The 2008 Cherry Blossom was a great success with over 40 (if not world class, then certainly high class) players coming from as far away as Australia and from such exotic places as Scotland!
The centerpiece of this year’s tournament was a 22-inch Prince’s Court inscribed gong, which was hung in the Winning Gallery. Why settle for the dainty ring of a cow bell when you could announce your winning shot with the omnipresent sound of a 22-inch gong?? It was great fun to watch people alter their normal course of play to have a shot at hitting the gong. John Motz was the first player in Cherry Blossom history to hit the gong in regulation play and his shot can be seen on YouTube (click here to see it). The Thrill Is Gong!
This year also saw the inception of two new events: a Royal Soccer match and a Skills Competition. Royal Soccer (or Football for the Europeans) is something which our Pros are quite keen on and basically the game consists of playing Court Tennis with a soccer ball and only using your feet. It was played without injury and was good fun until our match was cut short by the ball being kicked out of the court and lost behind the wall. The Skills Competition tested every skill imaginable! Grill shootouts, Dedans shootouts, Gong hits, Ball Toss, and we even played a game of G-O-N-G (in the style of H-O-R-S-E in basketball). Congratulations to Fred Gumbinner, the far and away winner of the skills competition.
The tournament dinner was held at the magnificent Chevy Chase Club and was hosted by the Ambassador, Mr. Temple Grassi. A wonderful time was had by all imbibing on the house “punch” and recalling all the memorable points of the weekend. We compiled a few of these memorable points and showed them on the big screen, dubbing it “The Gong Show”. The calling card of any respectable 1970s game show, such as The Gong Show, was a set of steak knives as a consolation prize. Not to be outdone, we picked four players at random, who were not competing in the Finals, and entered them in a consolation match to play for a set of Ginsu Steak Knives! The proud winners were Arthur Drane of Boston and RJ Laukitis of Washington.
All four finals on Sunday were fiercely contested, as was the food on the Brunch buffet so beautifully arranged by Kim Jaske.
In the Red Division, the Round Robin tour-de-force that was Jen Winthrop of Boston and Frank Oliveira of Newport went head-to-head with Cherry Blossom veterans Randall Roe and Stephen Sears, both of Washington. Frank’s steady play and Jen’s blistering volleys led them to a convincing 6-3, 6-1 victory.
In the White Division, Jean-Pierre Lombard and Hanif Moledina of Washington took on Cherry Blossom rookies Fred Gumbinner of Washington and Ted Martin of Boston. This match was a roller coaster! Lombard and Moledina acknowledged that the match was being played on a Sunday by “bagel-ing” their opponents 6-0 in the first set. Gumbinner’s competitive fire and “skill” brought his side back and Martin’s “A” game was soon to follow and they wound up leveling the match by taking the second set 6-4. That momentum would surely carry over to the third and deciding set, wouldn’t it? “Not so fast, my friend” was the response by Lombard/Moledina as they kept their eye on the gong and took the final set 6-4.
In the Blue Division, Charlotte Grassi and Josh Greene of Washington were trying to “three-peat” as they have won their division the past two years. Trying to stop them were familiar foes, Pat Homer and Christine Donovan both hailing from Prince’s Court. Homer and Donovan came out swinging and gave Grassi/Greene a proverbial shot to the kisser by taking the first set 6-4. The crowd was abuzz thinking that an upset was brewing, however being true champions, Grassi and Greene quickly turned the tables in the second and third sets benefitting from Greene’s determination and Grassi’s lethal backhand. Good form all around.
In the Gold Division, tournament organizers Ryan Carey and Michael Do tried to shake off their “tournament fatigue” and took on division champions Bill Barker and Sanford Jewett of Washington. In the Round Robin play earlier in the weekend, Do and Carey were soundly beaten by the Barker/Jewett tandem. Payback was seemingly in order as Carey and Do came out a-blazing with their timeless “force first, ask questions later” style. However, Barker’s back court coverage was a great equalizer and the first set came down to one-point, “set ball”. Carey and Do stole the first set 6-5 and used that momentum to take a commanding 4-0 lead in the second set. In unfortunate timing, the afore mentioned “tournament fatigue” then set in and solid play by Barker and Jewett brought them all the way back to 5-5 40-all, set ball again! Carey made on unforced service return error in front of the grille which leveled the match at one set a-piece. The third set exhibited sheer determination on both sides. Barker and Jewett took a 5-3 lead in the final stanza and it looked like an opportunity lost for Carey and Do, but somehow, someway they fought off a match point and dug deep to get it to 5-5 in the deciding set. At 40-30, Carey/Do were receiving and it seemed only fitting that the third set would follow the path of the previous two sets and go to “set-ball”, however Carey ripped a force just out of the reach of Barker and beat the chase for the victory. As I was involved in this match, I think it’s only fitting to include an independent observer’s view of the match. Australia’s Wayne Spring summed it up thusly, “brilliant tennis, absolutely brilliant tennis, worth the trip”.
The winners of each final were awarded miniature, replica gong trophies. To the keen observer, this of course means that the winners were handed a “Gong With The Win”!
Thank you to all of the participants, volunteers, and staff who helped make this the best Cherry Blossom to date. We look forward to seeing you at Prince’s Court for the 2009 Cherry Blossom.
Ryan Carey (on behalf of Michael Do and the International Tennis Club of Washington)
Michael Do/Ryan Carey def. Bill Barker/Sanford Jewett 6/5 5/6 6/5
Frank Oliveira/Jen Winthrop def. Stephen Sears/Randall Roe 6/1 6/3
Hanif Moledina/Jean-Pierre Lombard def. Fred Gumbinner/Ted Martin 6/0 4/6 6/4
Charlotte Grassi/Josh Greene def. Pat Homer/Christine Donovan 4/6 6/2 6/4