Blindingly fast bullets from Addison West’s racquet that Dan McBride not only got his racquet on but somehow managed to hit for a winner into the dedans.
Young Garrett Gates flying through the air and smacking a forehand swing volley into the winning gallery.
Eric Pearson, just in from the court tennis desert of the West Coast, looking like he’d never left Philly as he played with his usual brilliant athleticism.
All par for the course in what continues to be the most mesmerizing event on the USCTA’s calendar.
This year’s Whitney Cup began with several questions. Could New England three-peat? Would this be the year that Washington, a finalist for the past two years, made it all the way to the top? And would Greentree/Aiken, which had actually beaten New England in last year’s round robin, steal the show?
New England made a strong statement in its round robin, losing only 1 match and 3 sets as they defeated Tuxedo and New York. The team consisted of 8 Whitney Cup veterans and two newcomers (Alex Spence and Garrett), and looked as invincible as ever during Friday and Saturday’s matches.
In the other bracket, Greentree/Aiken and Washington each defeated Philadelphia 4-1, setting up what appeared to be a nail-biting matchup.
That’s exactly how it began, with Rich Moroscak & Dan McBride taking on Addison West & Ben Cook in what many felt was the match of the tournament. Labeling the points “spectacular” doesn’t begin to capture how riveting they were. There were frequent 10, 15 and even 20 shot rallies, with many shots being seemingly sure put-aways. But they weren’t as ball after ball miraculously came back. Dan McBride, playing in his first Whitney Cup, looked like a 10-year veteran as he dazzled us with an array of reflex volleys.
In the end, Addison & Ben took the match in 3 sets, putting Greentree/Aiken ahead 1-0 but leaving the spectators exhausted.
Next up was what promised to be another close match, with Bill Barker & John Motz facing Simon Aldrich & Brook Hazelton. Washington started strong and took the first set 6/2 but Simon & Brook eventually took the final 2 sets in a long battle, putting Greentree/Aiken ahead 2-0.
Greentree/Aiken then won the final three matches to go through to the finals. But the 5-0 match result was one of the most misleading Whitney Cup scores this author has seen, as it could have easily been 0-2 after the first two matches.
Sunday brought much anticipation as every match promised to be extremely close.
Greentree/Aiken’s seniors team, Charlie Johnstone & Chris Cline, started strong vs. Jon Pardee & Alex Walsh, going up a set and 5/3 in the 2nd. But despite playing their third match in 22 hours, Jon & Alex showed why they have a reputation of being tough competitors as they came back and took the 2nd set, 6/5.
One set all, in what was a particularly pivotal match for Greentree/Aiken. Could Charlie & Chris steady the ship? They did, taking the final set to put their side up 1-0.
An hour later, it looked as if would be 3-0. On the Racquet & Tennis Club’s west court, Noah Wimmer & Rakesh Jasani had several match points vs. Shawn Herlihy & Alex Spence. On the east court, Addison West & Ben Cook had taken the 1st set from Jeremy Wintersteen & Matt Porter, 6/0.
Might Greentree/Aiken roll through New England and clinch the trophy before lunchtime?
C’mon, folks. This is the Whitney Cup! And the event has only one sure thing: whatever seems certain to happen will likely not happen.
Sure enough, an hour later an apparent 3-0 lead was instead a 1-2 deficit. Shawn & Alex saved the match points and won a tight 3rd set to square things at 1-1. And Jeremy & Matt caught fire. They won a particularly big 40-all point near the end of the 2nd set as Matt beat chase worse than a yard by hitting a rocket into the dedans. They then raised their game even further and took the 3rd set going away.
New England was up 2-1 and looked strong in the next match as Pat Winthrop had risen to #3 on the USCTA’s leader board with an impressive win in the Silver Racquet a month earlier. Pat & John Damon would now face Brook Hazelton & Simon Aldrich, in a must-win situation for Greentree/Aiken. But Simon, aided by Brook’s forceful volleys, showed why many view him as the most effective player in the Whitney Cup during the past two decades. He & Brook took the match in two close sets, setting up one-match-for-all-the-marbles.
This match featured New England’s George Bell & Garret Gates vs. Peter Pell & myself, and was rich with stories. George had clinched the Cup for New England in ’09 by hitting a main wall-dedans force on match point. Garrett, a 3-time All-American tennis player at Bowdoin, had been named Most Improved Player at the USCTA dinner Friday night. Peter had rolled through the New York Open A Handicap in November. And I had imploded two years ago in a decisive match vs. New England, leaving me wondering about my competitiveness.
Whitney Cup Sunday. High drama. Here we go.
George & Alex jumped ahead 2/0 and Greentree/Aiken looked a bit shaky. Ten minutes later, though, it was 3/2 for Peter & Bob.
3/3. 3/4. 4/4. 4/5. 5/5.
And then, of course, 40-all in the final game, after Peter saved one match point on return of serve.
He then saved another, and he & Bob took the 1st set 6/5. But they knew the match was far from over.
At 3/1 in the 2nd set, Peter was on a roll. However, George & Garrett rallied for 3/2. I think this was the game when I thrashed a 2-hander at the grille at 40-all, only to have Garrett intercept the ball and drill it into the dedans in a moment that brought roars from the New England crowd.
Then it was 40-all in the 6th game with many sensing that if George & Garrett took the point and the game, they might be on their way.
But Peter & Bob managed to get the point, putting them ahead 4/2. This, along with Peter’s strong serves in the 7th game, seemed to deflate New England as the Greentree/Aiken pair ran out the set 6/2 to take the match and the trophy.
And so for the third consecutive year, the Whitney Cup had been determined by the last match to be completed on Sunday.
Par for the course, indeed.