Thursday, March 29, 2012

USPTA National Clay Court Men's 50 Singles

Note: Photo recovery process underway. Sorry for inconvenience! 
On paper, the big story in the Men’s 50 Division was my sweep of the Singles and Doubles events.  However, as you probably, it's often the "back story," or the "rest of the story" that’s of true interest. My favorite story of the Division is the iron man effort put out by Finalist Al Hernandez.

Al Hernandez
In his first match, a three-hour affair that ended when his opponent, Mark Woldmoe, retired due to cramps, Al won the first set 6-2, lost a second set breaker (4-7), and was at 2-3 when Woldmoe folded. I was showering after my second match, when I saw Al’s second opponent , Tomas Ollestad, in the locker room. Assuming the match was over, I asked Tomas how it had gone. He informed me that they were just about to get the third set started. Ouch!

Al Hernandez
Al had lost the first-set breaker (5-7) and had taken the second set 6-1. He kept rolling in the final set, taking it 6-2. Sounds like plenty enough tennis for somebody playing in the 50s, no? Uh-uh. I returned to the locker room to shower after hanging at the pool for a while. There was Al, getting ready for his men’s doubles match…in the Men’s 40 Division! Dude, that’s hardcore! 

I was having dinner later that evening (after 9pm) when I got a call from Frank Swope, my doubles partner. He let me know that the tournament director wanted to move my singles match against Al to 9am instead of 10:30am. I said I would be okay with it if Al was okay with it, but I doubted that Al would be okay with it, since Frank had also informed me that Al had just finished the first set of his doubles match. I guess Al was okay with it because he showed up to play his match the next morning. Hardcore!

No.1 Seed Greg Neuhart
The other big story in the Men’s 50s, was the fall of No.1 Seed, Greg Neuhart, Florida’s “Giant,” literally and metaphorically, in Men’s 50 Singles. The 6’ 9” Neuhart had dominated the Division in Florida’s 2011 USPTA Fast-Dry 10S Supply Grand Prix Circuit, and came in seeded No.1 as one would expect.

Unfortunately for Greg, and fortunately for me, “The Giant” came in wounded. Even with a bum elbow that prevented him from serving to 40 percent of his capacity, Greg took down Edwin Donoso 6-2, 6-2. Meanwhile, despite winning my first round match, I had to laugh and shake my head at some of the things I was doing on the court.

Arup Dutta
I used to be able to play this game once upon a time, but sometimes during my first match with Arup Dutta it didn’t appear that way. The 6-3, 6-2 score wasn’t as easy as it might seem to someone who wasn’t there…at least up through 1-2 in the second set.

It had been a pleasant match to that point, with Arup and I exchanging “good shot” and fist bumps throughout. Then I’m serving at 1-2, 15-30 in the second, and I figure I’m not interested in going down a break. Ace down the middle: 30-30; ace out wide: 40-30; ace out wide: game…uh not so fast buddy. The call is “out.” Out!”???

What part of flush on the line didn’t you get dude? “You wanna check that mark? It wasn’t even that close.” Long story short, we disagree about the call; I concede because it's his call, and I finish off the match without dropping another game.   

In any event, I meet Neuhart later that afternoon on Stadium Court, a beautiful venue. The entire facility, complete with $28m make-over, is beautiful, and the Stadium Court setting is one in which anyone would relish playing. The surface was a bit slick, and we both hit the deck, but other than that, it was all good.

Now, Greg had told me earlier in the day that he was hurting, but I didn’t know just how badly he was hurting. Heck, I’ve been hurting for the past three years! Once the match started, I realized that he was REALLY hurting, because his serve was more of a push-it-over-the-net-to-get-the-point-started kinda thing; definitely not Greg Neuhart’s norm.

Greg: It hurts to serve!
Even with that handicap, my feeble return game and Greg’s still powerful ground game gave him the first set, 6-1. Oh yeah, I had broken him the first game of the set too…I held to open the second, and joked that I had gotten my obligatory gift of one game per set. But then I broke and held for 3-0, and Greg’s frustration was growing in proportion to his size, and commensurate with the pain I imagine he was feeling.

We both held serve to 4-2, then Greg broke me and served at 3-4. Ordinarily, he’d be feeling pretty good being back on serve, but “oh da pain!” I broke back and held for a 6-3 second set. The frustrated giant roared, and I completely understood.

For the past couple of years, I haven’t been able to do what I used to do on court because of a variety of nagging injuries. That state of being is extremely frustrating for a competitor. I felt for him, but I was out there to post a “W” regardless. The final set was 6-2, and I hoped that Greg would forget about doubles and take care of that arm. He did forget about the doubles, and we both benefited from that (see 50 Dubs in recap)!

Keeping things in perspective, I have quite a ways to go before I'm close to happy with my game, but I will certainly enjoy holding the title of USPTA Men's 50 National Clay Court Champion for the next year. Who knows? Maybe the tennis gods will smile on me again next year. Game, set, match...T A

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