Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sports: Tennis in the Village by the Sea

Far from the glistening emerald lawns of Wimbledon are the Newports, the Brisbanes, the Bastads - the smaller tournaments that bring pro tennis to the masses. Since they don't yield large amounts of rankings points or prize money, they usually attract only one or two big names, perhaps because of some personal connection (Federer regularly plays in his hometown tournament in Basel, for instance) or because they serve as convenient warmup events for the Grand Slams.

The Delray Beach International Tennis Championship is one such stop on the ATP World Tour, and I managed to catch some of the first round action. The sea breeze Delray is known for was absolutely whipping through the grounds; the flags on top of the stadium were snapping back and forth violently the whole day. While the outer courts had some interesting matchups between fairly obscure players (I'm a tennis fan, and even I couldn't identify half the participants), the featured match of the day session was a battle between Sam Querrey and Dustin Brown.

Querrey is the third-ranked American, behind Andy Roddick and John Isner, and he's coming back from a tough first round Australian Open loss. Querrey's serve is usually a major weapon for him, but it's not clicking at all today in the windy conditions; he rarely tops 120 mph with his first serve and throws in a few double faults for good measure. Sam's not ranked in the top 25 for nothing, though; like the rest of the top pros, his movement and groundstrokes are usually enough to overwhelm lesser foes, and they're enough to allow him to take the first set.

His opponent is Dustin Brown, a thin, dreadlocked journeyman who looks about as German as I do. Brown has a sneaky, flat serve with a low ball toss, and it wins him plenty of free points. The serve also sets up some volleying opportunities, and Brown takes advantage of them. I can even hear his coach bark encouragement in German a few seats away. After a few loose service games from Sam, Brown takes the second set and goes up a break in the third; it looks like an upset is brewing.

After awhile, though, some unforced errors creep into Brown's game, and Querrey rattles off a run of five straight games in the third set to win. There's a tinge of melancholy here; a win would have meant much more for Brown than a loss would have meant for Querrey. Even in a small tournament, though, the top dogs play to win.


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