National League Final at National Tennis Club: April 23, 2013
Before I get to the match, I would like to apologize for submitting this narrative so late. Life got in the way of tennis-related activities. Let that never happen again!
Last week Tuesday, we saw Team New England take the 2012-2013 championship in the United States National League. Congratulations to Camden Riviere, Tony Hollins, and Rich Smith in their win over James Stout, Barney Tanfield, and Mike Gooding. As you shall see, it was an offbeat night for a variety of reasons.
First, New England swept the evening. To my recollection, I don’t think the team has won all three (two singles and one doubles) matches in any of their earlier outings. The domination began with a very serious effort by NTC’s head pro Rich Smith over New York’s assistant pro Barney Tanfield, who until that night had been undefeated in the National League season. In an exciting first set, Smith eked out a win at 6 games to 5. This result must have taken the wind out of Tanfield’s sails, as Smith won the next set and the match 6-2. This was redemption for Smith, as the last time he was on court in Newport for National League he lost to the Tuxedo/Philly team’s Josh Dodgson 6-3, 6-4. That night Rich didn’t seem to have his usual sparkle out there; he was frustrated. But at the finals Rich appeared smooth and in control. Kudos to him for his efforts.
The second match pitted world number 7 Jamie Stout against Camden Riviere, who just this year reclaimed his number 2 spot after winning almost all of the majors this past season. In the dedans, we settled in for what I expected would be a possible 3-setter, which is what happened between Stout and Riviere the last time New York played New England in National League, in Boston. As soon as game play began, it seemed the possibility of that 3-setter was awfully low. Camden knocked out two games in what seemed like less than 5 minutes. In the third game, Stout made a couple racquet errors and Cam went up 3-0. For the next two games Cam dominated the service end, and you could see why the pros always counsel us to get to the service end ASAP.
Then something happened. Stout had injured himself in the British Open Racquets Doubles final earlier in the month. According to the T&RA website account, “[t]he match ended when Jamie Stout decided he could not carry on into a deciding 7th game due to an ankle injury incurred very early in the match and made worse by a secondary incident on the same ankle later in the match.” Apparently, the final match could not be rescheduled to give Stout time to heal, as the Final had already been rescheduled to accommodate Stout and Mike Gooding so that they could play in the British Open Racquets.
The spectators could tell that something was amiss with Stout in the first few games of the match, as he was exhibiting little of the court coverage and amazing returns that the tennis watching public have come to expect from him as a matter of course. Some spectators thought that his level of play dropped after a controversial call on a serve. But it turns out that he had reinjured his ankle a couple games before that call, in the second game of the match. Rather than throw in the towel and default the rest of the match and the doubles, Stout decided to soldier on and finish his matches because so many people had shown up to watch him and Cam. He deserves credit for this decision. When this reinjury is taken into consideration, it makes a number of the subsequent insane points even more unbelievable. No doubt compensating for his hobbling, James hit a couple behind-the-back and through-the-legs shots executed as though Etchebaster himself was whispering into his ear. Unfortunately for Stout, the first set ended much as it began, with Camden dominating: 6-0.
In the second set, Cam again won the first two games in what felt like a blink of an eye. One reste in the third game could have been mistaken for a floor drill with the two southpaws trading what were for them forehands, with Stout missing the tambour several times and Cam patiently returning the ball on the floor. A few more minutes and all of a sudden it was 4-0. Stout’s bad luck would not let up: in the fifth game he hit a convincing shot to the grille which, instead of entering the box, rolled around nearly the entire frame of the grille and fell on the floor. Of course, Camden picked it up and put it in the door gallery. Cam won this game and the sixth one too. Stout made some impeccable shots, but Cam seems to know only one gear this past year: KILL!
The night concluded with a brief 8-game pro set of doubles, with Team New England having already clinched the evening. New England went up 2-0 pretty quickly. Then the teams traded games until 4-2. And then *poof* it was 8-2 New England.
Some food for thought before I sign off. It bears mentioning how New England ended up with home court advantage. Until the last National League match of the season, New England had been ranked no higher than number 2 in the standings. But, Tuxedo/Philly knocked New York out of the number 1 spot on March 15, allowing New England to take the number 1 spot by eking ahead of New York by 1 point. This guaranteed New England home court advantage. What would have happened if New York had had home court advantage?
It is always an upbeat and colorful atmosphere when the National Tennis Club hosts the National League, or any other event for that matter. As usual, the attendance was positive, with crowds in the dedans, above the main wall, and in the club room, and the club provided some lovely hors d’oeuvres. As mentioned above, the matches were marked by Sergio Lopez Ruiz. Many thanks to Tom Rowe and the Board, staff, and members of the National Tennis Club for a welcoming event.