Friday, 26 May 2017

2017 Nationals - Quarter Finals

The quarter finals of the 2017 national championships had some hard-fought battles but for the most part the top seeds all advanced.

On the women's side, top seed Frederique Lambert advanced over junior national champion Alexis Iwaasa in what was an entertaining and athletic match for fans, even though the scoreline didn't reflect it. Second seed Jennifer Saunders had a closer battle with #10 seed Erin Geeraert, trailing 11-8 in the first game before running away with it 15-11 and taking the second 15-8. Geeraert's inexperience on the national stage was evident, but her potential was also showcased. She will be a player to watch both at this event and national tournaments in the future. The last two quarter finals were by far the most contentious and entertaining. Richardson struggled with execution and shot selection early in her match to give Fallu a huge lead and ultimately a hole from which she couldn't dig herself out of. The second game was the opposite, with Richardson taking a sizeable lead into the latter portion of the game and Fallu making a late run that was too little too late. Fallu carried this momentum into the tiebreaker though, building up a seemingly insurmountable lead and serving for the match at 10-5. Richardson chipped away at the lead gradually though, and after the third missed match point opportunity for Fallu, the momentum had clearly swung in Richardson's favour. She kept up this run and finished the comeback, taking the tiebreaker 12-10 and the match. On the top half, fifth seeded Michele Morissette took advantage of a clearly nervous Danielle Drury to storm out to an early lead and run off with the first game 15-2. Drury calmed her nerves in the second and led near the latter part of the game, but Morissette was not to be denied, chipping away at the lead and eventually taking the game 16-14.

On the men's side, the top two seeds also won in straightforward fashion. Green toppling Husulak 15-10, 15-7 and Murray ousting Bousquet 15-5, 15-10. Both lower seeds in these matches held their own in the early stages of both games, but saw their respective intensities wane as time went on, highlighting the conditioning factor necessary for success within this competition as well as an indication of the grueling schedule of doubles play early in the week. A similar story line followed in my match, where Pedro Castro came out of the gate playing quickly and aggressively, marching out to an early lead and never looking back to take a quick first game 15-7. I made a concerted effort to lengthen the rallies early in the second and it paid off, allowing me to open up a large lead. Pedro chipped away in the latter stages, but I held on to win 15-10 and force a tiebreaker. In the deciding game, I elected to be more aggressive on serve and it paid off with a few aces early and forced weak returns on the rest. By this time Castro was clearly tired and emotionally deflated after watching his solid effort in game one negated, and never recovered in the tiebreaker, as I took the deciding game 11-2. By far the most tumultuous match of the evening was Landeryou/Connell, whose back and forth battle lasted over 90 minutes and contained the full spectrum of shots, calls, and drama that can occur in this great sport. It was Connell who came charging out of the gates, like some sort of crazed animal with a penchant for rollouts. Landeryou managed to slow him down a bit in the latter stages but dropped the opener 15-9. The second game was very even through the midway point, where Landeryou opened up a slight lead on the back of some precise and powerful drive serves and held on to take the second 15-10. Landeryou elected to start the tiebreaker with the drive serve also, and retained the success he had in game two, opening up an early lead. Both players seemed to lose a bit of their mobility and precision in the decider, not hitting as low or cleanly as they had in the previous two games, but remained evenly matched. They traded points back and forth for most of the game, but Landeryou held onto his early lead, and capitalized on a few late-game errors from Connell to take the tiebreaker 11-6.

Predictions made early still hold, but there should be some extremely entertaining matches on deck for tonight. Be sure to tune in if you are able, with women's semis at 4:00 & 5:00 pm and the men's semis at 6:00 & 7:00 pm EST airing here:

Thursday, 25 May 2017

2017 Nationals - Singles Day 1

The first day of singles competition concluded yesterday in Brossard with very few surprises on both the men's and women's sides of the competition. Here's a brief recap of the action, along with predictions for the women's side of the event.

With ten women in the main draw at this year's nationals, only two round of 16 matches took place yesterday. Some controversy took place over the seedings near the bottom, where local player Catherine Foisy, who has not been active for several years, was placed ahead of Albertans Alexis Iwaasa and Erin Geeraert, and young up-and-comer Cassie Prentice. Many thought this was an error, due to the strength of the aforementioned players and Foisy's absence from tournament play for the better part of a decade. Unfortunately, the precedent had been set at earlier events to use historical ranking to seed inactive players and, in Catherine's case, hers was higher than the other three. This worked out for Geeraert, who benefited from an easier first round match and opportunity to gain ranking points, but not as well for Iwaasa, now on the top half of the draw and playing into the #2 player in the world, Frederique Lambert in the second round. Geeraert and Iwaasa both won their first round matches in two games, but will face much stiffer competition from here on out in the event.

