The Belmont Athletic Club, located in Belmont Shores in Long Beach, CA, made history this weekend with an action packed, pro doubles only tournament. There were no other divisions, just pro doubles. It is the first of its kind, at least to my knowledge.
We have seen doubles become more popular over the last year or so. The US Open added a pro doubles event with prize money on both men’s and women’s. It was something we had never really seen before. We were used to singles, where players would do everything they could to be the individual winner, now they are part of a team, supporting a fellow pro player through the ups and downs of a doubles match.
The tournament was run by a few people: Brian Pineda, Marc Bosscher, and Leanna Burmood (although I’m sure there are many behind the scenes). The idea came from Brian Pineda. He recently joined the Belmont Athletic Club after being at LA Fitness for a number of years. The Belmont had a good program, but Brian helped it become great. One of the best racquetball programs in the United States, perhaps the world. Their league nights are packed to full capacity, and it is always followed by socializing at Murphy’s Pub, which is not only attached to the club, it offers a perfect view of the main court. In fact, if you were not a sponsor of the tournament or a member of the Belmont, Murphy’s Pub is where you belong.
The IRTnetwork was there in full swing, broadcasting a total of 10 matches. John Scott, the owner and operator of the IRTnetwork, was set up in the bar, which was a first for him and the network. They have about six tv’s in Murphy’s pub, and five of them were streaming the matches. So no matter where you were in Murphy’s, you could see the matches. It was like Buffalo Wild Wings for a UFC fight, except it was racquetball. You could order food, drink, and watch the best players in the world on the big screens. Then after the match, you could meet the players, who would almost always come upstairs to Murphy’s after the match. Win or lose, they would get a standing applause, and usually a cold refreshment.
The pro draw featured 14 teams. There were six international players. 11 of the top 13 IRT professionals were there, as well as a handful of players who play mostly WRT events. The hometown favorites were Scott Davis and Tom Durham, who both play the league at the Belmont Athletic Club. No one really knew how they would perform against the worlds best. They were seeded 12th out of 14. Their first match was against the #5 seeds, Marco Rojas and Jose Diaz, who are both in the top 13 on the IRT. Predictions had Marco and Jose advancing in two games, and it was looking that way as they had game point, 14-11, until Scott and Tom mounted a comeback to win 15-14. The second game went by fast as the #5 seeds turned it up a notch. Predictions remained the same as most people were saying “It was a good run by the locals, but it isn’t meant to be.” The tiebreaker started out with Jose and Marco up 5-0. But a few shots here and a few shots there put Scott and Tom back in the match, and before you knew it, they had the lead. The crowd was starting to get very loud at this point. Not only do Scott and Tom play at that club on the regular, but they are good guys and friends to almost everyone there. Long story short, Scott and Tom went on an 11-1 run to claim the upset and move into the quarterfinals. It was pure excitement.
Scott and Tom continued their high level play the next evening against myself and Jansen Allen. Very similar to their first match, they stole game one from us 15-14. We beat them the second and forced a tiebreaker. Before I knew it they were up 7-1, so we took a timeout and discussed some strategy. Both Jansen and I were trying to stay positive, that’s all you can do at that point. But we knew that Scott was playing out of his mind. Seriously, I have never seen him play at such a high level, especially indoor. We tried to keep the ball away from him, and it started to work. Their lead was now 7-4, then 8-7. But after a few killshots and a crack ace serve, the local boys had match point 10-7. The crowd was standing, screaming and banging on the glass. We sided them out and scored two more to get to 9-10, then they sided us out, forcing the crowd back to their feet. Jansen killed a forehand off the serve, and we won the next point after a good rally. Back in the box at 9-10 we scored two points off smart passing shots to win 11-10. What a match. It was one of those matches where no one deserved to lose. We felt like we got away with one. Scott and Tom are class acts, and not once showed signs of frustration or defeat. A true acknowledgement of their character.
Another interesting story was Jason Mannino and John Scott teaming up for charity. Fans could make a pledge at a minimum of $1 per point they scored. Some pledged up to $10. They scored a total of 13 points in their first round, and although I am not sure the exact number, they raised a few hundred dollars for the Rapha House Charity.
The semifinals featured the top four seeds in the draw. Rocky Carson and Alvaro Beltran won in a crazy 11-9 tiebreaker over myself and Jansen. Jose Rojas and Daniel De La Rosa had the second upset of the tournament, defeating Kane Waselenchuk and Ben Croft in the tiebreaker 11-7. Jose and Daniel were down 14-11 in the first game but scored 4 unanswered points to win. The second game was all Kane and Ben, and the tiebreaker seemed the same until Jose caught fire. He rolled a few backhand splats, and with the help of Daniels retrieving ability and a few skips by Ben and Kane, the underdogs closed it out at much surprise to everyone.
The finals, on paper, was highly anticipated. All four players are great, and if they were playing singles it would be hard to choose a winner. It would come down to who could execute, as it usually does. There was little drama for a change, as more matches than not in the tournament went to tiebreaker. Rocky and Alvaro would prove to be the better players that day, as they won 15-4, 15-6 to claim the first ever Long Beach Open Championship.
In addition to this being a unique event, it was run and organized to near perfection. Brian Pineda, a part-time touring player, has seen hundreds of pro events in his life. You could tell that his focus was attention to detail. My guess is that he made a list of everything he likes and dislikes at pro tournaments, and made sure everything fell into place. There were chairs for the players, bottles of water near our bags, warm-up balls, towels, the courts were mopped before every round, and every player was introduced individually to a loud round of applause. Since there was just one division, teams could warm up on two separate courts while the match was coming to a close. This allowed for little down time between matches. I just want to give my personal thank you to Brian and his crew who helped, because it was run flawlessly. You could tell that this was a vision of Brian’s, and he made it a reality. He could control most of the things on his list, but he had no control over how the matches went down, and he was beyond happy with the excitement of the matches.
In conclusion, I want to thank everyone who made this event possible, especially the sponsors. The event had $25,000 in prize money, which is more than 90% of the pro tournaments I have been to. It was extremely exciting, and the location couldn’t be better. Belmont Shore is a great place. Three blocks from the beach and surrounded by top notch restaurants and bars. I have been to Belmont many times and I can honestly say it is one of my favorite places in California. I truly hope this tournament continues year after year.