Kane Waselenchuk serves at the 2015 U.S. Open. Photo courtesy of Roby Partovich.

Kane Waselenchuk serves at the 2015 U.S. Open. Photo courtesy of Roby Partovich.

Kane Waselenchuk has a 96-match winning streak heading into the International Racquetball Tour’s first major event of the 2016 calendar year. And depending on the size of the draw at the New York City Open on January 14-17, there is a high probability he will be playing for his 100th consecutive win in the semifinals or finals of that event.

So with the prospect of another landmark achievement in the career of racquetball’s greatest player, I took some time to look back on his professional record. What I found gave me a whole new appreciation for what he has been able to accomplish.

Racquetball fans today assume Kane is going to win each and every time he steps onto a racquetball court. He’s looked at as a Herculean figure of the racquetball universe – more than a man, but less than a god… So it’s easy to forget it wasn’t always that way for Kane Waselenchuk. He did have struggles with opponents from time to time. Granted, they were some of the greatest of the greats, but he had to persevere through some tough times before he molded himself into one of the most dominant athletes in the history of professional sports.

Case in point: Cliff Swain. During the first three years of Waselenchuk’s professional racquetball career, Swain was a code he couldn’t crack. They first met at the Bud Light IRT Pro Nationals in Las Vegas during the 1999-2000 season, where Swain won in five. They met twice the following season, both four-game victories for Swain.

The rivals went head-to-head on four more occasions throughout the 2001-02 season with Swain coming out on top each time to make it seven victories in a row.

Kane finally broke through to get a victory over Swain the following season, winning in five at the Halloween Classic in Chicago, Illinois. But Swain avenged the loss three weeks later at the U.S. Open, making it eight wins in nine matches between the two iconic lefties.

Things changed after that – and they changed drastically. Swain and Waselenchuk would go head-to-head 13 more times, with Waselenchuk winning all but one of those matchups. Swain’s only victory during that span came on September 12, 2004, when he snapped an 18-match Waselenchuk winning streak at the George Spanos Stockton Pro-Am. (Side note: Waselenchuk would go on to win 22 matches in a row following that loss. He has won nine straight over Swain to date).

Swain isn’t the only example of somebody that gave Waselenchuk trouble early in his career. From 2000 to 2003, Jason Mannino won six of their first 11 meetings. From 2002 to 2004, Sudsy Monchik won three of the last four matches the duo would ever play. And despite winning 16 of his first 17 meetings with Jack Huczek, there was a stretch in 2005 and 2006 when Huczek took four out of five matches from Waselenchuk – all in championship finals.

It’s easy for the average fan to assume the greatest players of all-time were always great. We look upon the stars of our sports in awe and forget that they earned their position through hard work and perseverance. When faced with obstacles, the greatest champions of all-time didn’t quit – they found a way to work through those obstacles or climb over them. Michael Jordan toiled for years against the Detroit Pistons until finally breaking through. John Elway could have easily quit after years of missing out on that elusive Super Bowl ring.

Waselenchuk has earned his position on top of the racquetball world by working harder and longer than anybody on mastering his craft and perfecting his game. And just as basketball and football fans realized how special it was to witness to two of the greatest players of all-time in Jordan and Elway, more and more followers of professional racquetball are realizing that every opportunity we get to see Waselenchuk perform is a chance to witness history.

One hundred consecutive wins is extremely rare. In team sports or individual sports, it’s a number very few reach. Julio Cesar Chavez had 87 wins in a row to start his professional boxing career before a fight with Pernell Whitaker ended in a draw. In 2010 the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team topped the UCLA men’s record of consecutive victories by winning 90 straight before falling to Stanford. Edwin Moses won 122 consecutive races from 1977-1987 before stumbling over the final hurdle to see his streak come to an end. Martina Navratilova won 13 straight tournament in 1984, which amounted to 74 consecutive wins before eventually losing at the Australian Open. Rafael Nadal won 81 consecutive matches on clay between 2005 and 2007. The 1971-72 Lakers won 33 in a row, a record which still stands today and is currently being challenged by the Golden State Warriors.

The all-time greatest win streak in the history of professional sports? Try 555 in a row. A guy named Jahangir Khan pulled off that feat in professional squash from 1981-1986. Whether or not Kane replicate that is complete speculation. I wouldn’t bet against him though. For the time being I will enjoy counting with the rest of the racquetball world and watch Waselenchuk’s numbers grow from tournament to tournament, season to season, until somebody knocks the Kane Train off of his current consecutive wins track.