Catching Up with World No.1 Racquetballer Kane Waselenchuk

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For the third consecutive year, the US Open Racquetball Championships are taking place this week in Lifetime Fitness at Target Center. On the men’s side, the sport’s marquee name and most dominant player Kane Waselenchuk is gunning for his 5th straight – and 8th overall – title.

Waselenchuk finished last year’s Open on a 122-match winning streak that would eventually reach 137 before he was forced to retire from the final of the Cactus Salon NYC Pro/Am in January with a back injury. After being sidelined for all of February, the 30-year-old rejoined the International Racquetball Tour and resumed his winning ways.

I caught up with the World No. 1 following his first round thrashing of Mauricio Zelada.

DZ: When you play these early round matches, first and foremost you want to win, but what else to do you want to accomplish?

KANE: You just want to get into a groove. We only get to play on this court once or twice a year. It’s a very different court; we don’t really play on courts like this. So, just kind of getting into groove and picking your spots and finding out the little quirks in the court and that kind of stuff. I felt really good, really comfortable, more comfortable than I felt in past years in my first match. I’m excited.

DZ: What makes this tournament more special than the other ones on the tour?

KANE: The venue, of course. The venue is amazing – Lifetime Fitness – a great facility. You get the who’s who in racquetball here from all over the world – not just the United States – all over the world.

DZ: The (137 match winning) streak kind of ended when you retired from a match (in January). Where is your health right now, how do you feel?

KANE: My health is good. I am ready to play, ready to go. It’s the most ready I’ve been in a long time.

DZ: Do you still look at yourself as unbeaten…because you really didn’t lose that match?

KANE: The streak just happened to happen if that makes sense. The streak was just part of the process of getting No. 7. Whether I would have won or lost, the main goal was year end No. 1 and I got my year end No. 1. The streak was nice and everything, but I didn’t play all these years to have a streak.

DZ: One of the guys you play (and beat) in a lot of the finals is Rocky Carson, the No. 2 ranked player. Do you ever think about things from his perspective…can you sympathize with him at all?

KANE: All I can control is myself and I am sure it’s frustrating for him and I know he trains really hard and I’ve come out on top a lot. I don’t really think about it. Like I said, I can only control myself. You get on the court and anything can happen.

DZ: What’s your relationship with him like?

KANE: It’s good. We are very respectful to each other and I respect his game and I am sure he respects my game. We’ve been playing for a long, long time. I wouldn’t say we are close friends, but we are friends. I understand it would be hard to be friends with someone that wins against you a lot. He’s a great athlete and a great ambassador.

DZ: What young players do you see coming up who could eventually take your titles?

KANE: I don’t really know, it’s so hard to tell especially with these young guys. I kind of came out of nowhere, no one knew about me and we’ll just have to see. It’s a very, very tough question to answer really.

DZ: You turned 30 after the US Open last year and are coming up on 31…how much longer do you want to keep doing this and what do you see yourself doing when you are done as a player?

KANE: I feel like I have a lot of racquetball in me. I don’t feel like I am 30-years-old which is a good thing. I will go as long as my body will allow me to go and as long as I can make a strong push for No. 1. After racquetball, I would like to stay in the sport. Racquetball has been very, very good to me and my family, so I’d like to stick around and do whatever I can do whether it’s just show my face every once and awhile or whatever. I am not really thinking about that right now because I am so in it right now.

DZ: I noticed you have the Rafa (Nadal) Nike coat on right now, do you follow tennis?

KANE: I do…I have to say that (Roger) Federer is probably my favorite. Tennis is a great sport and we want to get up there where tennis is.

DZ: Do you play much?

KANE: No, not really - once and awhile.

(Photo courtesy of Jeff Oliver)

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