By Morissa Lindsay
Barbados’ number two ranked road tennis player Shakeem Nurse signed off 2022 as king of the 16 to 21 age group in the inaugural Zeemoney Independence Road Tennis Youth Development Tournament played yesterday at the hardcourt in Wildey Gymnasium.
The 17-year-old Nurse from Military Road in Bush Hall was in good form on court and even handed his opponent Shaquan Henry a sou 21-12, 21-8 in the two best of three sets final. While his younger brother Raheem ‘Jelly Beans’ Nurse at age 14, despite dropping the second set, was able to hang on for victory 21-19, 15-21 and 21-18 against the competitive Ahijah Blunt.
During a post-match interview with Barbados Today, the 16 to 21 champion said, “I feel really good about this victory, some of the youngsters I played with in this tournament, we grew up playing tennis together, especially my little brother. I am proud to see him win. It has always been a dream of mine to see myself and my brother winning road tennis titles together.”
These keenly contested matches took place in the presence of many spectators including Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment Charles Griffith and acting Assistant Director of Sports at the National Sports Council, Adrian Donovan. Hally Haynes, Director of the Barbados Youth Advance Corps of which Shakeem is a part of as well as Product Manager of Zeemoney Barbados, Richie Bonnett were also in attendance.
In the 16 to 21 showdown, there was no second guessing of whether Nurse would win the senior category because he has certainly proven his capabilities especially among the top players in this country when he outclassed a competitive field and finished as runners-up at the Barbados Road Tennis Open held in August.
The 10 to 15 Boys clash between Raheem Nurse and Ahijah Blunt was not as straightforward to call but it certainly lived up to expectation. The scores were locked 19-19 in the opening set and with some wonderful smashes combined with those soft touches in the front court, Nurse was able to capture the lead 21-19 against Blunt.
Blunt needed to win the second set in order to stay in the contest and that he did at 21-13 as he took heed of the advice given by his mother and coach Maudlyn Blunt (number four seed female player in Barbados) who encouraged him to fight for every point.
The game then went into a decisive third set and a serious looking Nurse got off to a good 3-0 start as the power behind each forearm shot he played was heard clearly. It was a case of who wanted it more and as both Nurse and Blunt toiled hard for each point earned, scores were locked once more at 11-11.
Nurse broke free and led with the advantage 15-11, forcing Blunt to respond and that he did in incredible fashion with a fantastic cross court shot. After seeing that Nurse was easing away with the momentum, Blunt was advised by his supporters on the sidelines to serve the ball soft and he did so bringing himself back into the game at 17-17 as Nurse was put under pressure.
The decisive third set definitely brought out the best in both players under the watchful eyes of chair umpire Christopher Griffith. As the battle intensified, Nurse paused for a minute to tighten his shoelaces and began to play with a renewed focus that led him to a well-played 2-1 victory.
It was an all Springer Memorial Secondary School affair in the girl’s final as Kezia Blunt edged her schoolmate Ranesha Stewart 12-21, 21-16 and 21-18 in another thriller that went down to the wire.
While Stewart was able to dominate the first set, the second stanza was a bit more challenging against an experienced Blunt who is no stranger to the road tennis family. In the second set at 11-11, Blunt managed to put more emphasis on her shot selections and equalized the match 1-1.
It was a good patient approach from both young ladies as they began the decisive third set which was locked 6-6 at the beginning, as Stewart utilised her long strides to go after those returns. It was game on once more at 15-15 but Blunt held the advantage and never looked back as Stewart made a couple unforced errors.
There were third place matches in all three categories starting with the 16 to 21 age group led by Ezekiel Ward defeating Dre Smith in straight sets, 21-16 and 21-14, bronze went to Jael Greaves in the 10 to 15 Boys Division against Kenojah Belgrave 22-20 and 21-16 while in the girls Shani Seale got the best of Madison Gibson in straight sets.