Friday, 24 May 2013

Nationals: Semifinals

Well after yesterday's drama-filled quarter final match (mine anyway) today was almost a let down. I'll get to that right away, but let's recap the women's results first...

The womens' semis were before the men's and Christine Richardson, looking to make her second national event final of the season, had a great start against 2nd seeded veteran Josee Grand Maitre, winning the first game 15-5. The Quebec native would battle back to win the second 15-10 though and seemed to put Christine off her game as she rode that momentum to a decisive 11-3 victory in the tiebreaker. The second womens' semifinal was much more one-sided, as reigning canadian champion Jennifer Saunders put away former canadian champion Linda Ellerington in straight games 15-4, 15-2.

I was expecting a battle in my match, as by all accounts Nate had played well thus far in the tournament. I was able to take an early lead as Nate seemed to still be tuning his serve in. Fortunately for me he wasn't tuned in yet when he broke the strings on his racquet and the one he replaced it with was not the same model. I thought I had an opportunity to capitalize on this, whether it would actually play different or he just thought it might, it was a change when he wasn't looking for one so I would have the advantage. I extended my lead and while Nate was able to find his serving rhythm near the end of the game, he was only able to close within 4 points and I would take the game 15-10. The second played out very much like the first, with the exception being that Nate scored his points in smaller, separated bunches. I grabbed my lead again early and held on to take the second 15-8, securing my spot in the final. Relieved, I shook Nate's hand and got ready to watch what I thought would be an amazing semifinal between Coby and Mike.

I thought this might have match of the tournament potential, especially since they had faced each other in the Montreal selection event earlier this season and had one extremely tight game. Mike won that contest 15-13, 15-2, taking the second game in decisive fashion on the back of some great serving. It looked as if he might take this match in the same way, serving exceptionally well and keeping Coby completely off balance to take the first game 15-3. Mike didn't serve quite as hot in the second, but Coby appeared nervous and the reigning mens' champion took advantage to open up a lead again. To his credit, Coby kept it close, but at 13-10, Mike looked poised to take the game and the match. It was at this time though, that the veteran showed some signs of nerves, leaving up passes and not capitalizing on Coby's errors like he did earlier. Coby was able to take advantage of this loose play and not only close the gap, but after several changes of serve and a multitude of exciting rallies, take the game! It appeared the young gun would make a match of this yet! But alas it was not to be. Mike refocussed and tightened up not only his serving in the tiebreaker, but also his rally play. He jumped out to a commanding lead and never looked back, taking the tiebreaker 11-2.

So for the second time this season it will come down to me and Mike! With not only the national championship on the line but also the #1 ranking there will be a lot to play for. As always I will try to bring my best game to the court and hope that is enough. I can't wait :)


Nationals: Day 4

With everyone being able to check the draws online here, I'll keep this recap to the things that may have surprised people about the second round and quarter final play that took place yesterday.

There was a lone upset in the second round, as 10th seeded Kurtis Cullen upset 7th seeded Eric Desrochers to secure a spot in his second national event quarter final of the season. The Brandon native relied heavily on a superb mix of drive serves and took advantage of some loose play from Desrochers to capture the match in 2 games.

This set up quarter final matchups with all the top 8 seeds (save Desrochers) for the evening matches. With some history between some opponents and the relative closeness in seeding, I thought for sure we might see some upsets, or at least tiebreakers! Alas, there were no upsets and only one tiebreaker in all four matches and unfortunately for me, the tiebreaker (and almost scare upset) came in my own match.

Having played Kurtis several times over the last few years I had a pretty good idea of what to expect going into the match. He was going to lean heavily on his drive serve and if it was on it would be a battle, if he was inconsistent then it should be relatively straightforward. Somewhat to my surprise, Kurtis began the match serving fairly well, but since the courts weren't especially fast I was able to at least neutralize on serve return consistently. This allowed me to experiment with serves and begin to score. By mid-game, I had a solid lead which I held onto to take the first 15-5.

