by Mari Winn Taylor
With all the hoopla over the Mylan WTT rivalry between James Blake of the Springfield Lasers and Andy Roddick of the Austin Aces one might have expected a battle of the titans. These formerly top ranked tennis players were scheduled to go head to head on Sunday, July 13, 2014, at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield, Missouri.
Roddick seemed a bit fidgety beforehand while Blake by contrast seemed to be moving in slow motion, although his less aggressive style may have been prompted by having had a serious neck injury. (In 2004 during practice for a match in Rome he had crashed into a net post and broke the vertebrae in his neck.)
The coaches chose to have the men's doubles begin the match. Roddick was paired with Treat Huey for the Aces and Blake paired with Michael Russell for the Lasers. Opening with Blake's service, the teams exchanged wins until the seventh game with Blake again serving--first serves in about 50% overall in the match--and Russell at crucial times having problems returning Roddick's topspin. Russell did score a home run in that game, mishitting a ball that landed in the facing top rows of the stadium. Blake also contributed to the Ace's 4-3 win, and continued to make errors during Huey's final service game, giving the win for men's doubles to the Aces, 5-3.
Next women's singles pitted Olga Govortsova for the Lasers against Eva Hrdinova for the Aces. Making her Mylan WTT debut with the Aces Hrdinova seemed tense (and who wouldn't be playing against Govortsova). Hrdinova's serve was deluding her, she appeared to be a slow starter. She couldn't get any rhythm going until winning the fourth service game but losing the match 1-5.
James Blake, 34, playing his ninth season of Mylan WTT, was the co-star in the Blake vs. Roddick Summer Showdown, playing singles, men's doubles and mixed doubles against his formidable friend.
Finally, the much awaited match between Blake and Roddick took "center court." Blake either was hitting the ball late or too flat, sending it over the baseline on several occasions, even chastising himself with the comment, "Oh, my God!"
Roddick's comment during Blake's serve at 2-2, "I'm working harder than you are" was misinterpreted by the fans and by Blake, causing Roddick to add, "It definitely wasn't a dig." Whatever the meaning it broke Blake's concentration. He lost that game at love and eventually the match at 3-5.
The teams were tied 11-11 at halftime. Both Roddick and Blake in a halftime interview joked with one another. While Roddick commented that while tennis may not be "more fun than golf (he and Blake are golfing buddies) or poker" that "it never gets old for us," Blake said he was "just waiting for the first guy to fall over." He also admitted that he had trouble seeing Roddick's serve. Then Roddick pinched his middle and joked about a stomach roll but it seemed to me that most men his age would be more than happy to have his physique.
Following halftime, in women's doubles Govortsova and Liga Dekmeijere for the Lasers played against Vera Zvonareva-Thomas and Hrdinova for the Aces. Again Hrdinova's weak service basically was responsible for the Laser game win at 5-0.
The final game, one that Billie Jean King called her favorite, considering it a level playing field, was the mixed doubles between Blake and Govortsova and Roddick and Zvonareva-Thomas. Roddick couldn't hold his end up, losing his service 1-4. Serving Zvonareva-Thomas at one point was down 0-3 but with support from Roddick leveled it to 3-3. The winning point, however, came from the Lasers. Govortsova hit a blazing winning shot down the line. The Lasers took the mixed doubles game at love and the Lasers won the match with eight more points than the Aces, 21-13.
After losing their first three matches and an equal number of star players, the Lasers, 2013 Mylan WTT Western Conference champions, now have won the next three matches. Credit should be given to Coach JL de Jager for getting his team back on track and out of the cellar in the standings.
For tennis fans not accustomed to this type of scoring, following the match might be confusing. Game scoring is no ad with the game win going to the first team to win four points. Should the score reach 3-3, the receiver chooses the side from which he/she will receive serve (except in mixed doubles where the serve is always gender to gender at deuce). Each game counts as one point in the team's cumulative match score.
For complete stats for the players in this match go here.
Click on any photo to start a slideshow. Photos are by Vince Rosati.