7.3 C
London
Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Racquetball: Is this brand of dominance good for the game?

More from the author

National icon Paola Longoria
National icon Paola Longoria

Canadian Kane Waselenchuk and Mexican treasure Paola Longoria are ruling the court in racquetball
By FREDDY RAMIREZ – Guest Columnist and Editor of Restrung Magazine

Squash has witnessed years of dominance by great champions like Jahangir Khan and, currently, the amazing Nicol David.  A similar situation has arisen in racquetball, with world champions Kane Waselenchuk (Canada) and Paola Longoria (Mexico) dominating the sport. Longoria, like Jahangir and David, has become a national icon. But is their continued success good for the game? We are pleased to welcome FREDDY RAMIREZ, editor of Restrung Magazine, to set the scene…

 

Both Kane Waselenchuk and Paola Longoria are currently dominating racquetball in ways never before seen. There have been players who have shown dominance in some form or another since the 1970s, with prolific numbers of titles, wins and years at the top of the rankings.

The difference with how these two are dominating seems to be translating differently from in the past. Undoubtedly, years from now, their numbers will be added up and their places in the record books will be solidified.

But if you look at what the racquetball world has come to expect from these two, one starts hearing thoughts on these two in direct relation to interest in upcoming events. In almost every opinion heard has been the expectation that these two will win, negating some of the interest for some in the actual events.

And then talk of interest in what happens in the earlier rounds start to bubble up from racquetball enthusiasts who follow professional play regularly. And sometimes, if that segue doesn’t happen, then interest in talking about the event fades.

For both these players, the way they dominate their respective pro tours translates differently than they did for players in the past. Today, you can instantly know tour stop results and, with social media, read and share thoughts players and enthusiasts have. Yet, that also creates a situation where you hear the same things again and again.

This has caused a situation where it’s commonly accepted that these two will win every stop and when they do, it’s not really “news”. Sure, they are continuing their epic journeys in the sport, yet the scope of acheivement will only truly be appreciated when these careers are over.

Individually, this has translated differently because of the different climates in which each player is a major part of.

Racquetball champions Kane Waselenchuk and Paola Longoria
Racquetball champions Kane Waselenchuk and Paola Longoria

For Paola, this situation has become a perfect storm of notoriety for her in Mexico. It can be “said” of her that she is the best in the world, in a country where that moniker can be injected with just her photo or her appearance on a show and national pride takes a hold of it and runs through a Mexican culture hungry for success.

For her tour, it can offer second looks from those responsible for media generation, because the sport of “raquetbol” is being said more and more. (How the tour takes advantage has yet to be fully seen.) From here, Longoria’s future could be wide open for her professional transition from actually playing.

And her opportunities could be drastically different in nature than transitions enjoyed by other players who have had great success on tour. Things like “entertainment or talk shows” or maybe “public office” (yea, it could be like that,) or her own tour? Of course, this is all specualtion, but well within reach if indeed she wanted one or more these things.

King Kane: To Canadian Kane Waselenchuk, the extraordinary is often ordinary
King Kane: To Canadian Kane Waselenchuk, the extraordinary is often ordinary

For Kane Waselenchuk, it’s not working out that way. Anyone that follows racquetball regularly will know that for a professional athlete that is conmpletely dominating a professional sport as he is doing, recognition just doesn’t match the achievement.

What doesn’t help is that outside of actually going and watching Kane play in person, it’s a rare thing to actually see how he does what he does. (Even in person, viewing may not be ideal for watching.) So, as things are, you have to be really in the know to tell the difference between Waselenchuk and the rest of the field beyond scores on a draw sheet.

And, in a general cultural climate that it is easy to view extreme sports action and highlights, the opportunity being lost is probalby most costly to Waselenchuk than anyone else in racquetball.

Both these players deserve their places at the top of the rankings because of how they play. The way I see it, Paola is so very solid technically and able to focus better than peers. Kane on the other hand, is a case where extraordinary play is often ordinary for him.

unnamed

And these things are just taken for granted that they will happen (and heard about) at each and every tour stop. So on Sundays, the suprise will come only when social networks spread news that one of these players has lost.

How responsible is the sport as a whole for just how much is known about these two, outside of enthusiasts? That question could go either way.

Think of it this way, if this were tennis and you were a casual fan, how interested would you be to watch the US Open or Wimbledon if you felt sure you knew the outcomes? And as a casual fan, you know who the best player is, everyone else plays for second. You know this. What else is there to follow, unless of course, you are in easy access to engaging info about players farther down the rankings, putting things in perspective.

This kind of thing is more of a problem for Kane than it is for Paola (above) because of her unique place in Mexican national culture.

Is the way they are dominating good for racquetball as things are? That depends. What can you actually see? And if you hear the same thing over and over how likely are you to pay attention?

History making is great, but you actually have to see it being made to feel like you’re witnessing it.

And right now, it’s not nearly enough.

Pictures by FREDDY RAMIREZ  courtesy of Restrung Magazine 

 

Related articles

8 Comments

  1. seriously? and he’s the editor of the magazine? there are those who feel that squash is a sport for people who want to feel superior to everyone else, so in that sense maybe this post serves a purpose.

    • @ ron leon – I don’t understand your post. I feel Freddy posed questions that need to be pondered and accurately characterized the state of professional racquetball. Please explain yourself a bit further.

