The Los Angeles Athletic Club’s Mando Ortiz was simply marvelous in winning his first World Players of Handball Race 4 Eight pro singles title in February’s Houston R48 V Stop #4, as Ortiz defeated four former or current #1 pros en route to the title. Ortiz dispatched the 2009 WPH #1 Allan Garner in round one, the 2008 WPH #1 and current WPH #5 Emmett Peixoto in the quarterfinals, the 2016 WPH #1 and 5-time defending world champion Paul Brady in the semifinals, and the 2012 WPH #1 and current WPH #2 in the final. Appearing in his fourth Race 4 Eight final in his career and his third final in the last five R48 events, Ortiz seized the opportunity to add his name to the illustrious Race 4 Eight list of champions in Houston.
Long regarded as a prodigal talent and one of the most exciting players to ever play the sport, Mando Ortiz was one of the top junior players in a sensational junior class that included WPH R48 Player’s Champions Luis Moreno and Robbie McCarthy. Ortiz quickly made the transition to pro handball in his late teens, earning victories against several of the top players in the sport by the age of 21. As Ortiz was ascending to the top of the sport, doctors discovered a serious problem with his heart that required immediate open-heart surgery in 2010. Ortiz not only survived, but in a stunning display of courage and resilience, defeated then WPH #1 Allan Garner six months after his surgery in a WPH pro stop.
Ortiz advanced to three Race 4 Eight finals between 2013-2015, his first as a qualifier at the 2013 R48 III Plummer Bash. Ortiz continued to rise up the rankings, climbing all the way to #5 at the end of the 2014-2015 Race 4 Eight season on the heels of an impressive run to the finals in the R48 IV Players Championship. Ortiz continued the momentum he built from the R48 IV season early in the R48 V season, advancing to the final in Tucson and losing to the WPH R48 #2 Sean Lenning in his second consecutive final.
Ortiz entered the 2016 R48 Houston having better prepared himself for any event in his career, playing one vs. two against top 20 R48 pros at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. “No one is playing Mando in just singles anymore,” stated Ortiz mentor and R48 #14 Marcos Chavez. “We play him two on one and really push him to the limit.”
Ortiz would need all of his conditioning and skills in Houston, as he encountered the most difficult draw in the history of the tour. After overcoming former WPH #1’s Allan Garner and Emmett Peixoto to advance to the semifinals, Ortiz was set to face 11-time R48 champion and 10-time national champion Paul Brady. Brady entered the match having lost just two matches in 12 years, with one of those losses coming against Ortiz at the 2014 R48 Player’s Championship. Ortiz and Brady played the most exciting and best match in the history of the Race 4 Eight Tour in a thrilling Houston semifinal, electrifying fans and broadcast viewers from the first point until the last with the most sensational and dramatic handball ever captured on video. Lead changes, outrageous power, breathtaking athleticism, and stunning nerve under pressure were just some of what made the Ortiz vs. Brady the best theatre in the history of the R48 tour. “I’ve been around pro handball for 30 years and I’ve never seen handball played like that,” stated 25-year pro Dan “The Hand” Armijo. “The speed, power, kills, and drama was just outrageous.”
Determined not to experience a letdown in the final, Ortiz dominated game one of the final against his frequent adversary Sean Lenning. “Even though I beat Paul, my goal is to win the tournament,” stated Norwalk’s Ortiz following his 15-13 tiebreaker victory against Brady the night before. Just as Lenning had done in their finals encounter at the 2015 R48 Player’s Championship, he evened the match at one-game apiece after losing game one. Lenning raced to an early 6-1 lead in the tiebreaker and appeared to be just minutes from keeping Ortiz from his first R48 title in his fourth trip to the final. Ortiz regrouped, scoring 12 of the next 15 points to stand just two points from his maiden R48 title at 13-9. Several furious rallies and remarkable shots saw the score tied at 13. “I just thought to myself, here we go again,” stated Ortiz referring to his semifinal win against Brady that saw Brady cut a 9-14 tiebreaker deficit to 13-14. “I just told myself to focus on the return of serve and be aggressive.”
Ortiz did just that, seizing offense on a strong Lenning serve and earning a side out. Ortiz stayed aggressive, scoring the final two points in succession to win the title. “This is for all of the people who always believed in me,” stated an emotional Ortiz. “This is for my grandparents who both died in the last year. This (winning) is everything I ever dreamed of and to be a part of the group of my idols and great players to have won titles in the past feels so great.” Mando Ortiz won back-to-back 15-13 tiebreakers in the semifinals and finals against the R48 #1 and #2 ranked pros, providing the greatest spectacle in R48 history
Mando Ortiz and LAAC teammate Marcos Chavez became the first duo from the same club to win Race 4 Eight singles titles at the same event. Ortiz and Chavez are not only LAAC teammates, but also travel partners and great friends. Chavez was the first to rush the court after Ortiz’s win, picking up his “Little Bro” in a bear hug.
Ortiz rose to a R48 career-high #3 following his win in Houston with an eye on #1. With twice as many wins as any other player since 2004 against 5-time world champion Paul Brady and the confidence that he can win the biggest matches against the best players, there appears to be nothing that can stop “Marvelous Mando.”
Ortiz will next be in action at the R48 V Stop #5 NYAC Invitational in New York City. To follow all of the previews and action from the NYAC, go to wphlive.tv. To watch all of the action from the NYAC live on ESPN3 starting on Saturday, March 12th, go here