UnitedHealthcare US OPEN LPRT Preview
Defending Champion Paola Longoria Leads Women’s Field
by Leo R Vasquez
The UnitedHealthcare US OPEN Racquetball Championships are upon us and once again the women’s pro singles competition will crown another champion.
Most years, at the US OPEN, there is never a clear favorite. That however, is not the case this time as world No.1 Paola Longoria from Mexico will bring her undefeated record from the last two seasons into Minneapolis and attempt to win her fourth US OPEN championship.
But standing in her way will be three former US OPEN women’s singles champions - Rhonda Rajsich, Cheryl Gudinas, and Kerri Wachtel along with a strong showing of other hopefuls. Although all of them will certainly be heavily favored to reach their projected semifinal spots, one of them has gone one step further than the others, and that would be Rajsich, who has won four US OPEN singles championships. A Longoria versus Rajsich final is something we've come to expect in Grand Slams such as the US OPEN but now that the battle lines have been drawn and, the contenders established, it is time.
Time, that is, to look ahead to the UnitedHealthcare US OPEN, look ahead to the sport’s original Grand Slam championship – and ask the question: Who do you like to win the UnitedHealthcare US OPEN Open?
Here is the skinny on the tour’s top ladies looking to etch their names on the championship trophy and win a coveted US OPEN title.
Paola Longoria (2:1 odds) – Longoria, the No. 1 player in the world is the defending US OPEN champion as well as the 2012, 2011 and 2008 champion. She had another sensational performance during the LPRT ’12-’13 tour, finishing the entire season undefeated. She also captured the number one year end ranking for the fourth time, and as of this writing has not lost a match since May 2011. Paola is no stranger to the US OPEN; she also made two finals appearances in 2009 and 2010 losing to Rhonda Rajsich. Her grit-iron intensity and aggressive playing style is difficult for most players to overcome. Unless someone has elevated their game during the off-season, look for Paola to take another step towards racquetball immortality and raise another US OPEN championship trophy. La Princesa no le será negado otro triunfo.
Rhonda Rajsich (3:1 odds) – Also in the spotlight will be four-time US OPEN champion Rhonda Rajsich (2003, 2007, 2009, 2010). A former world No.1 player, Rajsich continues to amaze fans with spectacular dives and shots that are jaw dropping. Her loss to Longoria in the finals last year may be all the fuel she needs to win her fifth US OPEN Championship and reclaim her throne. Rajsich needs to figure out how to close out Longoria in four or even five games. If she does that, she will surely solve the puzzle that nobody has been able to do. The road to number one usually goes through these Grand Slam events and Rajsich knows exactly what it takes to make that happen. Chances are she’ll be in the finals on Sunday with a chance to win another US OPEN championship.
Cheryl Gudinas (5:1 odds) – Cheryl has two US OPEN championships (2002, 2004) to her credit; and continues to be a fan favorite at the US OPEN, especially the last few years. She doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing down despite being one of the tour veterans. Cheryl continues to bring an intensity unmatched by her opponents and her biggest competition besides Longoria and Rajsich may be injuries. A win here in Minneapolis would help her confidence and add to her impressive resume as one of the games greatest female players. She is fun to watch and will be tested early by some of the younger players in the draw. Look for Cheryl to make another historic run and attempt to add a third US OPEN championship to her trophy case.
Samantha Salas Solis (7:1 odds) – Samantha slid from No. 3 in the world to No. 12 after a shoulder injury sidelined her for most of the 2011-2012 season. However last season saw her storming back up the rankings and taking the very top ranked players down to the wire on multiple occasions. There is no doubt that Samantha would love to raise the US OPEN trophy over her head as a winner, but she must be willing to challenge those players who are determined to risk more and get past champions like Rajsich and Longoria. Of all the young guns in the draw Samantha has the best chance to pull the upset vistory of the year!
Kerri Wachtel (10:1 odds) – When Kerri won her only US OPEN eleven years ago (2001), Wachtel was a shining star in women’s professional racquetball and had her best year on the LPRT 2007-2008 season finishing ranked No.3 on tour. She continues to make the semifinals here at the US OPEN with her tenacity and incredible court coverage, but needs to try and use all that energy as best she can to heighten her focus. With her previous US OPEN championship in the books, she knows what it takes to win but needs to dig down and try to re-live the same magic she did once before.
Adrienne Fisher (11:1) – This tour veteran recently married and has seen a resurgence in her game. After being ranked for years in 5-8 range on the womens pro tour she has stormed her way in to the top 4 and is now a legitmate threat to win the US OPEN. She is one of the few players in the draw with the power to wreak havoc with the top two ranked players and if she is “on” nobody rolls the ball better.
Damonique Davis (12:1 odds) – The women’s pro tour has seen a crop of new young players looking to make a name for themselves and Damonique has been working hard to be one of those players. Her best finish came two years ago at the 2011 US OPEN as she defeated Cheryl Gudinas and advanced to the quarterfinals. She finished that season ranked No. 11 in the world and comes into Minneapolis hoping to better her performance. She is vulnerable early on but she can prevail if she keeps her composure and steadies her nerves.
Kristen Bellows (13:1 odds) – The energetic Bellows carries plenty of experience and will contest in any tournament she plays in but she effectively has to beat the world’s best players to get there. A weapon that’s been particularly dependable during her career has been her aggressive serve and service return game. For many people, Bellows would be a surprise face to see in the final and she must put in a phenomenal performance to overcome dangerous opponents in the latter rounds.
ONES TO WATCH
Jen Saunders – This Canadian is the best women’s racquetball player in her country and she is a tough opponent for anyone on her side of the draw. She possesses relentless pressure and focus when she plays big matches. It may not necessarily mean she wins but she’ll be in contention against anyone she plays.
Krystal Csuk – This recent resident of the Lone Star State has been playing exceptionally well on the women’s pro tour and is now ranked in the top 6 in the world. She made a quarterfinal appearance at the 2011 last year US OPEN and has enough in her arsenal to make her first semifinal this year.
Susana Acosta – Another top player from Mexico, Susy continues to improve and is on the verge of making her move farther into the draw at the US OPEN. She likes to play a fast-paced game style and she is always within striking distance of closing out any match. Susy needs to believe that she can put it all together and reach new heights with her game. Her recent rise in the rankings is proof she can get the job done.
Cristina Amaya – Although she lives in Cali, Columbia Cristina manages to play the women’s pro tour and has worked her way into a top 8 ranking. She and has been making some major improvements to her game and depending on her draw, there is a chance you could see her in the quarterfinals or further!
Grace Hughes – The biggest surprise on the Women’s pro tour last season was the emergence of Grace Hughes. With just one years experience at the pro level she managed to make TWO semi-final appearances and has proven to be a handful of trouble for all the top ranked players. Not much of a chance to win the event but a semi-final appearance is VERY possible. Keep your eye on Grace in the early rounds and on into the quarters.