      • sorry if my post was unclear, primarily I was reacting to the quality of the writing and editing of the article. i’m a former racquetball player and live in southern california where the sport was born and remains more popular than squash, and I have some interest in the subject matter. when I take the effort to re-construct the sentences to uncover the intended meaning, I still don’t find that the questions are compelling nor is there any action on the part of tournament organisers or associations that seem to be indicated. in many professional sports there are periods during which one player attains this kind of dominance, there have been other dominant racquetball players in the past, so in my opinion it’s a non-issue. what I find more remarkable is that people in the uk and australia are playing a version of racquetball on a squash court, where there are no roll-outs or pinches or ceiling balls. as I said in my original post, I feel that all this mainly serves to support our need as squash players to feel superior to everyone else. we american squash players undoubtedly feel that need more deeply than players in most other countries. peace …

        • Thanks Ron.
          Freddy Ramirez, publisher of Restrung Magazine, and I have been discussing ways in which squash and racquetball might work together, for mutual benefit.
          You are correct in your comment that we play racketball (English spelling) on a squash court, but the tin adds a valuable dimension that we feel is lacking in American pro racquetball.

          We go for sidewall nicks rather than front-wall roll-outs. This also prolongs the rallies, produces squash-style tactical battles, and gives all players, whatever their standard, a good work-out.
          I love racketball, I play every week, for fun, but I am keen to explore where we can take this game.

          Best wishes,

          Alan

          • thanks alan,

            I really appreciate and respect everything you’ve done for squash, however in this regard I feel that this effort is somewhat misguided. if the issue is that squash is too strenuous for some members of the population and the goal is to create a game that’s easier and can be enjoyed by more people using existing facilities, that’s certainly understandable. based on my experience I’d anticipate that racketball players will quickly realize the limitations of that game and will lose interest, and it’s not clear whether esr wants to try to convert those players into squash players. squash is much more mature than racquetball and history has shown that the american experiment to develop its own version of squash with the harder faster ball on the smaller court was a failure. trying to play racquetball with a slower ball on a squash court seems like a similar bit of folly to me. regardless, I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying playing racketball!

            peace,

            – ron

          • Ron

            Many thanks for responding. We have a growing racketball scene here in the UK. Some excellent squash players (including professionals) have taken to singles and doubles (yes, on a squash court). We have also found that racketball is an attractive proposition to older players who feel their joints can no longer cope with injuries or the phenomenal stress of competitive squash.
            Racketball is also enjoyed by several senior ladies’ groups who just play for fun and fitness.
            Some clubs in the UK have more racketball players than squash, and that group will usually tend towards the more senior age groups.
            I have no definitive answer to the questions you raise, because this whole experience is relatively new. What I do know is that racketball is helping to fill empty courts, helping older players to remain active, and is viewed as a very sociable, fun sport.
            I see all of these things as positives.
            As the sport grows in the UK, one might deduce that we are attempting to build a new market (racketball) from an existing market (squash).
            I have no idea where this will lead. I am merely suggesting that some kind of cooperation might benefit all concerned.

            Many thanks,

            Alan.

  2. Ron,

    Thank you for your input. The only thing I would add is that the piece was originally meant for my site (Restrung Magazine). My blog posts are geared towards very “in the know” enthusiasts, so, sometimes the writing assumes that more than other times, especially when I touch on topics that people are talking about but not saying out loud.

    Squash has a deep history no doubt. But to discount a variation of squash and dismiss it as folly, is to discount a version that is very enjoyable and accessible for many people. It’s a subcultured sport in the same vein as paddle tennis, padel, differing versions of handball, etc. It also provides an environment of competition in sport that facilitates group inclusiveness and dedication to the “game”.

    I love to play squash. But I find it easier to access some other sports I enjoy that are similar in nature. And as an example, if I only played indoor racquetball, I wouldn’t discount how meaningful outdoor racquetball is to the outdoor group by calling it folly.

    Alan and I have communicated often, hence the occasional inclusion of each other’s content. We’ve talked about the possibilities that racketball could present to get different groups looking to show up at the same thing, at the same time. In the form of a hybrid event as an example. It could foster interest, or at the very least offer the two groups a better understanding of each other’s sports and it’s players.

    That some players feel the need to feel superior in anyway, about anything… they can have that.

    Peace.

    • hi freddy:

      I can certainly appreciate everything you’re saying here, of course we all approach the subject from our own perspective and based on our own experiences. it would appear that mine is somewhat opposite to Alan’s: I was an active promoter and player of racquetball, and primarily outdoor racquetball, and as the participation was declining in the early 1980s I “discovered” squash and decided to redirect my efforts. at the time there was hardly any proper squash in the usa and in southern california there was hardly any squash of any sort, so I began converting under-used racquetball courts into squash courts and found many former racquetball players preferred squash. at the time we met with strong resistance from the squash establishment in the usa, which had a vested interest in maintaining the north american version of squash. that was 30 years ago, and now the north american version of the game is virtually extinct, and I still hold the opinion that if America had developed the sport of squash following the same standards that were adopted by the rest of the world, things would have been very different, and better. I’ve read Alan’s post at this site conveying his observations about squash in the usa, and it certainly doesn’t coincide with my view of things, especially w/r/t the significance of the doubles game to the growth of the sport here.

      since I haven’t experienced racketball I am not in any position to judge its merits, and as I stated earlier racquetball doesn’t have the maturity that squash has so maybe the standards deserve to be re-examined.

      anyway thanks for the discussion and please accept my sincerest apologies if any of my comments offended you in any way. if you ever find yourself in orange county please look me up and we can have a friendly hit together. as you may know, rocky carson enjoys playing squash a lot and he’s nearby as well.

      peace,

      – ron

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest articles