The Racquet & Tennis Club hosted the 81st annual Payne Whitney Intercity Doubles competition December 12th – 14th. The tournament included six teams of ten players each with nearly all of the top-50 US amateurs represented. Matches were best of three set affairs with 2-2 shortened third sets and no deuce-ad scoring. Four young at heart rookies (Peter Cipriano, Geoff Ellis, John Saxe, and Gary Swantner) took to the courts in tow of their wizened teammates.
Beginning on Friday morning, the East court hosted two matchups in Group 1: Greentree-Aiken vs. Philadelphia and New England vs. Philadelphia. With some fresh blood and high hopes, Philadelphia fell flat against Greentree-Aiken. Despite close sets and good efforts in the second and fourth pairs, it was only the Philadelphia senior team of Dick Tanfield and Peter Vogt which came away with a win over the reigning champions; 4-1 in matches, Greentree-Aiken over Philadelphia.
The next match in Group 1 pitted New England against Philadelphia. Many of the game’s learned players and observers viewed as especially strong this year’s New England team. Throughout the lineup, New England possessed admirable talent and experience. The top pair of Jeff Horine (called up on short notice to replace Phil Shannon) and Pat Winthrop were up first against veterans Peter Hill and ten years removed RCOP and R&T pro Mike Noll. In a tense three-setter separated by just two games, Philadelphia prevailed. The number two matchup was Sean Herlihy and USCTA President Jeremy Wintersteen against Philadelphia’s three-time reigning club champions, Jon Crowell and Christian Bullitt. With consistent play and teamwork, the Philadelphians outgunned narrowly the New England second pair, 6-4, 6-5, spurring on the Philadelphia hopefuls into the USCTA Annual Dinner Friday night with a third straight match win since the senior’s 3PM contest against Greentree-Aiken.
Despite sleeping on a two match to none deficit, New England was not to be silenced as the remaining matches commenced on Saturday morning. The hard-hitting, lawn tennis-bred third pair for New England of Garrett Gates and Alex Spence dropped only four games over their counterparts from Philadelphia, Norris Jordan and Ken Soffer. The squash star-studded New England team of Dave Tedeschi and Dillon Aldrich (who, it turns out, happened to be playing with a broken wrist) appeared to square-up well against thickly-bearded greenie Swantner and, now, Delaware resident Jim Zug as they raced through the first set 6-3. In games filled with many penthouses and missed opportunities, Philadelphia out-touched New England in the final two sets, 6/5, 6/5, to clinch the team match and to send the travelling supporters whirring with hope. If Philadelphia were to win the seniors match at noon and if New England were to beat Greentree-Aiken 4-1 in matches, Group 1 would be a dead tie. With each team’s having a 1-1 record and five match wins, the game’s numerous historians would have to be called upon to officiate the deciding sudden-death dedans shootout (not really…). Dropping only two games, New England’s formidable senior team of George Bell and Rob McLane dispatched veterans Dick Tanfield and Peter Vogt and, with it, quashed Philadelphia’s chances of escaping the group stage. Greentree-Aiken was not in the business of leaving any doubt as to the top of the pile in Group 1. With a smooth 4-1 victory in front of at-capacity West court galleries and highlighted by a 6-5, 6-5 win for veteran senior pair Bob Hay and Charlie Johnstone over the ageless Bell and newly senior Rob McLane, Greentree-Aiken earned its way out of the group stage.