The second started in a similar fashion, although he was mixing his serves better by this time, throwing some into the short crack and into the body. This caused my serve return to be less consistent but I nevertheless build up a lead of 9-4. He called a timeout and I think in my mind (and a huge mistake) was that I imagined the finish line. I could see the end of the game (and match) and allowed myself to dwell on that instead of sticking to the task at hand. This would almost be my undoing as Kurtis (I'm sure who could see the end coming as well) elevated his game both on serve and serve return. It was now me who was struggling on serve return and when I was able to get into the box, to score points as well. He closed my lead and after several more failed attempts in the box, took a lead of his own, he closed out the second game 15-11.

My head was spinning. What just happened? Had I actually just let him back in the match? Given him the momentum and one chance in a game to 11 to take my spot in the semis? No. This was just a hiccup. Take a few minutes to refocus and get back in there and play like you did for the first 3/4 of the match thus far. I'm reminded of the scene in "The Replacements" where Keanu Reeves' character describes his biggest fear on the field: quicksand.

"You're playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can't move... you can't breathe... because you're in over your head. Like quicksand." - Shane Falco

It seemed I was still quagmired in my loss of focus as I proceeded to go down 6-1 in the tiebreaker. I finally got the serve back and called a timeout. After a brief exchange with my coach, my sense of hopelessness had lifted, albeit only slightly. Yes I was in a hole, yes I was not playing especially well, but I was not playing poorly enough that I should be losing like this. Get back on the court and just do everything a tiny bit better. That is the only difference right now. So I stepped back on the court and put it all out there. I fought for every rally, I focussed a little bit more on each of my serves, and positioned myself as best I could for each shot. With a little help from Kurtis (who I'm sure must have been feeling something similar to what I had felt late in game 2) I clawed back slowly and closed the lead. Like a true athlete though, Kurtis refocussed himself, and responded to regain the lead and after that it was extremely tense. I was the first to get to match point and led at 10-9. Full of nerves and wanting the roller coaster to simply be over, I promptly dropped my focus and blew 3 set ups in one rally to give Kurtis the serve back. At the tail end of a fairly solid rally, Kurtis' flailing frame-shot found the front court to kill out and tie the game at 10. I held on though and was able to get the serve back and close out the match 12-10.

Extremely happy to have won, as well as both physically and mentally exhausted after the contest, I didn't get to writing this until today. I'm looking forward to the semifinals against my training partner Nathaniel Husulak and am optimistic about my chances for a spot in the final. Not only that but watching the other semifinal as well. With Coby playing as well as he is, it should be a great test for Mike and a fantastic display of racquetball.

Cheers for now,


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Nationals: Day 3

Well after a lacklustre doubles result, I was ready to put that portion of the competition behind me and get into singles. The only issue with doing that was in the tournament structure. In the drawmaster's infinite wisdom, the decision was made to play only the round of 32 today and leave the round of 16 as well as the quarter finals until tomorrow. This meant I had the day off.

Not being one to waste days away, I did go for a leisurely walk after breakfast, and went over to the club in the afternoon both to watch some of the matches and partake of a light hit on the courts when time permitted. There are some odd seams on the back wall but for the most part the courts bounce true and while they are fast for panel courts, they are definitely slower than those in Kelowna that I played on earlier in the season. The first round matches all went according to seed as well, save for 2 home town boys who were able to step up their games and secure spots in the top 16.

18th seeded Tanner Mattson outlasted 15th seeded Hugo Laprise 11-7 tiebreaker to secure his spot in the round of 16 tomorrow. He will have his work cut out for him against 2nd seeded me haha! The other surprise entry into the second round is former Junior National Champion and 22nd seed Eric Urteaga, who was able to take advantage of some inconsistent play from 11th seed Lee Connell to secure his spot. Lee seemed to be in control of the match, taking the first game 15-5 and leading in the second 13-9 before Urteaga elevated his play to take the second 15-13. The BC resident rode this momentum to an early lead in the tiebreaker which he never relinquished. A controversial call at 10-6 was held up under appeal that gave him the game and the match. I can't imagine how tough this is for Connell, after coming off of such a fantastic doubles result. Having had to play for 17th after losing first round when I shouldn't have I can tell you it's a brutal feeling but it does teach you about mental presence so I hope that Lee at least took that lesson away from the match.

