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The US Open Racquetball Championships rolled on today at Lifetime Fitness in Target Center. 21-year-old Maria Jose Vargas of Argentina opened “Super Saturday’s” semifinal action with 4-game win over 4-time champion Rhonda Rajsich. Vargas, the No. 3 seed, will face Mexico’s Paola Longoria in the women’s final tomorrow at 11:00 am. The No. 1 ranked Longoria will be gunning for her 5th US Open crown and 150th straight match win.
On the men’s side No. 3 Alvaro Beltran reached his second career US Open final with a 8-11, 11-8, 12-10, 2-11, 11-4 victory over No. 2 Rocky Carson. Beltran, also from Mexico, will likely face the nearly unbeatable world No. 1 Kane Waselenchuk in tomorrow’s final. The 35-year-old Beltran can take solace in the fact that he is one of the few humans who has defeated Waselenchuk in match, even if it was over 5 years ago.
Beltran and I and chatted about his semifinal victory, a possible final against Kane and more, moments after today’s match.
DZ: First off, congrats on the big win today…you had a 2-1 lead and the 4th game (Carson) kind of took it to you a little bit. How did you get the momentum back?
BELTRAN: Man, it was all heart. It’s the US Open semifinal, a chance to be in the biggest event of the year in racquetball. I was tired, I was tired and I just found energy, I don’t know from where, but it was all heart. Rocky - that’s his game, his style - he tries to break you physically because he’s in top shape. I made some great shots that even I couldn’t believe for some moments. I guess part lucky, part being in the moment.
DZ: You and Rocky have a pretty good rivalry - I think I read you’ve each won 19 times against each other - and you’re also doubles partners. How do you balance that friendship and the rivalry and all that?
BELTRAN: I guess it’s like boxing when two guys get in the ring. It’s a different mindset. It’s not hard anymore because we’ve done it for 20 years now. We are both live in California, so we’ve been playing since we were like 16 against each other. We are 35. It sucks because we know each other’s shots pretty well. We (usually) have 2 to 3 hour matches, so this wasn’t the exception.
DZ: You mentioned the long match today and you have a big match tomorrow. Let’s take a leap of faith and say you are playing Kane (Waselenchuk) tomorrow…
BELTRAN: You never know, but he’s been dominating the sport for a while, so there’s a good chance that would happen (smiles). But the other kid (Alejandro Landa) has a good mentality. He is young and he doesn’t respect anybody on the court, so I think it’s going to be a good match.
DZ: You did beat Kane back in 2009. Is there anything you can take away from that going into tomorrow if you were to play him?
BELTRAN: I don’t think it helps, it was a long time ago. Two weeks ago I lost to Rocky, so it doesn’t really matter what happened before. I know he’s won the last two tournaments, but that’s the good thing about it, tomorrow is a different day. Nothing is written.
DZ: You mentioned your age earlier; I think you have a birthday next week - 36. As an athlete, what gets harder for you as you get older and what’s easier?
BELTRAN: The experience helps a lot. Obviously we need a little bit more rest time these days and therapy to be physically good to go. I think overall the experience helps a lot. We don’t have to move as much, know what shots to hit, we become smarter players. Overall, it’s not a bad thing as long as our bodies are 100%.
DZ: Did you grow up in California?
BELTRAN: No, I am from Mexico, I’ve actually learned English in the last 10 years that I’ve been playing on the tour. I am from Mexico and live in Tijuana.
DZ: Racquetball is really popular right now (in Mexico), what do you think the reason is…?
BELTRAN: I don’t know. People get really passionate about the sport. We get a lot of press, promotion, TV time. I think that helps a lot…We have the No. 1 player in the world in the women’s division (Paola Longoria), that’s been helping a lot for the sport to grow?
DZ: It seems like you have a really good time out there, you like to use humor. Is that how you kind of keep it light when it gets really intense?
BELTRAN: Exactly, that’s part of me staying really - not feeling the pressure, enjoying the moment and having fun. There is no reason not to have fun even though there is a lot at stake. That’s one thing that is always in my mind to have fun and play hard.
See more of David Zingler’s player interviews:
September 25: Justin Morneau, Part II
September 23: Justin Morneau, Part I
September 21: Michael Cuddyer
August 31: Glen Perkins
July 22: Matt Guerrier
July 16: Maya Moore
July 9: Sam Fuld
July 4: Phil Hughes
June 11: Janel McCarville
May 2: Kurt Suzuki
April 26: Kyle Gibson
April 22: Jason Kubel