Feb. 27, 2014
February 27, 2014
Hello Tide Tennis Fans!
The boys returned from Montgomery after a great finish at the 65th Annual Blue Gray National Tennis Classic with their heads held high and the adrenaline pumping. What a fantastic tournament for all to enjoy especially after beating your in-state rival on the final day. The Crimson Tide began the event on a bit of a `hesitant' note as a first round loss to eventual champion Boise State had the team scratching their heads and wondering what next? Following a lengthy team meeting under the stadium bleachers, a few things were discovered (and brought to the forefront by co-captain Stuart Kenyon). First, we were sick of losing. Secondly, we could no longer hesitate in competition, but rather embrace our opportunities and play with a chip on our shoulders. And third, we are Alabama and we needed to compete like it.
So Day 2 brought along the Tigers of Princeton and former Alabama coach Billy Pate. We were ready, as were they, after a narrow 4-3 loss to second-seeded Clemson. After a tightly-contested doubles point, the Crimson Tide came away with a 1-0 lead and a breath of fresh air heading into singles. The small advantage seemed to really fuel us as we really took it to Princeton winning first sets on all six courts and kept a stranglehold on the Tigers in the second sets too. Several courts were closing in on wins and it was almost as if each Alabama player was competing with their teammates to see who was going to register the points. Becker and Stuart were quickly off court with impressive wins and then freshman Sean Donohue recorded the match clincher ... a few seconds/minutes ahead of Daniil, Hayes and Andrew. Becker was awarded game ball honors on a day that really saw all Tide players play with passion and conviction.
A victory over the Tigers brought along another set of Tigers, those from Auburn. Perfect! A Roll Tide vs. War Eagle battle on the final day of the Blue Gray. Just what the doctor, or should I say, tournament director had ordered. (BTW, TD Paul Winn is an Auburn undergraduate and Alabama law graduate). There was a small threat of rain, but the match kicked off under cloudy skies at 2:30 p.m. alongside the Alabama women, who were battling in a 3rd set tiebreaker for a BG championship of their own. The doubles point was won by Auburn as the Tide didn't serve or return well enough in a couple of positions and dug themselves a minor hole. During the short team huddle before singles, I told the players to wipe the frowns from their faces and keep our energy up. Doubles presented a one point deficit and nothing more. We were ready to go all day and night if needed, and as pointed out two days before, had to play with a chip on our shoulder. After a loud "Roll Tide!" the players went out to the courts and competed with a vengeance. Four first sets were won on courts 1-4, and while we lost the first set at 5 & 6, we came back strong on those courts to force a third.
Becker was first to register a "Point Bama!" with a resounding win at No. 2 singles, and Daniil was soon to follow with a straight set win at No. 1. Nikko was on his way to a second set tiebreaker and looking to increase the Bama lead. After jetting out to a 6-0 lead, Nikko clinched the match with an ESPN-worthy running forehand winner that put Alabama up 3-1. That left Stuart, Sean and Andrew all grinding away in third sets. The crowd was loud and definitely provided a boost (Thanks Alabama women for staying after winning the title!). Sean, now a repeat Black Jersey winner, dropped a big serve on his first match point, and when his Auburn opponent didn't make the return, the Louisville freshman let out a big yell and was soon mobbed by his teammates. Game, set, match Bama! What a win for him and the team after the Boise State head scratching on Friday. I suppose Winston Churchill's five most important words in the English vocabulary came to mind ... "Never, never, never give up!"
A fantastic weekend had by all. Many thanks to our extremely hospitable host families, player parents and friends, the women's team, Alabama fans, coaches, staff and my wife and kids who got their first taste of Lagoon Park. Speaking of taste, I've never seen my kids eat so much ice cream! Tournament Director Paul Winn knows how to run a tournament, and it was a blast being there.
Now it's onto SEC play, with the first tour stop being Starkville, Mississippi on Friday at 2 p.m. to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. We then travel onward to Oxford where the Rebels of Ole Miss await. Should be an exciting trip and start to conference play. We'd love to see you in either town if you can make it there to cheer on the Tide.
And for those of you that were born on February 29, we're not forgetting you ... Happy Birthday!