Sunday, October 25, 2009

U.S. Racquetball Open Ends with a Bang

Posted By on Sun, Oct 25, 2009 at 6:50 PM

Racquetball is fast, exciting, and loud.

It is possibly the loudest sport not involving firearms or motor vehicles. The ball comes off the wall with a crack like a rifle shot, with the noise confined to the enclosed court. During breaks in the pro matches on Sunday, the music was cranked up to the decibels of jet engines. This is a sport for people who don't like to sit still.

Nobody plays it better than Kane Waselenchuk, who won the pro tournament for the fifth time in three straight games. He may be the best of the best, by the widest margin, of any athlete in any sport in the world. The guy is almost unbeatable. The only thing to stop him was a two-year suspension for drugs a couple years ago. Now he's clean and a machine.

The 14th U.S. Open Racquetball Tournament at the Racquet Club was also probably the last one for Memphis. The event lost its title sponsors — formerly Promus and Hampton Inns, which are no longer Memphis based companies — and is likely to move somewhere else next year, possibly Minnesota.

Racquetball has figured out that the way to attract a big crowd to a national tournament is to show everyone a good time, with lots of parties and loud music, and enough divisions to insure that upwards of 150 players go home with winner or runner-up awards. There are 50 divisions on the men's side including age divisions every five years and skill levels from Open through A, B, and C. A little watered down, you might say, but it works. Every court at Wellworx, the Racquet Club, and the University of Memphis was pressed into service last week. The departure of the tournament will leave a big hole in the local sports picture going forward.

Rhonda Rajsich won the women's championship by playing well and smart. She lost two games in which she scored a total of three points, but won three other games after her opponent ran out of gas.

There were plenty of wily veterans like Frank Taddonio, who won the 60s for the third time, and Jerry Holly, who won the 75s. Taddonio does spinning to build his stamina. He plays every day and looks strong as a bull. Holly looks about 55. I told him I would ask to see his ID if I ever played him. I was kidding. "It's happened," he said.

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