The Final Eliminator – Day One
by James Zug
The first day of the Final Eliminator saw some of the highest level of play in the history of the Racquet Club of Philadelphia’s 109-year-old Van Alen court. Camden Riviere won three sets, Steve Virgona one: 6-3, 6-2, 5-6, 6-1.
After ten days of practice at RCOP, the players finally got a chance to play. Wearing the traditional white clothing, both sported a lot of color: Riviere had bright carroty shoelaces on his ruby-red sneakers, a tan Gold Leaf racquet with a black grip and a beard; Virgona had blue sneakers and a blue 2016 U.S. Open blue Grays racquet with a crimson grip. An overflowing crowd packed the galleries, some enjoying the new padded cushions on the benches in the clerestory. Besides the families and coaches of the players and the many dozens of RCOP enthusiasts, fans from Aiken (Geoff Ellis), Washington (Temple Grassi and Rich Moroscak) and New York (Arthur Whitcomb) came to watch. Also, Washington’s Ryan Carey momentarily abandoned the Cherry Blossom to help Jon Crowell with the live streaming; and USCTA president Jeremy Wintersteen was on hand from Boston to help host the cocktail party before the match.
Rob Whitehouse, the RCOP head professional and the Final Eliminator marker, flipped the coin (a 2012 Acadia National Park quarter for those numismatists out there). Virgona won the toss. Riviere jumped off the back wall like a parkour freerunning and off they went.
Camden was in firm control the first two sets. Each set had one particular game that went into a half dozen deuces—at 5-2 in the first, 2-0 in the second—where both players fought tenaciously for the upper hand and Riviere came out on top. Both men were hitting railroads, generally; Virgona sometimes put up winning gallery drags and Riviere hit a few giraffes, drag No.2s and a couple demi-piques. Virgona was making a few too many errors and also missing openings—the overhitting resulting in the ball flying onto the penthouse. Riviere’s speed and consistency were decisive. Still, there were a few spectacular points: at deuce at 4-2 in the second set, off a chase of two and three, Riviere hit a speeding volley off a Virgona force that just clipped the net and went over into the marker’s box. Later that set, Virgona neatly played a groundstroke behind his body.
The match went for over three hours and much of that was in the third set. There were a dozen epic points, with incredible retrieving, robust stone-wall defense and stunning shotmaking. At one point Virgona was up 40-0 in one game and couldn’t convert. At 4-4 he twice had game balls and again couldn’t finish it off. But Riviere had two set points, one at 5-4 and one at 5-5, and Virgona saved both before claiming the set.
The fourth set was the most one-sided of the four and left the crowd wondering if the third set was an aberration and Riviere will cruise to victory on Friday or if Virgona will recapture the precision and brilliance of the third set to force the match into a third day.
Final Eliminator, Day Two
By James Zug
The second day of the 2016 Final Eliminator was a thrilling encounter, full of dramatic ebbs and flows. Just like on the first day, Camden Riviere won three sets, Steve Virgona one: 6-2, 4-6, 6-5, 6-2. Thus, the first-to-seven-sets match overall has the American with a 6-2 lead over the Australian going into the third and final day tomorrow afternoon.
Another jam-packed gallery greeted the two southpaws as they walked onto the court at 5pm. New guests included Steve DeVoe from Newport, as well as numerous children of RCOP members, giving them and their parents a sempiternal memory.
Virgona started off with a bang, going up 40-15 in the first game, barely losing that one and winning the second game. With a forward-titled gait and a bounce in his step, he almost vibrated with energy. Riviere was hitting more demi-piques and less railroads, but either way Virgona was rarely letting them go to the back wall in hopes of turning on them; instead he attacked with his two-handed backhand cut volley to good effect. His groundstokes and volleys were magnificent. These surface-to-air missiles had tremendous venom—more than once he swung from his heels and rocketed balls into the dedans at a velocity never seen before. There was less humidity in the air—it was a dry, cool evening—and the nap on the Steve Ronaldson-made balls was beginning to fade, so the balls, slightly smaller and harder, were flying.
Riviere matched Virgona’s liveliness and oomph. His retrieving was incredible, his volleys precise. During a rally, Virgona had to hit two, three, sometimes four winners in order to end the point. Virgona had to work hard to win any games—there were hardly any free points.
After Riviere ran out the first set with ease, Virgona jumped all over him in the second, dashing to a 3-0 lead. At 2-0, receiving and playing off a chase of 1 and 2, Riviere hit a dangerous giraffe. Virgona smacked a backhand volley straight into the dedans. That sort of targeting was the norm in the middle of the second day, with Virgona regularly sending balls, sometimes with topspin, into the dedans, grille and winning gallery. He let Riviere back into the set at 4-4 (at 4-3, deuce, Riviere hit two straight service winners) but then got back on the offensive (cannoning two straight grilles, for instance, to move to 5-4) to take the set.
Just like the first day, the third set was the apogee of the evening. Riviere dashed to a 2-0 lead, Virgona clawed back to 2-2. Then 3-3, then Virgona up 5-3. At 5-4, Riviere saw a 40-0 lead disappear but managed to hold on for dear life to knot it at 5-5. The crowd roared out encouragement as the eleventh game began—“C’mon on five” was the most common call—knowing that not only the set and the day but perhaps the Final Eliminator itself rested on the outcome of the next game. Riviere, serving, got to 30-0 with two ungettable balls into the base of the tambour. Virgona pulled one back with a straight force, but then Riviere ran it out.
The fourth set was again anti-climatic. Virgona’s forces not longer had the same vigor and if they missed high onto the penthouse Riviere easily slotted them away with his superb length and if they missed low Riviere was able, unlike earlier in the match, to track them down in the middle of the court. Too often balls from Virgona that skimmed over the net earlier in the evening now caught the top of the velvet cord. Virgona’s first-serve percentage also plummeted, which gave Riviere more room to operate when returning serve. A 3-0 lead went to 4-1, 5-1 and 5-2 and then it was finished.
The 2016 Final Eliminator for the Men’s World Championship: 6-3, 6-2, 5-6, 6-1, 6-2, 4-6, 6-5, 6-2
2016 FINAL ELIMINATOR – Camden Riviere vs. Steve Virgona
Racquet Club of Philadelphia
April 6 Riviere leads Virgona 3-1 (6-3, 6-2, 5-6, 6-1) – https://youtu.be/ABW61Ahw9Wo
April 8 Riviere leads Virgona 6-2 (6-2, 4-6, 6-5, 6-2) – https://youtu.be/_HJw6l4uWbQ
April 10 Riviere wins 6-3 https://youtu.be/gL4n-UxgCzU
Riviere def. Virgona 6-3, 6-2, 5-6, 6-1, 6-2, 4-6, 6-5, 6-2, 6-3.
2016 FIRST ELIMINATOR – Steve Virgona def. Tim Chisholm 2-0
Day 1 (TUX) – Virgona def. Chisholm 6-4, 6-2, 0-6, 5-6, 6-4
Watch the match https://youtu.be/WL_ZYvsdfaM
Day 2 (CHI) – Virgona def. Chisholm 6-2, 6-5, 6-4
Watch the match https://youtu.be/4sDZPGBmuN4
MATCHES CAN BE VIEWED ON THE USCTA YOUTUBE CHANNEL