David Chapman (handballer)
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David Chapman (born June 26, 1975) is a former number one ranked player in the sport of American handball. He is one of the best handball players ever to play the sport. Dave dominated the four-wall game for 11 years, from 1993 to 2004, winning eight USHA National singles titles and seven National doubles titles in that period. He also won two World singles championships, and two World doubles championships during this part of his career. Throughout this period (1994-2004) Chapman was the number one ranked professional handball player in the world (except for part of 2001). Dave retired in 2004 but returned to the game in 2008 and played till 2012. During this period Dave won two more National doubles titles, recaptured his number one ranking in 2010, and in 2011 won his ninth National four-wall singles title at the age of 35. As of this writing, his nine four-wall National singles titles are second only to Naty Alvarado’s eleven, and his nine National four-wall doubles titles is number one all time—a feat he achieved with three different doubles partners (Naty Alvarado Jr., Vince Munoz and Emmett Peixoto).
While Dave’s primary focus has been four-wall handball, he also played in several National three-wall tournaments. Prior to his first retirement, Dave won two National titles in singles and three in doubles. When he returned to handball he won another National singles title and two more National doubles titles, giving him three National singles and five National doubles titles overall in three-wall handball.
Dave Chapman was a handball prodigy; he famously started playing when he was three years old by hitting a ball off the garage wall with his dad, Fred. Dave is the only player in four-wall history to capture all five USHA National Junior titles—a feat he accomplished by age sixteen. In 1985, at age ten, Dave won the eleven-year-old National Junior title, the next year, at age eleven, he won the thirteen-year-old title. In 1987, at twelve, Dave lost in the semi’s of the ‘Fifteens’ to fifteen year old future pro John Robles, but won the 'Fifteens' the next year at age thirteen. Dave won the ‘Seventeens’ at age fourteen, but the next year lost in the ‘Nineteens’ to future hall of famer, Tati Silverya. Even though the sixteen-year-old Chapman had turned pro, he entered the juniors and won the nineteen-year-old title in December 1991 by beating future pro Tyler Hamel.
In April 1991, at age fifteen, Dave became the youngest player in professional handball history to qualify for the pro tour (a record he still holds). In December 1991, at age sixteen, Dave became the youngest player ever to become one of twelve invited players on the pro tour. To do so, Chapman beat 4th ranked Danny Bell and 5th ranked Vince Munoz, before losing in the semifinal. He then beat the 1989 National Champion and former number one ranked Poncho Monreal to take third place in the tournament. Vern Roberts remarked: “A 16 year old in a pro semifinal may not be so unusual in tennis, maybe even racquetball, but in handball it is a record by two years.”
In June 1993, at age seventeen, Dave won his first professional USHA National four-wall title, approximately three years younger than anyone else in the history of the game; surpassing other "youngest players": Tati Silverya who won his first Nationals in 1992 at age 20, Naty Alvarado who won in 1987 at age 21 and in 1958, prior to the pro tour era, John Sloan who won his first National title at age 22. In contrast, the record of National champions since the 1950s demonstrates Chapman’s extraordinary achievement. The following National champs won their first (and in some cases only) title at a more likely age: Jimmy Jacobs first won at 25, Stuffy Singer at 27, Paul Haber at 29, Terry Muck at 27, Fred Lewis at 25, Poncho Monreal at 25, John Bike at 25, Paul Brady at 25. Considering this history, Chapman’s prodigious achievement is a record unlikely to be surpassed.
Style of play
The dominant style of play among the pros when Chapman arrived on the scene was a fast paced, two-handed, serve and shoot power game. The old sword and shield notion of playing handball as a chess game had become somewhat passé. Under the old regime the dominant or strong hand was primarily used for offense (as a sword), while the non-dominant or weak hand was used defensively (as a shield). The young guns that Chapman grew up with in Southern California did not have an “off hand.” Tati Silverya, Randy Morones, and Vince Munoz, all a few years older than Dave, were on the pro tour before him and excelled at the new, totally ambidextrous, sword and sword style of play. At that time, the young “Chapboy” had a relatively weak left with limited offense and naturally gravitated to something like the old sword and shield method. Looking on the old timers appreciated Dave as a throwback to the “percentage game;” a textbook player.
Even though Dave’s game is frequently described as a return to traditional “percentage handball,” it is just as often, somewhat paradoxically, described as “original” or “unconventional.” How can Chapman’s style be both old school and innovative, a traditional style and a style never seen before?
No doubt Dave is a textbook player, but one who has added a few new chapters to the book. At first those new chapters baffled his opponents, as Vern Roberts notes: “It’s getting to the point no one doubts Chapman. However, no one understands how he wins.” Vern goes on to offer the following rather insightful analysis of the 16-year-old’s style when he first moved into to the top 12 pros.