The overwhelming favourite to win this event is Lambert, who continues to improve her already phenomenal play while simultaneously attending medical school in Montreal. Improving her Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT) rank to #2 this season, she has her sights firmly placed on Paola Longoria and the #1 spot. Barring catastrophe, she should take the national singles title in straightforward fashion this week. Record holding champion Jen Saunders would be next in line, having beaten everyone else in the draw other than Lambert the last two years. She should win her quarter final match over Erin Geeraert, although the Albertan certainly has the mobility and game style to push the champ. Look for a close two-game win for Saunders in that match up. The other two quarter finals are certainly more contentious and thus harder to call. The Fallu/Richardson match up is especially interesting, with Fallu suffering an injury which sidelined her just after her strongest season. She showed strong serving on the doubles court and will push Richardson, but I'm not sure hard enough. Christine is playing solid ball, and will be full of confidence after securing her second national doubles title with Michele Morissette earlier in the week. Add to that a win against training partner and #2 seed Jen Saunders earlier this season, and the balance of power shifts in her favour. The most congruous match of the quarters is Drury/Morissette, who come into singles competition as #4 and #5 both on the national rankings and as seeds in the competition. They have also split matches this season, so by all accounts this will be close. The slower courts will favour Morissette (the better shooter), who should also have more experience with them than Drury, so the slight advantage goes to the Quebec native, although this will be a tiebreaker win for whomever takes it.

Unfortunately, for whoever makes it though that battle, Frederique Lambert will be waiting on the other side and neither player is likely to offer much resistance. On the bottom half, Saunders still has the advantage over Richardson in that contest. Her loss to Christine early in the season was avenged via a straight-games win at the second selection event of the season in Calgary, but it's clear that Richardson has the tools to win. If she can bring everything together in the semis, it should be a good match at the very least. If these predictions end up being correct, we should have a Lambert/Saunders final and a Richardson/Morissette match for bronze. Lambert should take the final over Saunders barring bizarre circumstances, and with Richardson's strong play so far I'm picking her over Morissette in two close games.

The men's side of competition was without surprise yesterday, at least on the results side, with all the top seeds advancing with relative ease. Look for closer battles and potential upsets today, but the top seeds should all advance again. The main court will be streaming all day, beginning at noon EST with the Richardson/Fallu match. Check it out here:

*Please note you will need an account to log in and view the streaming matches, but it is free.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

2017 Nationals - Men's Singles Preview

With doubles now over, the focus turns to singles. Here are my predictions/picks for the singles draw with odds for those who might find them interesting.

1:2 Mike Green (1) – The obvious odds favourite must be Green, even after the misstep at the first selection event of the season where he lost to James Landeryou in the semi-finals. He rebounded in solid fashion at the second selection event, barely breaking a sweat until the final where he defeated #2 seed Samuel Murray in two games. Expect Green to continue his solid play and secure his 11th national singles title.

3:2 Samuel Murray (2) – I struggled a bit with the odds on Sam to be honest as there are a lot of things giving him an advantage leading up to this National Championships, not the least of which is possession of home-court advantage at Sani Sport. He has also been playing the IRT consistently this season, securing his highest ranking to date of #13, and the on-court reps are paying off with solid wins over me this season and a tight 2-game loss to Green at the last selection event. Playing at home could provide that little extra advantage he needs to conquer Green and secure his first national singles title, but with Green’s impressive record at national championships, I had give him the edge as favourite.

2:1 Tim Landeryou (3) – As much as I’d like to say: “This is my year and I’m taking that title!” the reality so far this season has been much more humbling. Losses to Samuel earlier in the year were one-sided and highlighted the need for me to get more competitive matches into my schedule that became hard to fit in. Do I have a chance of winning? Of course, better I would argue than anyone outside the top 3, but it will require digging up my a-game, which has eluded me since last February. It’s not in me to give up though, so look for a battle in the semis against Samuel, and in the final against Mike if I make it that far.

5:1 James Landeryou (4) – It feels great to be able to include James in this list. It’s been awhile since he’s shown the ability to beat players at the top, but he made a splash early in the season with a 2nd place finish at the first selection event, on the back of a superbly impressive win over Green in the semis. His inexperience in event finals showed the next day however, as he lost to Murray without much resistance. The event showed that he still has the ability to compete with the top players and as the only player to beat Green this season within the country, deserves to be considered near the top of this list.

