Dec. 7th - 10th

Pleasanton, CA

Dec. 7th - 10th

Pleasanton, CA


The Race To #1

The Race To #1

By Rob Sabo

The battle for the No. 1 singles ranking on the International Racquetball Tour will come down to the final tournament of the year.

Current No.1 Jake Bredenbeck (2,890 points) has a slight edge over No.2 Daniel De La Rosa (2,746) heading into the season-ending Golden State Open at Bay Club in Pleasanton. De La Rosa finished the 2021 and 2022 IRT seasons as the top-ranked player, but there is a narrow pathway for Brendenbeck to claim the tour title with a strong showing at the GSO.

Each player will have their lowest points performance of the season dropped from their rankings, which gives De La Rosa a strong advantage heading into the GSO, but the title still will have to be decided on the court.

Both players said the year-end ranking doesn’t change their strategy as they prepare for the GSO. Bredenbeck took the top spot in the rankings after reaching the final of the Rally For Our Warriors tournament in Boston last November, where he dropped a hard-fought 11-10 tiebreaker to champion Andree Parilla in the most thrilling tournament final of the 2023 IRT season.

“It’s great being No.1, and that’s always been a goal, but in that moment (in Boston), the goal was to win the tournament,” Bredenbeck said. “If you win every tournament, you will be the No.1 player. Being No.1 right now is cool, but being the year-end No.1 is what really matters.”

Bredenbeck is closing out his season at the Tournament of Champions satellite event in Portland on Nov. 30-Dec. 2, where he can add a bit of points to his current lead over De La Rosa, before traveling to the San Francisco Bay Area for the GSO on Dec. 7-10.

“I just have to focus on the two tournaments ahead of me,” Bredenbeck said. “I know the amount of points I can possibly earn, and going to Portland helps, so I am going there. I have to focus on doing well in that tournament, and then I have to reset and focus on the Golden State Open and doing well there.

“My goal going into every tournament is to win,” he added. “That doesn’t change; it’s always my mindset. I just have to focus on these two tournaments individually, because there is nothing I can do about Daniel. If he has a great tournament at the GSO, and we meet in the final, that would be about as close the race could get. But say I win the tournament, and he loses in the quarterfinals – that gives me a better chance.”

After a moment of introspection, Bredenbeck said the year-end No.1 would probably be a crowning achievement in his career because of the work required to earn the top spot on the IRT tour.

“It means you won enough tournaments to be No.1,” he said. “If you win enough tournaments, and you do well at others, you will get the year-end No.1.”

Bredenbeck has had a career year in 2023. He claimed his second IRT Tier 1 title at the KWM Gutterman SoCal Open in Canoga Park in mid-April (beating Conrrado Moscoso 15-12, 15-11), and he was runner-up at the Williams Accounting & Consulting Open in Lilburn, Ga., in mid-February (losing 15-10, 15-12 to De La Rosa), as well as at the Papa Nicholas Shootout in Minneapolis in mid-March (losing 13-15, 15-14, 11-7 to Moscoso).

De La Rosa is a three-time tour winner in 2023. He claimed the Longhorn Open title in Austin in January (15-14, 15-12 over Moscoso), the Williams Accounting & Consulting Open in February over Bredebeck, and the Tracktown Open in Portland in early September (15-2, 15-11 over Rodrigo Montoya). He reached three other finals as well. He lost to Moscoso at the Lewis Drug Pro-Am in Sioux Falls in mid-January (15-9, 15-12), as well as to Montoya at the KWM Gutterman Minnesota Hall of Fame in Minneapolis in early March (15-3, 14-15, 11-3). In August, he dropped an up-and-down three-game final to Moscoso (3-15, 15-4, 11-7) at the KWM Gutterman World Singles & Doubles Championships in Highlands Ranch, Colo.

De La Rosa said earning his first No.1 ranking in 2021 was a great career achievement, but maintaining it in 2022 proved much harder.

“I was very proud of myself when I finished the season No.1,” he said. “But the following year, everyone had a lot of expectations for me, and I had a target on my back from the other tour players trying to prove they could beat the No.1 player.

“I just had to focus on what I do best, which is playing racquetball,” De La Rosa added.

De La Rosa is skipping the satellite tournament in Portland and instead is focused on the Golden State Open. He said he’s not overly concerned with how the season-ending ranking shakes out.

“It’s better to play without the pressure of being No.1, so I don’t think about it much,” he said. “I’m just going to go do my job. But finishing No.1 again will be a great achievement for me.”

Golden State Open tournament director and current IRT No.7 Adam Manilla said the tight IRT points race embraces the overall parity seen on tour this year.

“It’s been so close, and we’ve had many different winners, which hasn’t happened in a very long time,” Manilla said. “The field is so even, and at any tournament it can be any player’s day. It really serves as a message as to how this whole year of racquetball has played out. It’s been exciting, and it’s pretty awesome for the race to come down to this last tournament that will be played on the glass court.”

Fourteen-time IRT No.1 Kane Waselenchuk could be the dark horse in the title chase, Manilla added. After being sidelined by injury, Waselenchuk returned to competitive singles play and was brilliant in decisive wins over Manilla and No.3 Conrrado Moscosco at the Rally For Our Warriors tournament in Boston last November before falling to eventual runner-up Bredenbeck in three games.

“He could be a big spoiler for someone’s weekend,” Manilla said. “There are a lot of different things that can happen. It’s going to be pretty exciting to see if Danny can make it a three-peat, or Jake can become year-end No.1 for the first time.”

The last time the IRT title came down to the wire was the 2014-’15 season. It was a winner-take-all scenario between Waselenchuk and Rocky Carson, with Waselenchuk coming out on top after defeating Carson in the final match of the final event of the season.

Said Bredenbeck: “It’s been a while since there’s been a race like this on the men’s side to see who will be No. 1. It’s exciting to be a part of it, and it’s good for the men’s tour to see how this last tournament plays out. It’s a great way to wrap up the season.”