Mark “Venom” Griffith is celebrating for the rest of the year, driving a brand new $60 000 Hyundai and reigning as the undisputable king of road tennis in Barbados.
Griffith out-played, out-pointed and out-foxed challenger Antoine “Lil Man” Daniel in a riveting final before close to 2000 spectators in the Barbados Public Workers Credit Union-sponsored Monarchs Of The Court 2016 Tournament at the old Cable & Wireless Sports Club at Wildey on Saturday night.
Billed as the clash of opposing styles and the match to settle all arguments as to who is the best player on the island, Griffith left no doubt with a polished 21-14, 21-15, 21-17 thumping of the heavy-set Daniel.
There were trademark flashes of brilliance from the veteran Daniel, who sent fans wild with inside out passing shots and occasional back-spinning short-balls for injections, but for lovers of good tennis it was Griffith’s demonstration of fitness, consistency, control and mental toughness that made the difference in an unexpected straight sets victory.
“I was well prepared for this … I trained hard and dropped 10 pounds and really wanted to win this one. I was not thinking about the car because I knew I had to get through this match first and also defend my title,” said Griffith.
Before the first serve , it was anticipated that Daniel, who came from two sets down and clawed into the play-off with a five-set semifinal victory over Julian “Michael Jackson” White, would be under pressure to successfully fight his way through another tough encounter against an opponent who gives away little, and this seemingly influenced his approach to the big match.
Boasting a reputation as a lethal attacker, Daniel started slowly and seemed somewhat defensive in the first set , as he trailed 1-4, 8-12 and 10-15, while the defending champion rallied positively to a 19-12 lead and closed the set as Daniel chopped a backhand long.
Losing the first set was a critical set-back for Daniel, who certainly did not wish to have his fitness tested for the second time in three days, and he came out more attacking in the second set.
Daniel forged an 8-4 lead but was pulled back by a determined opponent who stayed close, trading stroke for stroke , and perfectly executed his strategy of loading Daniel’s backhand with under-spinning balls and forcing him to play from mid-court. Griffith admirably blunted Daniel’s dominating style of moving to his left to attack with forehands and also drew several errors which kept him under pressure as Griffith grabbed the lead at 9-8 and 10-9.
An exciting high point in the match came at 11-9 as the defending champion was forced to demonstrate his athletic ability when he was brought into court on a short return from Daniel and slipped in mid-court. Sensing that his opponent was down, Daniel steered a forehand close to the baseline but Griffith recovered and was fast enough to return a ball that was already passed him and win the point as his stunned opponent hit the return into the net.
That clearly sent the message that Griffith was an opponent who was going nowhere and Daniel needed to produce real tennis to unlock his grip on the match. He was unable to and when Venom took a 19-15 lead, he closed out the set on serve and at the same time pushed his opponent into a deep hole.
By the third set, it was a case of the challenger fighting for survival with some noticeable signs of low energy but Daniel stayed close as scores were locked at 6-6 early in the game. Griffith moved ahead on serve to 9-6 with two counter-attacking shots, and stretched it to 13-9 and 14-11 as Daniel committed crucial errors as his opponent continued to return everything he had to offer and smartly counter-punched on chosen balls.
The end was coming quickly for the big-hearted Daniel, as he slipped further behind at 13-17, and 20-15, but even in the face of two brave attacking winners from a drowning opponent, Griffith refused to ease his grip on the $60 000 grand prize and close the match at 21-17 as Daniel was forced into his last error.