8:1 Lee Connell/Pedro Castro (5/6) – Both players have had inconsistent seasons, but shown flashes of brilliance to keep themselves just outside the top tier of players at this year’s nationals. Connell notched two victories over James Landeryou in the latter part of the season, and had his best national event in several years, finishing 5th in Calgary and putting up a valiant effort against Green in the quarter-finals. Castro had slightly better results than Connell throughout the season, but has a tougher draw at this year’s nationals. He will have to go through Tim Landeryou and Sam Murray just to make the final, and hasn’t beaten either of them in several years. The likelihood of either player winning the event is low, but both have the potential to cause a stir in the quarters and potentially the semis.

10:1 Nathaniel Husulak/Tommy Murray/Nicolas Bousquet
Outside chances exist for Husulak, Murray, and Bousquet to take this year’s title, but they are certainly long shots. None have recorded wins over the top 3 in the last few years, and most have losing records with the players ahead of them on the rankings. It would take some serious celestial alignment for one of these athletes to take the title this year but their results warrant inclusion in the conversation.

It would certainly make a more interesting read to produce bold predictions outside the seedings, but with a smaller draw and less contentious match ups early in the event, I regret to say the forecast will not contain many surprises…

First/Second Round: As mentioned earlier, the draw is quite small this year. With only 17 players there is just one first round match, between junior national team member Simon Comeau and former junior national champion Jeremy Renaud. While Renaud hasn’t been active on the national scene in several years, his experience and talent should allow him to take the match and move forward into the round of 16. Unfortunately, his success will likely end there where he faces defending national champion Mike Green. The round of 16 contains several other matches with similar levels of contention, but there are a few that offer some intrigue.

The Murray/Husulak matchup should be the closest, both on paper and for those who know the players personally. They have gone tiebreaker in almost every head to head they’ve played in the last two years, both perennially finish in the top 8 and inevitably meet somewhere in that bracket. While it’s unfortunate they will be squaring off in the second round of this event, it will certainly delight the fans to have such a contentious match take place early in the event. Husulak had a strong showing earlier this month at the Saskatchewan provincial championships and seems to be peaking at the right time, but this is Murray’s home club and the slower courts will affect Husulak’s ability to utilize his power game. This will be a tight battle, but I think the slight advantage goes to Murray. Look for him to take this match in a tiebreaker.

The Castro/Webb, Guillemette/Landeryou, and Bousquet/Prentice matchups have potential to be contentious, but I would have a hard time making a case for one of the lower seeds to take the match. Webb has been training with Green leading up to this event, which must have had a positive impact on his game, but he’s been untested in tournaments recently and hasn’t played Castro in a national event. His style will test Castro’s conditioning, but home court advantage and having this match early in the event will both work in Castro’s favour. Look for him to take the match in two close games, although potential is there for a tiebreaker. Guillemette/Landeryou provides some intrigue, but with Landeryou taking their last few meetings, expect things to hold true in this match as well. A similar conclusion could be drawn for the Bousquet/Prentice match, due to the win/loss record stacked in Bousquet’s favour, but Prentice has stepped his game up this season, and recorded wins over Lee Connell and Nathaniel Husulak. While the Frenchman is still considered the favourite to win, it would not be surprising to see this match end in a tight two games or potentially a tiebreaker.

Look for a brief recap of results tonight and updated predictions for Thursday if applicable. I will also include predictions/odds for the women’s side. 

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

2017 Nationals - Doubles Recap

Well after a grueling two days of competition, the doubles portion of the Canadian National Racquetball Championships is in the books and, good or bad, the event had some of everything: upsets, tight tiebreakers, repeat titles, and new champions. Fans were truly treated to the full range of shots, emotions, and drama this sport has to offer. I present the following written word as a meager substitute for the bounty of racquetball nirvana taken place so far...

Starting on the women's side, it was back-to-back titles for Christine Richardson and Michele Morissette, who defeated Jen Saunders and Danielle Drury by two razor thin margins 17-15, 15-13 to retain their title. Some thanks on their part should be sent to the Geeraert/Iwaasa team who forced Saunders/Drury to a lengthy tiebreaker match earlier in the day, resulting in perhaps just enough fatigue to make the difference. Geeraert/Iwaasa won their final match of the event in straightforward fashion to take home the bronze medal.

