Julian “Michael Jackson” White was crowned king of the Barbados Public Workers’ Cooperative Credit Union’s Monarchs Of The Court Tournament when the finals of the competition took place before a full-house at the Big Rock Arena, Spring Garden Highway last night.
White, the number two men’s seed dethroned the number one seed and defending champion Mark “Venom” Griffith in a hard- fought battle which lasted over two hours.
The battle between White and Griffith was a gruelling fight between two of the finest exponents of road tennis. It began at 10.28 p.m. and ended just after 1 a.m. Griffith, 33, is the leading player on the island. His remarkable rise in Barbados’ indigenous sport began in 2008 when he captured his first major title (Racquets OF Fire).
Since then, he has won over twenty competitions and is the only professional player of the sport on the island. White, 49, has won a whopping 45 road tennis competitions, which make him the most decorated player in the history of the game.
Thus on Sunday night, the stage was set for a mouthwatering feast of road tennis. Griffith set the pace in the first set. There were several exciting exchanges at the beginning of this set. On one occasion, White peppered Griffith with several smashes which were returned.
Griffith appeared to have a GPS tracking device which he was using to determine the precise location of the ball. Wherever White smashed the ball, it was tracked down by Griffith and returned to the court. It was a marvellous display of tennis which brought gasps of delight from the big crowd that packed the arena.
Throughout it all, Griffith was steadily picking up points. He had the upper hand at 10-5. Griffith led White at all stages in the game. Even though White collected a few points as the set progressed, Griffith won the game 21-14.
In the second set, White held the lead at 3-2, he played a breathtaking shot down the centre of court that created a stir among the crowd. The game was locked at 7, Griffith took the lead at 8-7 and collected four points to Griffith’s one.
He continued to keep the lead, at 20-10 he was marching towards victory, White kept him at bay by collecting four points, but Griffith won the set 20-14 after a back-arm shot from White when into the nets.
Griffith now had a two-set lead on White, in a game that was three best of five. The top seed in the tournament needed just one more game to win the tournament for the second successive year and to drive home the top prize of a Kia Rio motor car valued at $60, 000.
At that stage Griffith had outclassed White in the two sets and was in sublime form. The match was clearly almost over for White who needed to win three games to oust the defending champion.
White took the lead in the third set by attacking Griffith. He sent Griffith wide with a series of attacking shots forcing him to defend outside of the court and then drew him to the net with several deft strokes.
This strategy began to pay off and White began to take control of the game. He led Griffith 5-0 and maintained the advantage at 8-2. Griffith fought back to narrow White’s lead to three points at 9-6 but Griffith had clearly lost some of his confidence and was on the back foot.
White sailed ahead of his opponent with a three-point lead at 19-16. After a long rally Griffith hit the ball out of the court and White was just a point away from victory. He then won the game 21-16 after Griffith failed to return a serve.
Griffith went on the attack in an effort to regain the advantage in the fourth game. White soaked up everything Griffith threw at him and outplayed the defending champion in the early stages of the set
He led him at 8-2, Griffith attacked him relentlessly with his back arm but White stood solid and forced him into committing several errors. Griffith launched an attack with his back arm and White stood up to it.
By then, the fans were completely caught up in the game and some of them were calling “out”, which mislead Griffith and White into thinking they were hearing official calls. This led the match referee Tito Ellis to plead with the spectators to end their calls. This caused several points to be replayed. In addition, a number of official calls were challenged by the players.
All of this drama only made the game more exciting. Griffith tried to dash over the line, he held the lead 13-7 and 16-14, White locked it and 16 and 17. Once more White was misled by an unofficial call from a spectator and was forced to replay a point at 18-17. White won the point but Griffith locked the game at 19 with a stylish smash down the centre court. The set was locked at 20 when White eased ahead at 21 and won it 22-20.
He then finished off what was a remarkable comeback in the fifth set with a 21-19 victory over Griffith to win his biggest day in a road tennis tournament. His fans engulfed him on the court after the match which ended at 1.07 on Monday morning.
“This was a sweet victory. They said that I could not last for five sets but nothing doesn’t happen before its time,” Jackson said after his victory.