- Wise and wily beyond his years, David forces his opponents to cover every inch of the court. Very sure hands and great anticipation allow him to keep everything but the best shots in play. With a deadly back-wall shot, David preys on any mistake from his opponents who tend to over swing whenever they get a chance to take a full cut at the ball. Back wall kills aren’t his only means of scoring, as he sticks out his hand to stop the ball in the frontcourt and lay down corner kills. It’s been said he plays like a Masters-age player. The difference is he is a master at the style.
Dave's ability to force his opponents to play every inch of the court starts with his precision defense, which in turn starts with his extraordinary return of serve. Serving and returning serve usually determines who wins a handball game. Having the serve is a big advantage: only the server can score, he has the ball in his hand in the frontcourt with his opponent behind him in the backcourt, and he can pick his shot. The contemporary power player typically serves low drives along the walls trying for an ace or a weak return. However, drive serves are risky because if they are not precise they can rebound off the backwall toward center court and offer an offensive opportunity. Like any player, Dave welcomes offensive opportunities, but his real advantage is his ability to defend all but the very best drive serves by punching them to the ceiling, and thereby completely neutralizing the server's advantage and forcing his opponent into the ceiling game he excels at. To compliment his extraordinary return game, when Dave is serving he typically chooses low risk serves, usually either a lob serve or an overhand three-wall drive serve, both of which tend to force his opponents into a ceiling game (at best), and that's what Dave wants because his precision ceiling game usually results in an offensive opportunity for him long before he gives one to his opponent.
Dave’s approach to serving and returning serve typify his overall style of play. Where other pros might look for offense as soon as possible, Dave patiently uses the ball to move his opponent and dictate play. While he uses a bewildering variety of misdirection, and change of pace shots to run his opponent around the court and wear him down, he most frequently uses the ceiling to play a vertical game. Playing the ceiling slows the game down and destroys the rhythm of the run and gun player who wants to play a fast-paced horizontal game. Serving lobs, hitting ceiling shot after ceiling shot with both overhand and punch shots, Dave forces his opponent to play from the deep corners of the court usually with his non-dominant overhand. When he’s playing well (i.e., usually) he keeps the ball right on the wall. Even when his shots are a little off and his opponent gets something to drive he is taking a chance when he hits offense from deep court with Dave in front of him. Indeed, many observers consider Dave’s retrieving ability his greatest strength. Dave recognizes what's coming next early and with uncanny anticipation he positions himself such that any shot but a roll out is either re-killed or sent to the back corners once again. By repeatedly using this tactic, Dave tempts his opponents to shoot more from deep, and when they do they have to roll it out, or Dave dives in with a paddleshot for the re-kill. Traditionally, players are taught to play defense when they dive; to flip the ball to the backcourt to buy time and reposition. Dave’s unique ability to re-kill consistently on the dive is just another advantage he has over other handball players.
Much of Dave’s uncanny anticipation starts with precision shotmaking. Sound technique produces ball control, that along with intelligent shot selection are the keys to Dave’s anticipation. He chooses shots that will keep his opponent on the run, off balance, or otherwise limit his options. By dictating play he knows the few options his opponent has left and positions himself on the court accordingly. Typically, Dave's opponents are running around the court while walks to the position he wants and waits for the ball to come to him. Percentage handball strategy typically advises players to get to the short line in the center of the court after a shot. While this is generally good advice, Dave’s defense is so precise it allows him to frequently play at the restraining line rather than the short line. The extra five feet of court makes him almost impossible to pass without hitting the ball off the backwall and that’s the worst thing you can do against Chapman. Superior positioning frequently produces a ball right to him, and the extra depth gives him additional time to react to the ball and allows Dave to either play another defensive shot or go on the offense. Because he has a choice, his opponents don't know what's coming next and must run more to cover the court. If an opponent runs up, Dave can hit the ball back to the ceiling or pass it down the walls, if he hangs back Dave can paddle it into the corners.
The fact that Dave is a great defensive player should not mislead. Indeed, because he recognizes the situation so early he sees offensive opportunities where others do not, and positions himself so quickly he catches his opponent off guard. His offense is efficient, as he seldom goes for an outright winner without hitting it. If his opponent makes a mistake, e.g., hitting it off the backwall or hanging one in the front court, Dave can see what’s going to happen early, step in and end the rally by killing the backwall set-up, or given a frontcourt opportunity, he just “sticks out his hand” as Vern described it so many years ago. The tactic of “sticking out his hand” is the key chapter Chapman has added to the textbook, one he would later come to call a paddleshot. He primarily uses paddleshots from the frontcourt for fly shots because “they are more efficient and more difficult to read than side arm shots” The main difference between the traditional side-arm swing and a paddleshot swing is in the former you lead with your elbow and in the latter you lead with your hand, and rather than cupping your hand you spread your hand wide open and use it like a ping-pong paddle. Paddleshot swings are deceptive because you take the ball closer to your body, and by slightly changing the angle of your hand you can dramatically alter the direction of the ball. The key to his consistency off the backwall is the result of how unusually low he lets the ball drop, hitting it just inches off the floor, and thus sending the ball to the front wall with the least possible downward angle. Playing the shot off the backwall in this way results in a large number of flat rollouts.
