Even on one foot, Mark Venom Griffith is still the most poisonous road tennis player in Barbados.
Griffith backed up why many people regard him as the island’s best player by fighting off not only a determined Julian Michael Jackson White, but also cramp as well, on his way to defending his Massy United Insurance Clash of the Titans Road Tennis title last night.
In one of the most exciting and dramatic finals in years, Griffith showed grit and determination on his way to a memorable 21-18, 18-21, 19-21, 22-20, 21-15 victory in a grueling, marathon three-hour contest at the Netball Stadium, which finally ended in the wee hours of this morning.
On a night that saw relative newcomer Sheldene Walrond defeat perennial women’s champion Kim Holder 21-18, 17-21, 21-16 in one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history, Griffith still managed to steal the show.
Down 2-1 and trailing 8-11 in the third set, the 32-year-old seemed on course for defeat in the season ending competition.
But even after White’s sublime backhand down the line sent him the wrong way and brought the hundreds converged in the Waterford stadium to its feet, he refused to go away.
And even with the 47-year-old White just two points away from winning his first major title in over a year at 19-18, Griffith seemed unfazed.
Looking to attack his opponent as he had superbly done in the previous games, Jackson let out a loud groan as his attempted crosscourt forehand cannoned into the net.
Venom could have closed out the game two points later, but he sent his backhand shot just long, allowing White to lock the scores at 20.
However, some cramp in White’s right forehand caused the game to be delayed by 10 minutes, as he sought medical attention.
It worked out in Griffith’s favour, as after the timeout, White subsequently committed two unforced errors to send the game into a fifth and decisive set.
With the score tied at 1-1, Griffith suddenly went down in agony – his screams echoing through the complex – clutching his right calf.
Even after seeking lengthy attention, it was clear he was still in discomfort, as he grimaced with every sudden movement.
White took immediate advantage, racing out to a 7-3 lead, which he extended to 13-8 moments later.
But in dramatic fashion, White lost composure, allowing his opponent back into the game.
Following another timeout to attend to his hand, White paid the ultimate price for his numerous unforced errors.
Three straight forehand shots into the net allowed Griffith to lock the score at 15.
Shockingly, White wouldn’t get another point, with his forehand into the net giving Griffith his fifth title of the year, following successes in the Inter-Parish Road Tennis Championships, Cream of the Crop, Monarchs of the Court and the Silver Hill Road Tennis Championships.
Griffith didn’t even get the opportunity to celebrate, as he collapsed on the court once again in cramp on completion of the match.
He walked away with the top prize of $12,000 while White took home $5000.
“Throughout the calendar year of 2015, all of my finals I have won from basically the front, showing the physical aspect of Venom. Tonight I showed the mental side, because I was down and I had to fight and come from behind,” a relieved Griffith told Barbados TODAY as a physiotherapist applied ice to his aching calf.
He said even as he struggled with cramp in that fifth set, he always believed he would emerge victorious.
“Those who know me know that I’m a mentally tough guy [and] also physically and I’m always one who fights to the end.
“Take nothing away from Julian. As I said, I came here tonight to play a legend and he is a great champion in every aspect of the word,” he added.
Despite losing to his arch-rival for the third time this year, White said he was very satisfied with his performance.
“If you remember carefully, most people said I couldn’t go the distance with Venom and I had it, but I lost it because of cramp.
“All in all it was good, he just played through it a little better than me. At 15-12 I thought I had it won, but tough luck. I was almost there but I missed it. But it’s good to see that the World Boss can carry the number one player to five games, even at 47,” White added with a smile.
That battle overshadowed Walrond’s accomplishment, as she became just the second person in eight years to defeat Holder.
Coincidentally, the last time the 39-year-old lost was also at the Netball Stadium, in 2007 to Abigail Haynes in the Racquets of Fire competition.
Walrond mixed solid defense with measured aggression as she took the contest to the opponent.
With the crowd urging on her every point, she was mobbed by spectators when Holder sent her forehand shot wide to signal the end of the game.
“I feel really great right now for achieving a great goal. The competition was really stiff and I feel extremely good to have beaten Kim and win the competition,” an elated Walrond admitted.
In the veterans final, the unheralded Rodney Lorde playing in his first competition, upset the seasoned Peter Moore 13-21, 21-18, 21-19.
Ezekial Ward came from a set down to defeat Justin Smith 18-21, 21-13, 21-19 in the 13-15 juniors, while Akeem Nurse beat his younger brother Shakeem in straight sets 21-13,21-15 to claim the 8-13 junior title.