April 3, 2014
Hello Tide Tennis Fans,
Another week/weekend is in the books, and what an exciting one it was for the home team. Bama now has three left on the regular season schedule before heading north to Nashville and the 2014 SEC Championships.
Speaking of Nashville, Vanderbilt was first up for the Tide last Friday. Rain had poured down throughout the night and by the early looks of it the match was going to be played indoors. The wet weather held off, however, the courts were dried off by the best facilities crew in the country (Thanks Tina, Eric and company!) and the battle would commence outside in front of a nice home crowd.
The doubles point has been very important for us this season, and we knew it would once again make an impact to the match going into singles action. Prior to hitting the first serve, we asked the players what the difference was between "try" and "triumph." Becker O'Shaughnessey spoke up and said "umph" along with captain Stuart Kenyon. We knew we could provide the energy and fight as we have done before but a little more "umph" could put us over the top.
Stuart and Sean Donohue came up big with a convincing win at the No. 2 spot, while Becker and Daniil Proskura fell to the nation's fourth-ranked team at No. 1. It would come down to Hayes "Fridge" Brewer and Andrew "Goodie" Goodwin. The match was knotted at 7-7 but the Tide would strike first in the tiebreaker securing a few mini breaks and clinching the point with a 7-3 tally.
It was refreshing to pull that match out and know we needed three more points versus four. Singles was tight with each team splitting first sets, but then things started to turn. After Becker and Daniil clinched two big matches against a pair of highly ranked vets, there were three courts remaining - Goodie was up a break in the third as was Nikko Madregallejo and Hayes was fighting his way back into his match.
All three Bama players were dialed in and had the "umph" we spoke about earlier in the locker room. When Nikko broke serve to go up 5-4, Bama was just four points from a great victory. Goodie was alongside on court six and had just gone up a break with three consecutive points that ended with a drop shot. Nikko served it out and sealed the deal for the home team, 4-1, with a serve volley play and overhead winner to the delight of his teammates (who stormed the court) and the crowd that cheered in celebration. Nikko was awarded the game ball as he "stepped up" after being "stepped on" in the first set.
After a light hit-around on Saturday indoors due to very windy conditions, the Tide spoke about their plan for Sunday vs. Kentucky. Keep the "umph" flowing and see where it takes us.
The match started under clear skies and by far the warmest temps of the season. Kentucky was ranked No. 13 going into the match, and they were very talented from top to bottom. They had defeated Auburn on Friday night and were looking to make quick work of the Tide.
Wearing their all black uniforms, Alabama came out ready to go. We knew if we competed, we'd have a good shot. We spoke about how hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard. This was our mantra for the day, but the talented Kentucky team wasn't going to lie down.
Once again in doubles it came down to Goodie and Fridge, but this time they were down a break late in their match, 4-6. They had a few looks at break points, but Kentucky kept delivering game-saving plays. Following a couple of gritty points, the Bama pair got back on serve and now found themselves within a game of clinching the doubles point again. Pluck and grit, umph, hard work and tenacity by Bama resulted in an 8-6 victory and a 1-0 lead for the home team.
The guys were feeling good during the break and wanted to finish the weekend just as great as it started. The match began and there was no way the Wildcats were going away ... but neither was the Tide. Five of six first sets were won by the crimson and white all by scores of either 7-6 or 7-5. Ridiculously close, but panic didn't set in at all. The guys were eating up the moment, and so too was the crowd.
After a few games in the second sets, however, Kentucky seemed to drown out some of Bama's energy. Stuart asked me on a changeover why everything had become a little silent. Three second sets were won convincingly by the Wildcats, and they did their best to silence all of us primarily with the play and vocal chords of their top player and giant, Tom Jomby. And then with a fist pump, a few "Come on" shouts and trio of service breaks the momentum began to swing again. Goodie used a little finesse and groundstroke strength to get it all started again with a passionate win, while Nikko ran side-to-side, up and back and grinded out double digit rallies to put Bama up 3-2. "Stu" was up a break in the third but his opponent, who had not lost an SEC match and was riding a seven-match win streak to boot, wasn't about to fold. Daniil was alongside on court No. 1 inching ahead in his third set, and it was going to come down to the captains again. Following a long game at 3-1 and a subsequent service break, the once bearded and now goatee-sporting junior from Houston held serve to expand his lead to 5-1. The Tide was cheering on court five while Stu clawed his way back from a 0-40 deficit and earned a match point. A huge second serve forehand return went down the line and the Wildcat's stretch attempt at a defensive save fell short and into the net. Point Bama! Match Bama!
What a thrilling finish for one team captain, while the other captain stormed across his court and joined the pile on. The day, weekend and Spring Break was complete. Hard work, belief and "umph" prevailed at no better time than with three more tough matches to go. A celebratory BBQ dinner at Full Moon Cafe followed that evening, and we were guaranteed some pleasant dreams come bedtime ... and a return to school the following morning.
Up next is a trip back to Texas, this time to College Station and the home of Johnny Football and the tough Texas A&M Aggies. We're excited to play a tough squad that sits atop the SEC standings and to get our "umph" on. Our short week of training included a return to the weight room as well as the ultimate field where competitive juices continued to flow. Goodie was awarded his third black jersey of the spring and will wear it with pride throughout the rest of the week. Nikko was named SEC Freshman of the Week for delivering his two knockout blows.
If you're in Houston or near the College Station area we'd love to see some Bama fans. Remember the Crimson Tide faithful came out in droves last fall for the football game. Maybe we can get a few to come for tennis. In the end it's all exciting.