With the 16's and quarter finals tomorrow it will be a jam packed day of racquetball and hopefully after it's all said and done, I'll have secured a spot in the semis. Until then!



Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Nationals: Day 2

Well doubles play wrapped up today and was unfortunately anticlimactic in most respects. We began the day playing in the blue semi final against the Quebec team of Hugo Laprise and Sebastien Juteau. With the pressure they were able to put on 2nd seeds Green and Iwasaa in the quarter finals, we were ready for a scappy and tough team. What we found was a lot of inconsistency. We were able to control play from the beginning and didn't let up. I commented to Jamie that this must have been how the Murray's felt against us yesterday, to which he chuckled ruefully. In the other semifinal, the Husulak brothers came out on top of Kurtis Cullen and Tanner Mattson in a somewhat deflated tiebreaker so it was the Landeryou and Husulak brothers battling it out for 5th place. The match later that afternoon that decided it was yet again not as tense as I thought it was going to be. We played a smart game and where they were a little off we were on from the start. Every left up pass we were able to finish and we were able to neutralize well and force them to try and be offensive from deep court. They played a bit better to make things tight at the beginning of the second but we were able to get back to our game plan and finish it off two straight.

Ours weren't the only matches that went fairly routinely either. In the 3/4 playoff, 1st seeds Eric Desrochers and Pedro Castro easily defeated the 6th seeded Murray brothers and the final saw 2nd seeds Mike Green and Coby Iwasaa easily beat surprise finalists Lee Connell and Francis Guillemette 2 straight as well.

On the women's side, reigning champions Jen Saunders and Josee Grand Maitre won their 9th National Doubles Championship, beating Christine Richardson and Brigitte Richard in a much more contested match than any on the men's side 11-5 tiebreaker. This was the last women's match in a round robin draw and Richardson/Richard finished 3rd due to an earlier loss.

That wraps up doubles! I'm excited for singles now :)

Nationals: Day 1

It was quite a mixed bag of emotions (at least for me) following the first day of competition at the National Championships. There is something about this tournament that gets you excited about racquetball. I'm not sure if it's all the familiar faces that you might see only once per year, or the high quality of racquetball that everyone brings at the end of a season, or simply the desire to play your best because you know this is it until the fall; it's always been my favourite tournament to play.

When you start on a sour note, as with most anticipatory experiences, something is lost that changes the entire affair. This is unfortunately how my National Championships began this year. We received a bye into the quarter finals and were set to face Samuel and Tommy Murray in our first match. Having seen both these players compete through juniors, as well as in the senior ranks over the last few seasons, James and I both knew this would be a tough match. We were prepared, and felt good at the beginning as we won the toss and scored 3 quick points on our first service. Unfortunately it went downhill from there...

In my experience there is always a short period at the start of a match that is a little bit off. Whether it's nerves, not being warm enough, or simply making the adjustment to a court you haven't played on much, there is a period of time where small errors are made that don't cause immediate concern. The thought being that once you settle in, things will get better. Fate had other plans for us in that match. After giving up 4 quick points of our own, we got back in the service box. From that moment on though, points became infinitely more difficult to score. A combination of missing my weight on my serves and Samuel returning extremely well on James', resulted in us being utterly ineffective in staying in the service box. We did return fairly well and keep them from opening up a large lead, but there is only so long that can go on, and after a few changes they began scoring points. Deflated due to our inability to put points on the board, I began to play more aggressively, trying to create something that might act as a catalyst to change the outcome. This only resulted in us hemorrhaging more points, and fairly soon after, the first game was over. The second went much like the first. I tried to play more defensively in an effort to make them earn points as opposed to giving them up freely, but they in turn shot better. It was an extremely frustrating match to play but I give all credit to the Murray's, they outplayed us that day.