Not as frequently noted as some other elements of Dave’s style of play but nevertheless a tactic integral to his game is hooking the ball during the rally. Virtually every time Dave hits a ball that rebounds off the frontwall to the floor, he throws a natural or reverse hook. He uses both his open hand and fist (punch) shots to impart spin to the ball and move it off its natural trajectory. He uses a lot of these shots to keep his opponent off balance. Just as his opponent sets his feet to hit the ball it fades away or jumps into his body and handcuffs him. Which way these shots are going to hop is hard to predict and they typically result in misses or set-ups. He frequently hooks his kill shots so the so that a retrieving player trying to get to the ball makes a hand error just when he thinks he has it.
In sum, Dave’s game is organized around his great defense, but backed up by devastating first strike offense. Dave dictates play by controlling the pace of the game, by keeping his opponents guessing and running. Dave plays most of his shots with his dominant hand while forcing his opponent to play most of their shots with their non-dominant hand. Finally, most of his opponents come off the court feeling like they played lousy and surely would have fared much better had they been able to play their best game—but very few ever do.
Chapman vs. Brady rivalry
The rivalry between Dave Chapman and Paul Brady is a tale of two different periods. The first period lasted from 2001 through 2004, and the second period from 2009 through 2010. It has been an extraordinary clash of styles: Brady the speedy and powerful gunner versus Chapman the wily ball control master with deadly first strike offense.
Brady first qualified for the pro tour in October, 2001. At that time, Chapman had been the best player in handball for eight years and Brady was working his way up the rankings. From 2001 to 2004 Dave played Paul ten times and won nine of them. In 2004, in his eighth attempt, Brady won his first and only match against Chapman, a big money match at the Seattle Showdown. Dave had beaten Brady a few weeks earlier in the Dallas pro stop, beat him a week after Seattle in another big money match in Anchorage, and beat him in the 2004 USHA National quarterfinals, 21-9, 21-6, where Dave went on to win his eighth National singles title, and then retired while still the number one ranked player. Brady had moved up to number two.
After nearly four years of retirement, Dave resumed playing in 2008. By then, Brady was the number one player, had won three consecutive National titles, and would go on to win the next three. This time it was Chapman who was working his way up the rankings, only to lose to Paul in the finals of the USHA Nationals in 2009, 21-6, 21-3 and in 2010, 21-8, 21-9; the only two times they played during Dave’s comeback. Due to injury, Brady didn’t play in the Nationals in 2011 and Chapman won his ninth USHA National singles title. Dave retired for the second time early in 2012, and Brady went on to win the Nationals in 2012 and 2013. As it stands now, Chapman has nine USHA National singles titles; Brady has won eight, and is still active.
In sum, Chapman dominated their matches in the period between 2001 and 2004, and Brady beat Chapman easily the two times they played after Chapman returned to handball. Was the 24 year-old Brady, that lost three of four to Chapman in 2004, as good as the Brady that beat Chapman easily in 2009 and 2010? Had Chapman simply declined while Brady improved? It should be noted that during his prime, Dave’s playing weight ranged from 160 to 185 pounds (as he went from a 16 year old phenomenon to a mature 28 year old). In his comeback, Dave started out at 200 lbs. but gradually added weight, and in his two matches against Paul played at 220, and was noticeably slower and less agile than in his prime. Assuming Brady improved during Chapman’s retirement, we might wonder if a past his prime Chapman, at a reasonable playing weight, could have beaten Brady in his prime? How would the 20 year-old Chapman have fared against the 30 year-old Brady? These are fun questions to speculate on, but the fact remains, in the thirteen times they played, Dave Chapman beat Paul Brady ten times and lost to him three times.
