Roll Tide from Alabama Tennis,
Just like that we are now into our third consecutive weekend of the season with 6 matches played and number 7 coming tonight. Former assistant coach, Geoff Young, leads his Minnesota squad to Tuscaloosa for another episode of Friday Night Lights, indoors at the “R.A.B.” (Roberta Alison Baumgardner Indoor Tennis Facility). Like us, the Gophers made the NCAA Sweet 16 last year and definitely know how to play indoor tennis especially this time of year when the climate of the Arctic engulfs Minneapolis much like Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams does to most offensive lines. We certainly have our work cut out but it’s all part of our “process” as I’ve seen tremendous growth and maturity from the team since the semester started.
A quick review of last weekend…
There were Elephants, Wildcats, Tigers and a sea of Crimson on campus as the Tide hosted Northwestern, Harvard and Auburn (though we didn’t play against our in-state buddies). It was billed as a challenging weekend and it certainly turned out that way. Our guys had a short work week to prepare because of our MLK Day doubleheader so I anticipated the Friday night match to be more of a mental battle while Sunday would be more physical. Onward we went and the focus was pretty good in the doubles portion. We got tripped up at the #1 spot (Mazen Osama/Patrick Kaukovalta) but got on the board at #2 (Thibault Cancel/Alexey Nesterov) and the clincher with the teammate/roommate combo (Edson Ortiz/Zhe Zhou). Point Bama! Roll Tide!
In the singles half we were level pegging throughout but key points and service breaks led to winning four of six first sets. In the end this didn’t mean much as the second set is where you see guys step up or fall down. El Toro (Edson) continued his relentless attack on the season and successfully completed his task fairly quickly, but not quietly – Vamos! Mazen fended off cannon-like serves from his powerful, 6’6” opponent and chalked up another point on the board for the home team. PK (Patrick), Losha (Alexey), Z (Zhe) and le Boom (Thibault) were all in very tight matches that could go either way. The Wildcats were first to the finish line on court 2 which brought the score to 3-1 and they did not back down on the remaining courts. The scoreboard on Z’s court malfunctioned prior to the start of his match so nobody really had a clue what was happening until the crowd started the traditional, match point slow clap. Clap, clap, clap, clap…Z serves, opponent returns, Z hits a forehand and opponent makes an error. Match Bama! Roll Tide! The final matches continued play and resulted in a 3-set victory for Thibault and a heartbreaking, 3rd set tiebreaker loss for Alexey. Good performances for these guys down the stretch regardless of the result. Process, process, process.
Sunday afternoon brought the “Crimson Sea” to the R.A.B. as the Harvard Crimson brought all 15 players to the match plus coaches and support staff (their winter term did not start until this week). Needless to say the sounds echoing indoors were loud and clear as well as sent a message that the boys from Cambridge, Mass were ready. Our guys came out firing in doubles with tremendous focus and purpose. Z and Edson were first to finish off the Crimson and inch our squad towards the doubles point. Thibault and Alexey continued their stellar play from Friday while PK and Mazen were serving big, returning big and looking for just a sliver of opportunity to complete their goal In the end it was the “Frussian” combo (French, Russian) that captured a late service break on court 2 and pushed the Tide in front 1-0. Point Bama! Roll Tide!
Onward to singles, and wow, what a start. Outside of one court, each match found Alabama up service breaks everywhere else. At one point it looked like we could be done earlier rather than later but I knew the day really had just begun. Harvard erased those service breaks and capitalized on opportunities that they earned. The flag on this tug-of-war rope returned to the center and even crept over to our visitor’s side. With every point and game won by “H.U.T.” (Harvard University Tennis) came a series of yells and cheers. Some fans probably felt like it was obnoxious but it was clean and above the belt, so in my book, it was great and added to the atmosphere. The cheers presented a challenge on top of the challenges taking place on court from point to point. Our visitors won matches on courts 2 & 5 to give them a quick 2-1 lead but that’s when I was reminded of a quote made by former Boise State head tennis coach Greg Patton. While giving a speech to players at the Blue-Gray Championships a couple of years ago, Coach Patton proclaimed, “You must love your opponent because he or she can bring the best out of you. That’s the beauty of tennis. It helps us become better competitors and people. We improve, learn and provide an even bigger challenge for our opponent.” I love Greg and what he said then, as his speech all unfolded at this point for our guys. One by one, the Tide – Thibault, Zhe, Edson and Mazen – dug their shoes into the ground and simply stepped up. While Thibault’s match went unfinished due to our victory, his effort was highly impactful as it fueled the motivation for our other three guys on court. They were locked in. Zhe did his Zhe thing and got the W, while Edson used his tenacity and fuego to push his way to victory. That set the stage for Maz who took advantage of a service break midway through the second set to seal the victory…you know once Mazen gets rolling there’s not much that can stop the Pharaoh. Match Bama! Roll Tide!
What a college tennis match. A great one in fact for all players, coaches, spectators and staff to experience. Harvard head coach and friend, Andrew Rueb, and I exchanged text messages on his way to the airport complimenting each other on the effort made by both teams as well as how fun it was for the two of us. This was what college tennis was all about and we get to do it all over again tonight. What an opportunity!
So come on over to the R.A.B, snuggle up indoors and enjoy Alabama vs. Minnesota at 6pm. We will celebrate Holy Spirit Night as Principal Corona and the kids from HS Elementary will come out to cheer on the Tide. Mrs. Corona will also demonstrate her tennis skills as our honorary first server. Make sure to check out the beautiful mural that the kids prepared under the direction of HS Art Teacher, Ms. Tricia Schuster, and snap a selfie with a player cutout. On another note, I’d like to thank UA Journalism Alumna, Mackenzie McClintock, for writing a great article on Edson Ortiz headlined “Taking The Bull By The Horns” which was a front cover feature of the Crimson White newspaper. Click here (https://cw.ua.edu/50267/top-stories/pushing-the-limits-leads-to-success-for-ortiz/) to check it out. Membership in the Crimson Racket Club is growing and we are grateful for all of the returning and new support. Again, if you want to enjoy some drinks and snacks while at any men’s or women’s home match this season then you’ll want to jump in the mix. Click here (https://rolltide.com/documents/2018/8/24/CRC_2017_18_Finaltoweb.pdf) to join. We all look forward to seeing you tonight or in the not-so-distant future.