Roll Tide from the Road,
We’re in Athens and Knoxville this weekend for our final regular season road trip. Bulldogs and Volunteers are on deck after a successful trip to the Plains…home of the Auburn Tigers. Several people have said this is a “big” weekend for us, but in my opinion, it’s another weekend with no more significance or importance than any other. Quite simply it’s an opportunity to compete and keep improving. We’ve had a fantastic week of preparation with three full days of training and competition on court as well as a similar number in the gym. There was sunshine and blue skies in our neck of the woods which allowed us to stay outdoors and soak up some vitamin D. First serve in Athens on Friday will be struck at 5pm EST and the similar stroke will be hit at 1pm EST on Sunday (in Knoxville).
Last weekend we had just one match on the docket and faced the Tigers at their home. We found ourselves with leads in a couple of doubles matches and served for the point on these courts. Edson and Riccardo were the first to record a pair of fist pumps with a solid win in the #3 hole. Patrick and Mazen were on their way to delivering a knockout blow on court #1 but Auburn clawed their way back into the match with clutch returns to break our Finnish-Egyptian duo. They carried the momentum into their service game and broke serve again much to the chagrin of the Tide. The large crowd decked in blue and orange cheered loudly as the home team took an early 1-0 lead.
Onward and upward has been our motto all season as well as the question, how will we respond? That’s all I asked the guys in our brief talk before singles began and was followed by a “1-2-3-TEAM, 4-5-6-MONEY!” chant and the boys took over from there. We captured five of six first sets to open up the mid-afternoon entertainment while dropping one in a close tiebreaker. We had several Alabama fans in attendance which provided a great boost for us and included our women’s golf team (who was competing at Auburn), Books Seale and his son, Hilton (our Blue-Gray housing friends), sport administrator Kevin Almond and his wife, Leslie, Dr. Ken Fridley (Senior Associate Dean of the College of Engineering) and his daughter Ali (former men’s tennis team manager), and, a special young boy in Grant Husack, my 8-year old son, who traveled on a true guys’ trip in search of his first SEC road win. So special to share this moment with him and see familiar, supportive faces while on the road…#StrengthInNumbers!
Several of our guys broke quickly from the gates. Mazen, Edson, Riccardo and Jeremy jumped out to big leads. Patrick battled to a tiebreaker on his court and Zhe did the same. Our junior from Tianjin, China was big for us as he battled back from a huge first set deficit against an opponent that had defeated Zhe the first couple of times they played one another. In winning the first set, Zhe’s performance proved very valuable as it kept any sort of home court momentum from building.
The Italian Stallion, Riccardo Roberto, was first to scream out “Point Bama!” while our fans (including two Italians from our women’s golf team) cheered back “Roll Tide!” In fact, when you added Auburn’s top two players who were from Italy I’m not quite sure if there had ever been more Italians at the Yarborough Tennis Center at one time. Ciao Italia! Alabama 1, Auburn 1. Mazen traveled to Auburn without his feathered friend Monsour, but that didn’t impact his play much as he recorded another point for us with an impressive victory. Point Bama! Roll Tide!
With a 2-1 lead, Jeremy (whose mother Rossana is Italian) chalked up another “practice how you play, play how you practice” performance and pushed us one point closer to an Iron Bowl victory. Patrick and Zhe continued their battles with purpose driven execution as did their teammate Edson Ortiz (who is not Italian…ha, ha) against his Italian opponent. Is anybody in the mood for lasagne or pizza? As an early season newspaper article titled “Taking the bull by the horns” described Edson’s approach to tennis, academics and life, our El Toro clinched the match for the Crimson Tide and passionately screamed “Match Bama!”…and we all yelled back “Roll Tide!” Alabama 4, Auburn 1.
A tremendous response by the guys after the doubles at a level that we have shown several times this season. Our standard was reached and the performance was the result of competitive focus and successful execution. The team walked over and into a neighboring storage shed to sing “Yea Alabama”. Why the shed? Well it was the place where this song was last sung in March 2013 after then-freshman Becker O’Shaughnessey won a three set thriller and clinched a 4-3 win over Auburn. Tradition never graduates.
Now in Athens ,we’re prepared for the next round of competition. There will be live stats and online streaming available here tomorrow beginning at 5pm EST. The same will be offered in Knoxville on Sunday at 1pm EST. If you want to make the road trip, come one, come all, as we’d love to see some crimson and white at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex, one of the nation’s finest college tennis venues. We’ll do our best to “go teach the Bulldogs to behave”, and against Tennessee, to “hit our stride, your Dixie’s Tennis pride, Crimson Tide, Roll Tide, Roll Tide!”