On the men's side, it was the third final in as many years for Nicolas Bousquet and Tommy Murray, who were hoping the third time was the charm for them to finally take home the elusive title. Their opponents, perhaps surprisingly, were 5th seeds Trevor Webb, current junior national champion, and Mike Green, current men's national champion. The pair caused quite the stir this week, upsetting 4th seeds James & Tim Landeryou in the quarters and top seeds and defending national champions Samuel Murray and Pedro Castro in the semis. Their road had been long, needing tiebreakers in both instances to move on, but they were confident and riding a chemistry fostered by a shared daily training regimen. Uncharacteristically, Webb and Green started slowly, with the magnitude of the match clearly weighing on the junior champion's mind, and nervous errors the fruit borne of this distracted mindset. They eventually righted the ship and got themselves into a groove more indicative of their play earlier in the event. They couldn't quite dig themselves out of the hole in that first game, but played solidly enough down the stretch to squeak out the next two without any room to spare, taking home the first title for Webb in his young career, 16-14, 13-11. The previous year's national champions Castro & Murray would defeat the SK pair of Husulak/Connell to take the bronze. I and my brother James, unfortunately ran into somewhat of a freight train in the quarters and had to settle for 5th.

I have a preview of singles play written up, which I will post tomorrow. Action isn't truly picking up until later in the afternoon so be sure to check out my predictions. Feel free to respond on FB to start a discussion; I'm always up for a good racquetball debate :)

Sunday, 21 May 2017

2017 Nationals - Doubles Preview

As I’ve had a serious hiatus from this blog, I thought I’d change up the format slightly. Look for a preview of the singes action I’ll post Tuesday, but for now we’ll take a quick peek at what’s set to happen on the doubles court over the next couple of days.

On the Men’s side, top seeds Castro/Murray (1) and Murray/Bousquet (2) should move through to the semi-finals without much trouble. Husulak/Connell (3) could have some difficulties with Guillemette/Leduc (6), but should ultimately move through as well. The most intriguing match of the quarter finals will be the Landeryou brothers (4) vs Green/Webb (5). The singles skill of both these teams should have resulted in higher seedings, but due to the seeding process used by Racquetball Canada for these events, the top 4 seeds retain their positions based on the previous national championships. Thus, these two highly skilled teams go head to head in the quarter finals. This is a great match on paper, with veteran national team members partnering up with younger, athletic, and talented individuals to assemble highly-skilled and well-matched teams. While Green is an extremely adept doubles player, the more well-rounded Landeryou team should have the edge in overall offense and take this close contest.

The semi-finals offer some intriguing match ups as well. On the bottom half, Murray/Bousquet had an extremely tight tiebreaker victory over Husulak/Connell in their last encounter, and it will likely be no different this time around. The young Quebec team has more experience under their belt now, which should give them a slight edge in this match, but expect a tight tiebreaker again either way. On the top side, the Landeryou brothers will have a tough time against defending national champions Castro/Murray. The Quebec team had difficulty with Landeryou and partner Eric Desrochers last year, and brotherly chemistry should make the Landeryou brothers a stronger team. Still, Castro/Murray have chemistry as well, and playing on their home court gives them the slight statistical edge in this contest.

Thus, the final has a high probability of being an all-Quebec affair, with the Landeryou brothers taking on Husulak/Connell for bronze. The Landeryous grew up playing with Husulak/Connell and have the historical edge in that contest. The final will likely be a similar result, as Castro/Murray have played Murray/Bousquet several times over the last couple of years and haven’t had much difficulty. The more experienced Quebec pair emerge as the favourites to secure another national title.

In the women’s draw, things have potential for more complicated finishes with the round robin format, so the predictions here will focus on overall results starting at the bottom. Local team Dechene/Boivin are clearly the outsiders and low seeds within the open event, but it gets tougher to call after that. Likely 4th place finishers are Prentice/Fallu, who are seeded third but will be in tough against the other three teams. With Fallu coming off an injury and Prentice relatively inexperienced on the doubles scene, it is unlikely they will be able to overcome the skill or experience of the top three teams. My third-place pick is a tough one, as I see all three of the top teams having good matches. Ultimately, the deciding factor for me is experience, so I have Geeraert/Iwaasa finishing third. Both these players can generate dangerous offense and could take out one or both of the top two teams, but lack the consistency and experience of the top two. Finishing second I have defending national champions Richardson/Morissette, who certainly have the skill and experience to repeat, but will be in tough against Drury/Saunders, who have had more reps on the court together since their last encounter. Drury has also been training hard and it’s showing in her court coverage and consistency. While this will be a tight match to call, the slight edge goes to Drury/Saunders for the women’s national title.

That's it for now. Hope you enjoyed this doubles preview and check back for results and singles predictions on Tuesday!