In Group 2, New York and Washington cruised through the perennially spirited Tuxedo-Chicago squad, each without dropping a set. The Saturday afternoon East court duel between the two victors proved to be quite entertaining. With a relentless barrage of power and precision, an altogether comfortable Jonathan Larken and Spike Willcocks put New York out to an early lead over the always entertaining team of Danny McBride and Rich Moroscak. Next on was the New York second pair of Nicolas Victoir and Will Thompson. With a 6-3 win in the first set against the powerful Brad Allen and the consistent John Motz, the dubbed “experimental” team looked to have reached an enviable equilibrium behind Victoir’s classic, guided cut shots and Thompson’s firm volleys. The tide turned, however. Allen found his length and targets and Motz offered no easy openings for New York to exploit. Nip and tuck the whole way, Washington’s second pair managed to even the match score with two 6-5 set wins. New York captain Lex Miron looked to take under his wing newbie Cipriano in what amounted to a pivotal match against the formidable duo of Bill Barker and Kris Motz. Helped by a few uncharacteristic errors from the home team, Washington managed to squeak out the first set 6-5. With surprising efficiency and variety, Miron and Cipriano righted the ship in a 6-1 second set and carried solid momentum into the decider. The tide turned yet again as Barker and Motz forced untimely New York errors to take a teetering 5-3 lead in the third set. Perhaps as dramatic as at the Bay of Fundy, the tide turned (yet again) behind Miron’s offense and Cipriano’s steady volleys. In the closing moments of the set’s sixth game, Barker contributed to the New York cause with an unlikely error, opening the door for the match-determining 5-5 game. With two quick points and the serve, Barker and Motz were surely odds-on favorites to close out the game and the match. Drama ensued as Miron found the dedans twice and regained the serve with a reasonable chase. Naturally, the game went to 40-40 with what many felt to be the berth in the finals on the line. A few crucial shoestring volleys from Cipriano wrestled the eventual error from Washington, giving the New York team the win and a crucial 2-1 match lead going into the final two pairings. Zach Sacks and Tom McGinnis squared off against Washington’s fourth pair of Ryan Carey and John Saxe. Despite the team match on the line, the crowd found little by way of drama as Sacks and McGinnis roared through their Washington foes with only two games in arrears. Haven Pell and Steve Hufford edged past New York’s Bruce Manson and Sam Abernethy, but the finals were already secured and rest for Sunday morning was needed. Familiar for the last few years, New York vs. Greentree-Aiken final was set to be an epic showdown.
Saturday night activities varied from team dinners, meditation sessions, hyperbaric conditioning, and conspicuous efforts to inebriate the finalists. Typical of Whitney Cup, the order of play for the finals was scrambled vis. that of the group stage. Senior and fourth pairs were first on, playing within a half an hour of each other on the East and West courts, respectively, and were followed, in order on the East court, by first, second, and third pairs. Perhaps happy to not meet Simon Aldrich in the senior pair this year, Manson and Abernethy squared off against stalwarts Hay and Johnstone. Manson’s movement and Abernethy’s steady play inspired many in the early morning East court dedans. With a brisk 6-1, 6-1 drubbing in seniors and with the strong fourth and first pairs to follow, New York was off to a good start. Sacks and McGinnis yielded as much as Manhattan’s bedrock to Aiken’s Rakesh Jasani and Jason Mengel’s lawn tennis unorthodoxy. An imposing rampart at the galleries, McGinnis’ presence and punishing cut volleys guided the Aiken fourth pair’s offense to the back walls and penthouse, allowing ample time for the nimble and surprisingly accurate Sacks to employ his main wall-tambour, rinse, and repeat tactics. 6-2, 6-4 to McGinnis and Sacks, the only pair in the finals not to drop a set throughout the tournament.
A 2-0 lead for New York left Greentree-Aiken with a formidable task. Upending Willcocks and Larken was the first of three necessary steps for the defending champions to continue in their winning ways. Addison West and Ben Cook presented an impressive combination of fizzing offense and bewildering athleticism; yet, in the 6-0 first set, the decorated pair of Willcocks and Larken seemed clearly unimpressed. As an example, Willcocks defended a West force which would have literally broken the court with a cut backhand volley from his ankles into the winning gallery. In the same game, Willcocks hit two more, albeit less dramatic, backhand volley winning galleries. The current World number eight in racquets, Larken, provided help when needed. In the first set however, the “help” amounted to serving and calling “yours.” In an impressive display of fortitude, West and Cook built on winning their first game of the match and raised their level of play. Cook’s direct volleys kept points alive, enabling West to unleash effective main wall forces which found only reactionary backhands from the New York pair. A few key errors helped the Greentree-Aiken cause; and, coupled with the improved level of play, the match leveled at one set apiece. In a must-win situation for Greentree-Aiken, New York’s top pair regained composure and raised the standard of play once again. In a stunning display of the weekend’s highest level of tennis, Willcocks and Larken prevailed, clinching the Whitney Cup for New York.
The team captains, New York pro shop, Bob Gressler, and the RTC staff planned and executed brilliantly throughout a fantastic weekend of spirited tennis and intercity rivalry.