Record in major tournaments
USHA Nationals—Four Wall Singles (Pro division)
|1991||Round of 16||John Bike||5-21, 5-21|
|1992||Quarterfinals||John Bike||11-21, 7-21|
|1993||First||Randy Morones||21-8, 21-11|
|1994||Second||Tati Silverya||21-20, 10-21, 6-11|
|1995||First||Tati Silverya||21-11, 21-8|
|1996||First||John Bike||11-21, 21-15, 11-8|
|1997||Quarterfinals||Randy Morones||14-21, 21-8, 3-11|
|1998||First||Tati Silverya||21-20, 9-21, 11-8|
|1999||First||Vince Munoz||21-9, Inj. Default|
|2000||First||Vince Munoz||21-8, 21-4|
|2001||Second||Vince Munoz||21-6, 3-21, 1-11|
|2002||First||Vince Munoz||21-11, 21-13|
|2003||Semifinals||Tony Healy||15-21, 21-4, 11-4|
|2004||First||Naty Alvarado Jr.||21-7, 11-21, 11-4|
|2008||Quarterfinals||Tony Healy||15-21, 15-21|
|2009||Second||Paul Brady||6-21, 3-21|
|2010||Second||Paul Brady||8-21, 9-21|
|2011||First||Sean Lenning||21-20, 21-13|
USHA Nationals—Four-Wall Doubles
|1991||Charlie Kalil||Quarterfinals||Eric Klarman/Rod Pagello||17-21, 21-13, 7-11|
|1992||Naty Alvarado Jr.||First||Doug Glatt/Rod Prince||21-16, 21-12|
|1993||Naty Alvarado Jr.||First||John Bike/John Robles||21-20, 16-21, 11-6|
|1994||Naty Alvarado Jr.||Second||Tati Silverya/John Bike||19-21, 10-21|
|1995||Naty Alvarado Jr.||First||Vince Munoz/Randy Morones||11-21, 21-18, 11-3|
|1996||Naty Alvarado Jr.||Second||Tati Silverya/John Bike||15-21, 7-21|
|1997||Bill Peoples||Second||Tati Silverya/John Bike||5-21, 10-21|
|1998||Vince Munoz||First||John Bike/Naty Alvarado Jr.||21-5, 21-8|
|1999||Vince Munoz||First||John Bike/Naty Alvarado Jr.||21-13, 21-19|
|2000||Vince Munoz||First||John Bike/Naty Alvarado Jr.||21-14, 21-13|
|2001||Vince Munoz||Second||John Bike/Naty Alvarado Jr.||13-21, 16-21|
|2002||Vince Munoz||First||John Bike/Naty Alvarado Jr.||21-14, 21-3|
|2008||Emmett Peixoto||First||Tyler Hamel/Alan Garner||21-12, 21-14|
|2009||Emmett Peixoto||First||Sean Lenning/Luis Moreno||21-6, 21-18|
|2011||Emmett Peixoto||Second||Sean Lenning/Armando Ortiz||16-21, 17-21|
|1994||First||Michael 'Duxie' Walsh||21-10, 21-8|
|1997||Second||John Bike||19-21, 14-21|
|2000||First||John Bike||21-3, 21-4|
|2009||Quarterfinals||Alan Garner||17-21, 18-21|
|1997||John Bike||First||Danny Bell/Merv Deckert||21-13, 21-5|
|2000||Danny Bell||First||John Bike/Kendall Lewis||21-8, 21-13|
- "US Handball Association - David Chapman?". Ushandball.org. Retrieved 2012-10-18.
- Player rankings are taken from Handball, a bi-monthly magazine published by the United States Handball Association (USHA), 1992-2012.
- Handball August 2011
- The USHA website has a list of all National Champions in three- and four-wall handball
- Dana Gelin, "Give the Kid a Hand," Sports Illustrated, June 12, 1995.
- Handball: February 1986, February 1987, February 1988, February 1989, February 1990, February 1991, February 1992
- Handball June 1991.
- I.e., he no longer had to play in a qualifier.
- Handball February 1992
- Former professional handball player, national champion and current editor of Handball
- A list of National Handball Champions is available from the USHA’s website > about > National Champions.
- Although Dennis Hofflander is an early exemplar of this more aggressive style it is Naty Alvarado that ushers in the new era and is “the incarnation of that blistering modern style.” Fred Lewis, Handball June 1998
- Handball February 1992
- Vern Roberts, Handball February 1992.
- This is why Dave has been repeatedly voted as the best ceiling player in the game by his fellow pros. Handball June 1996, June 1998, June 2000.
- The Chapman Experience Instructional Video II.
- John Bike, June 1998, All pro team
- Handball, December 2001
- Handball, 2001-2004
- Handball, February 2004
- Handball, June 2004 and August 2004 issues
- The United States Handball Association’s website has a record of National Champions but does not list opponents or scores. That information is only available from Handball (a bi-monthly magazine). Since all the magazines are not immediately available some results are unknown at this time. I will enter that information when the appropriate magazine is located.
- Dave's score is listed first win or lose.
- The Handball World Championships is held every three years