Monday, May 20, 2024

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

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.


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 


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