The silver lining (if you can call it that) was that when we returned to watch the semis later that evening, we were treated to what will likely be the match of the tournament. Our friend and training partner Lee Connell and partner Francis Guillemette pulled off an extremely tight and controversial win against first seeds Eric Desrochers and Pedro Castro in the semi finals to earn themselves a berth in Lee's first ever National Final. I'm extremely proud of and happy for Lee and I hope that they can play as well in the final today as they did yesterday.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Nationals Preview

With training leading up to Nationals going well I thought it was time to do a little preview. Keep in mind this may prove to be slightly inaccurate. The association hasn't released the draw (for reasons unknown) and it is still unclear as to whether Vincent Gagnon and Corey Osbourne will play, which means the layout could prove to be different than what is being assumed here. With that in mind I thought I'd do something a bit different. Instead of putting up what may or may not be the draw, I'll list the top 8 seeds and give the odds for them winning the singles title! Feel free to comment/sling insults my way. These odds are based on basically nothing :)

Seeds / Odds:

#1 Mike Green / 3:2 - As the most decorated player in Canadian Racquetball History, Green has to come in as the favourite. Add to that statistic that he has only lost one match in Canada in almost 3 years and this is a no-brainer.

#2 Tim Landeryou / 2:1 - Just behind Green in the oddsmakers' eyes is Landeryou, who has had an exceptional season. Winning every selection event so far, unbeaten in Canada since the 2012 National Championships, and the only player to beat Green in the last 2 seasons, Landeryou is also one of the favourites to take the title this year.

#4 Coby Iwassa / 4:1 - Next in line is Alberta prodigy Coby Iwassa. With a Junior World title last season and 2 Junior National titles in April, Coby is flying high and will be full of confidence coming into this year's Nationals. While there is no doubt a national title is in this young athlete's future, having not beaten either Green or Landeryou will work against him as he would likely have to beat both of them to win this year.

#3 Nathaniel Husulak / 6:1 - A perennial quarter-finalist and break-through semi-finalist in Kelowna, Husulak has stepped up his game considerably this season. Inconsistent play will prevent him from making a run to the finals, but if he catches fire he will be dangerous against anyone he faces

#5/6/7 James Landeryou, Corey Osbourne, Eric Desrochers / 8:1 - All dangerous in different ways, Landeryou, Osbourne, and Desrochers all have the potential to go deep into this draw. They will all run into opponents that have had their numbers recently in Iwassa, Husulak, and Landeryou though which means they will have to pull off somewhat unlikely upsets if they are to make it to the finals. All of them have the ability to do this though, so it will be interesting to see how the quarter-finals play out.

#8 Pedro Castro / 10:1 - Somewhat of a wildcard, Castro is an extremely talented player who has rededicated himself this season, presumably to compete for a spot on the 2015 Pan American Games Team. While he has shown the ability to upset higher ranked players, he has historically had difficulty with Iwassa, Green, and Landeryou, all of whom he would potentially have to defeat on a path to a national title this year.

What do you think of the odds? Agree? Disagree? Think I'm crazy? Post your comments below :)

Monday, 6 May 2013

New Leaves...

So I've realized that I have been horribly neglecting this blog. In an attempt to turn over a new leaf (or more likely several leaves) I have made somewhat of a pact with myself that I will update this more regularly (at least once per week). My sanity has been waning as of late and without an adequate outlet for my daily frustrations I might just snap... Okay so that was a bit dramatic, sometimes we need drama to motivate us to act; at least that's what my therapist tells me... Where was I... Oh right, writing!

My goal is to be more general in my scope but more succinct in my structure. Brief highlights of my daily escapades, frustrations, joys and sorrows will be chronicled to follow my training up to nationals, and the competition there as well. Short updates will be up on my twitter feed (@TLanderyou) and facebook so feel free to follow me there as well. And of course if you enjoy my blog share it with others! I'd love nothing more than for this blog to touch more than just my family, friends, and a few racquetballers.  Look for new posts on Wednesdays or Thursdays going forward, cheers for now!