By Kimberley Cummins
Shakeem Nurse had no antidote for Mark Griffith’s venom in the main event of the Barbados Road Tennis Open Championship last night.
In fact, ‘Venom’, as Griffith is professionally called, solidified himself as the world champion of road tennis with a severe three-game trouncing of Nurse, to take home the $20,000 prize money.
In a similar fashion, Kim Holder was too much for Sheldene Walrond beating her in two sets to maintain her dominance as queen of the court and sit comfortably on her $20,000 throne.
The Wildey Gymnasium was sizzling with excitement as an estimated 5,000 road tennis fans, joined by thousands more watching via television and online, were glued to their seats as they consumed a fantastic display of Barbados’indigenous sport.
Nurse went into the match as the dark horse and out the gate began to attack Griffith’s serves to prove this point. Only in his second major tournament at the senior level, Nurse was able to use the entire court to his advantage and topple Griffith with some good road tennis. After a couple of terrific shots, including a lovely back-arm smash, the 17-year-old led 5-2 and struck a pose as if to signal that he wasn’t intimidated by his opponent’s experience. But this didn’t last long as Griffith, through excellent stroke selection and technique, tacitly grew his lead. In addition, quite frequently he got some unsolicited assistance from Nurse who made several mistakes of which the accomplished Griffith took advantage for an 11-7 lead. As Griffith gained more confidence at the other end, Nurse began to lose control. And while there were some good rallies, Nurse couldn’t get into the groove he displayed in his semi-final bout and was expertly whipped 21-10.
In Game 2, a composed Griffith continued to school Nurse by answering every charge that came his way and responding with a number of well-executed forearm drives that kept the teenager on the back foot. The pressure seemed too much for Nurse who appeared to be falling apart thereby making several careless decisions. Seemingly noticing this, experienced player Dwayne Lynch went to Nurse’s corner to coach the youngster on proper stroke selection but Nurse could not resist the urge to attack every shot and the second game went to Griffith 21-12.
Whatever advice Lynch shared and Nurse received served him well as he fought back in Game 3. He settled a bit, delivered some quality shots and concentrated on keeping the ball on the court, which had been Griffith‘s forte, attacked, when necessary, defended skillfully and after a see-saw battle for the lead gained his first two-point lead of the night (16-14). With his confidence returned, Griffith and Nurse played some lovely tennis and matched each other’s skillset before Nurse took home the game 21-18.
Arguably, Nurse’s greatest opponent or love on the night was the net because no matter what he did, he could not avoid it. On top of that, Griffith’s agility, consistency and expert technical ability wore Nurse down to the point that a comfortable 5-point lead (10-5) escalated to a healthy command of 17-7. No amount of encouragement from the throngs could save the youngster as the game quickly got away from him. Shots he would have normally executed with ease found the net and he remained unable to read Griffith’s expert stroke play. Shouts of, “oink, oink, oink” were heard from some among the gathering until Nurse was inevitably sowed at 21- 9.
In the other night’s final, Holder’s straight wins were harder fought. She won the toss and elected Walrond to serve and Walrond capitalised on that by taking the lead 16-13. Playing in her mother’s memory, Holder demonstrated good self-control with her strokes and calmness while trailing. In no time, the scores were levelled at 17 all.
The two rallied testing each other’s mastery of a mix of shots. Walrond tested the back arm of Holder and Walrond showed great defence against a short ball from Holder. At 20-19, Holder leading, she tripped and looked to have twisted her foot a bit while responding to an injection and looked in trouble. But a drop shot from Holder left Walrond scrambling and took Holder over the line (21-19).
Even though Holder sought medical attention for her foot she returned on the attack in Game 2 to take a commanding three-point lead 5-2. A beautiful cross-court shot from Walrond earned her a much-needed point though she still trailed. Nonetheless, Walrond was up to the task and she pulled off some commendable shots. For instance, during a rally, the two went hard in their exchanges until a nice soft injection did in Holder. All Walrond could do is smile at her handy work and Holder knocked rackets with her rival to acknowledge it was indeed a lovely shot. Walrond won seven consecutive points to overtake the lead 13-10.
The prowess of the two was appreciated as their back-and-forth battle to maintain the lead raged on. However, a long ball out the line from Walrond set up the win for Holder who followed up by sending the ball to the far left of the court, Walrond was unable to get over in time to respond and that was all she wrote, 21-19. This sent Holder jumping for joy with her $20,000 and bragging rights in tow. Walrond took home a hefty $15,000 payout for the second-place finish.
In the men’s play-off match veteran Julian “Michael Jackson” White who is 28 years the senior of Dario “Ric Flair” Hinds lost in straight sets of 21-18, 21-19, 21-15, in the 3 best of 5 game. Hinds, took home $10,000 and White $5,000. While in the woman’s match, Rachel Smith came from behind a game deficit to beat Maudlyn Blunt in consecutive sets 21-10, 21-10, for third place and $10,000. Blunt earned $5,000.
An early exhibition game between the young, talented players of Kenoja Belgrave and Tyrico Brathwaite was won by Belgrave 21-17. However, Brathwaite should be commended after fighting back from a 13-point deficit at 17-4. (KC)