All-Mexican final in West Coast Champs
By Laura McCormick – Squash Mad US Racquetball Correspondent
The inaugural West Coast Championship, held in the newly renovated Big C Club in Concord, California came down to two, an all-Mexican affair between big hitters Alex Cardona and Alex Landa. To get there, they had to navigate their way through a crowded field of 32 other competitors.
The round of 32s went according to plan, and all higher seeds advanced. It was encouraging to see Jake Bredenbeck (USA) back on the tour, but he continues to play with his non-dominant hand while his right shoulder heals from a labrum tear. Therefore, while seeded higher than his opposition in the 16s, he could not progress. We wish him a continued speedy recovery.
Neither could Jaime Martell (MEX) progress from the round, as he fell to local favorite Jose Diaz (USA) in a tiebreaker. Martell’s elbow was heavily strapped, having injured it in the Alamo City Open in December, and the injury clearly affected his play and confidence. He also may need time away from the tour to recover completely.
Landa’s 11-6 tiebreaker win over fellow Mexican Gerado Franco was the only other on-paper upset in the 16s, but those who follow the sport and tour understand why Landa’s ranking is much worse than it would be should he decide to fully commit to the tour.
In the quarter-finals, Parrilla was tested by 11th seed junior Rodriguez who put up quite a fight to take the match to a tiebreaker before falling short 11-5. Similarly, Bobby Horn (USA) was a game up on Landa, and appeared to be on the way to closing out the match in two, but in a contentious second game, Landa managed to claw his way back, and eventually cruised through the tiebreaker 11-3.
On the top of the draw, Montoya handily beat a frustrated Diaz 15-6, 15-5. Cardona (right) followed suit by winning the first game 15-5 against current 18s World Champion Christian Longoria (MEX), but the second game was a much closer affair. In fact, it hinged on an opportunity for Longoria, who when provided with a plum set up at game point, crunched a routine forehand pinch badly into the floor. Now in the service box, Cardona promptly closed out the match. Such moments highlight how much can rest on the big moments in matches.
The semifinals were both won in two straight. Landa was in cruise control in the first game, pounding his serve and forcing Parrilla to chase, taking it 15-6. But Parrilla changed his serve in the second game, became more aggressive, and fought Landa to the bitter end. However, just like the Alamo City Open, Landa was able to close out the tight games better, and took the second 15-13.
The second semifinal was a repeat of the recent Longhorn Open, where number one seed Cardona faced Montoya, who beat him two straight. It looked to be a repeat early, when Montoya started the brighter. However, errors began to creep into his game, and while he was certainly the flashier of the two players, sometimes making the outrageous look ordinary, he was sloppier, giving Cardona free points off errant shots.
After Cardona won the first game 15-13, he began to run away with it in game two, and it looked like being an early night. However, following a timeout at 12-4 down, Montoya began to swing freely while Cardona tightened. For every point Cardona eked out, Montoya got three or four, and a tiebreaker began to loom.
Cardona certainly felt the pressure, and became far more emotional than his typical cool, calm demeanor. Finally, after his shot making had appeared to have deserted him, he was able to string together a couple of excellent rallies to advance 15-11 to the final.
The final was a repeat of December’s Alamo City Open where Landa won comfortably. But this was a different Cardona, who came out hitting hard, and more importantly, almost error free. Both Landa and Cardona have pacey drive serves, but Landa is more of a passer compared to Cardona, who is more aggressive, willing to pinch, and a little more creative. Thus, with their serves essentially negating each other, the match came down to whether Cardona could execute when given the opportunity.
Taking an early lead in game one, Cardona never relinquished it winning 15-10. It looked to be a quick game two when Cardona raced to a 7-2 lead in game two, but Landa clawed his way slowly back into the match. Interestingly, although Cardona never let his lead slip, he did take both of his timeouts, to his benefit, but it’s something that Landa appears reluctant to do. Eventually, following several sideouts and just like game one, Cardona closed it out with two quick points at 13-10.
The topsy turvy reign as champion continues on the World Racquetball Tour, and it remains to be seen whether a winner can claim two titles in a row. It’s something that hasn’t happened for several months! However, for the fans among us, that remains an attraction of the tour, and we’re looking forward to the Mount Rainier Open from February 17-19 in Seattle, Washington.
For more information on the WRT, visit their website www.worldracquetballtour.com or their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/WorldRballTour/
Pictures by WRT and FREDDY RAMIREZ (Restrung Magazine)