By LOU GIAMPETRONI
Indoor, four-walll paddleball has a new national open singles champion.
He is Chris Crowther, perhaps the tallest-ever winner, who carries the nickname The Giant.
Crowther, 27, of Riverside, CA, topped Mike Czabala, 21-20, 21-12, on March 26 at the 2006 National Paddleball Association Singles Championships at the Sorrento Valley Racquet Club in San Diego.
Czabala, 29, of Los Angeles, short-circuited Kelly Gelhauss bid to become only the third player in 45 years of tournaments to win three straight national singles titles. Czabala defeated Gelhaus in a semifinal tiebreaker.
Crowther, who is 6-feet-6 and weighs about 225, said:
Overall, the tourney was a lot of fun. I thought I would be playing Kelly but I guess it was not meant to be. I played well but had to work fairly hard to win.
Crowther, a mortgage banker, knocked off Mike Wisniewski, 21-14, 21-14, in the other semifinal. Wisniewski is an eight-time national open singles champion from Bay City, Mich.
Crowther said he had played a little paddleball when I was growing up but focused primarily on racquetball. Charlie Brumfield got me more involved (in paddleball) when he flew me up to a tournament in Portland, Ore., which was part of the Legends tour. From there, I competed in most of the paddle events.
Typically, I only play during the tournaments. It is hard to find someone to play or practice with. In addition, I play the racquetball tour full-time, which helps me stay on top of my paddle game.
Crowther said that In retrospect, the tournament went well and I look forward to defending my title next year. I think one of the coolest things about winning the Nationals was having my name on the trophy, which already has the company of all the greats from both racquetball and paddleball. It is an honor to be on the same list of all those great players.
Czabala said he and Crowther traded points until about 9-9 in the first game of the final.
And then Chris made a bit of a run ... (he) had a lead of 18-12 on me, and once again I went to the strategy of seeing how long I could make the game go.
Czabala, a transplanted Michiganian, added: I was able to take the lead at 20-19. On game point, I hit a good serve and was left with a shot to win the game, but left it up just enough for Chris to swoop in for the re-kill.
Chris then won the next two points. On Chriss game point, it was a long rally that left me with a shot at the red lines with Chris behind me and it missed by a half-inch.
Czabala said the game took a bit out of me emotionally ... but I give Chris a great deal of credit for that. Hes been in these situations so many times with the pro racquetball tour. Hes used to it. He put a lot of pressure on me. I think he only skipped less than five balls the entire match, which meant I had to earn everything.
Crowther took an 8-2 lead in the second game but Czabala tied it at 10.
I think I took one moment to exhale and feel like Im back in it, Czabala said. And in that one moment, Chris rattled off seven straight points to take the lead, 17-10. That was pretty much the match.
Czabala likened Crowther to a heavyweight champion. He continues to punish you with body blows the entire match. His pass shots are deadly accurate and are hit with tremendous pace. Also with his length, it is very difficult to put the ball somewhere where he cant reach it. Combine that with the fact he makes very few mistakes, and he is very difficult to beat.