Q&A with 10-Time US Open Racquetball Champ Kane Waselenchuk

When the US Open Racquetball Championships ended today at Lifetime Fitness in Target Center two familiar faces were re-crowned champion. In the women’s bracket, Mexico’s Paola Longoria swept Maria Jose Vargas of Argentina 11-5, 11-3, 11-8. It is Longoria’s 4th consecutive US Open title and record 5th overall. The world No. 1 is riding a 150-match winning streak.

On the men’s side, native Canadian and current Texas resident Kane Waselenchuk downed Mexico’s Alvaro Beltran 11-1, 11-6, 11-6 for his 10th US Open crown, including the last 7 in a row. No other player has won more than 4.

An athlete even a casual sports fan would appreciate, Waselenchuk’s combination of fast-twitch muscle reflexes, unflappable focus and insatiable self drive leaves opponents intimated and baffled; more awestruck than frustrated. Fresh in the glow of his latest conquest, Waselenchuk took a few minutes to chat with me about life as the world’s greatest racquetballer.

DZ: Obviously this is your 10 US Open (title). Right after you won you seemed overwhelmed, what was going through your mind?

WASELENCHUK: I wasn’t overwhelmed, it was just excitement. The last couple of years, I’ve been through a lot. To come out on top…having all of my friends and family here - everybody that really means something to me and also have a part in what I do - is special to me.

DZ: When you think back to the first one after all of these years, what stands out?

WASELENCHUK: I am older (laughs).

DZ: What about memories?

WASELENCHUK: Honestly it’s one of those things that - I don’t really remember much about the match. I believe I hit it down the line and it got past him on the right side. I don’t remember what serve I hit, I don’t remember anything. I guess that’s a good thing. I’d have to say just the consistency and the level I played at all week.

I know what I am capable of and at this tournament there are a lot of things - with doubles happening - there are a lot of things that can happen. To be standing on top again is awesome.

DZ: You seem like a guy who comes out with a lot of energy and Alvaro likes to slow it down a lit bit - especially in that 3rd game. How do you deal with that?

WASELENCHUK: I’ve just got to stay focused…I can play any type of game. You want to play fast, I can play fast. You want to play slow, I can play slow as well too. For a little while there he started fighting back, I think he had me up 6-3 in the 3rd game and just keep fighting and that’s what I did. I made a few crucial shots. There was one long rally, had a ceiling ball and it went off the back wall and I flat rolled a pinch and I think that it just kind of changed the momentum really of the 3rd game. I put a little run together and finished it off.

DZ: Do you feel the competition closing in on you; are you hearing footsteps at all?

WASELENCHUK: Any of these guys can beat me on any given day. They are also the greatest players in our game right now. If I don’t come with a 100% and stay focused these guys will come up and they will beat me. I’ve got a lot of self motivation and I am just not content right now. I am enjoying what I am doing and obviously it’s easy to enjoy what you are doing when you are winning. I genuinely love what I do and a person once told me that you’ll never work a day in your life if you love what you do. It couldn’t be more true.

DZ: Looking at your Twitter page, it seems like sometimes you get a little frustrated about the lack of coverage and attention the sport gets. What are your thoughts on that?

WASELENCHUK: I am not frustrated because I am self loathing and I want it for myself. I think it’s important - you can put my accolades up with any greatest athlete ever that’s out there and I match up with it. I put a lot of pressure on myself to represent the game…in a professional manner. We train just as hard as all of those other professional sports do. I just think that if companies and people would just give us a shot, we wouldn’t let them down. I speak for all of us, it’s just not me. We are a family - racquetball is a family - and we really, really need something to happen and I would really like it in the time that I am here. I know that I am getting older and once a upon a time, time was on my side, but it’s not on my side, I am just delaying the inevitable now. I just feel that we all deserve it collectively as a group.

DZ: What is the biggest change…as you get older?

WASELENCHUK: I am really starting to appreciate things a lot more and not take things for granted. It’s all about life experience - not that I didn’t appreciate it before - but I am really starting to appreciate it because I am 32 and who knows what can happen.

DZ: One last thing…it seems like that when you appreciate things, you can kind of let your guard down a little bit; how do you keep that balance?

WASELENCHUK: I don’t make that mistake. I appreciate and I know how blessed I am to be in this position and do what I am doing. There is no one in racquetball anyways that can say they’ve done what I have done. I don’t take advantage of that; I’ve worked hard for it, I feel like I deserve it and it’s nice to have a great group of people with me that support me that can enjoy it along the way like I do.

See more of David Zingler’s player interviews:

October 11: Alvaro Beltran
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

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