the gulf in talent between the top four players and the rest of the tour; only 8 of the season's 52 semi finalists were not from the top four.
2006: Kane Waselenchuk (wins title in Pro National finals over Huczek)
2005: Kane Waselenchuk (most Dominant title in years; only 2 non-fft losses all season)
2004: Kane Waselenchuk (wins title in last match of season over Huczek)
2003: Jason Mannino
2002: Cliff Swain (Monchik injury just prior to US Open open's path for cliff to gain 6th title)
2001: Sudsy Monchik
2000: Sudsy Monchik
1999: Sudsy Monchik
1998: Cliff Swain
1997: Sudsy Monchik
1996: Sudsy Monchik (Cliff's rnd of 32 loss in Chicago, semis loss at Pro nationals gives Sudsy 1st title)
1995: Cliff Swain
1994: Cliff Swain
1993: Cliff Swain (returns from Tennis)
1992: Drew Katchtik
1991: Mike Ray (Swain left for Tennis)
1990: Cliff Swain
1989: Marty Hogan (only based on 2 tourneys, ignored 2 others)
1988: Ruben Gonzalez
1987: Mike Yellen
1986: Mike Yellen
1985: Mike Yellen
1984: Mike Yellen
1983: Mike Yellen (won all three major tourneys; only year this happened)
1982: Dave Peck (by points, not by Earnings, which Hogan won. Is this a Disputed title? Peck says no dispute. Hogan won DP/Leach Nationals, which upto 1982 indicated the National champ, hence controversy)
Prior to 1982, the pro champion was based on the year end tournament, not
points gathered during an actual tour. So, results from 1975-1981 the winner was
the winner of NRC Nationals
1981: Marty Hogan d Craig McCoy 9,12
1980: Marty Hogan d Mike Yellen 16,12
1979: Marty Hogan d Mike Yellen 10,14
1978: Marty Hogan d Charlie Brumfield 12,20
1977: Davey Bledsoe d Marty Hogan 20,19 (However, Hirsch and Hogan believe Hogan was 77's champ by
virtue of total wins. However,
at the time, the winner of year end championship was champion. My understanding of
the NRC points system at the time was that points were used for seeding, NOT for a
revolving tour. A points system wasn't implemented as the barometer of the year end
champion until 1981-2 season).
1976: Charlie Brumfield d Marty Hogan 8,(1),8 (Note: Hilecher won IRA nationals, but not in match database)
1975: Charlie Brumfield d Steve Serot (13),4,2 (Brumfield also won IRA's pro national final; is his "5th" national title?)
1974: There was an NRC Pro tour but no year end Nationals tourney.
Steve Serot had 2 wins, Steve Keeley 1 win, Charlie Brumfield 1.
Amateur/IRA champs pre 1974 (per USRA website)
1974: Bill Schmidtke d Steve Serot 16,(8),13 (corrected 11/1/08 from si.com archive article 6/74)
1973: Charlie Brumfield d Steve Keeley 8,(13),12
1972: Charlie Brumfield d Ron Rubenstein 11,0
1971: Bill Schmidtke Craig Finger (15),9,14
1970: Craig Finger d Charile Brumfield 17,12
1969: Bud Muehleisen d Charlie Brumfield (18),20,8
1968: Bill Schultz d Bill Schmidtke (14),12,18