Feb 15 2014

Snow and Professional Tennis: Unlikely But True

Birmingham | Pro Tennis | Singles       Clif Render      
Andy Roddick on his knees

Of all of the things that happen in the state of Alabama, two of the most rare and wonderful happened on Thursday, February 13th: Snow and Professional Tennis. If you were anywhere near the TV for the last month or so, you heard numerous tales of southern states struggling to make it through some of the most unexpectedly extreme winter weather conditions in memory. Thursday was something of an aftershock of all that. Snow fell overnight leaving some areas of town with 3-5 inches of the beautiful white fluffy stuff. Other parts of town (like Alabaster where I live) received little to no snow and what little did fall was mostly all gone by morning. All area schools (still in shock from Snowmageddon 2014 two weeks prior) decided to stay closed, and many businesses opened late so that the bulk of the ice and snow could melt. On one hand, my son was bummed to see that there was no snow on the ground when he woke up. On the other hand, however, he was relieved because that meant that his main birthday present, front row tickets to the PowerShares Series Champion's Shootout would not, in fact, be cancelled. How awesome is it that my son's favorite birthday present is something that I love almost as much as he does?

Now, professional tennis is not something that happens very often in the state of Alabama. As a matter of fact, it has only happened here three times in the last 15 years: The 2009 Davis Cup first round tie versus Switzerland, the 2010 Fed Cup Semifinal versus Russia, and Thursday’s PowerShares Series Champion's Shootout. All three were great events and, while it took Alabama Audiences a while to get to get going in all three, each one had its share of amazing and memorable moments. I suppose that I should clarify that I am referring only to top tier pro events. There are probably half a dozen smaller Challenger level events that take place across the state every year and, while these are excellent events to attend and enjoy (especially since they're usually free), they just don't get people as excited like the top tier events do.

Getting the 2009 Davis Cup tie to be played here was a huge effort spearheaded by national radio talk show host (and avid Birmingham Tennis Fanatic) Bill "Bubba" Bussey along with several local officials. Beating out San Antonio, Texas; Greenville, South Carolina and Las Vegas, Nevada; Birmingham drew record crowds to its first round Davis Cup event, with 45,708 counted over the course of the weekend. It certainly didn't hurt that Roger Federer, then number 1 player in the world was supposed to play the tie. When tickets initially went on sale for the event, they were sold out within the first 18 minutes that they became available. I remember logging in to see tons of tickets available, then getting distracted for a few minutes only to find that they were almost sold out. I was still able to snag a few and, in the end, a few more once Roger had pulled out of the event. It turned out to be a truly amazing weekend with the US pulling a 4-1 win with James Blake, Andy Roddick, and the Bryan Brothers carrying the flag in fantastic fashion.

In 2010, the Fed Cup chose Birmingham to host its Semifinal match with Russia. Again, Birmingham was selected over a host of other top-tier cities but thanks to our strong showing the year before with Davis Cup, Birmingham was once again playing host to the pros. It turned out to be an extremely memorable weekend with Elena Dementieva, Alla Kudryavtseva, and Ekaterina Makarova facing off against Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands; and Liezel Huber. The US carried the weekend 3-2 due to strong showings by Melanie Oudin and a crowd-fueled Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who played some of the best tennis that I've ever seen her play.

And that brings us to this past Thursday when Andy Roddick (hero of the 2009 Davis Cup Tie) returned to Birmingham to play his first professional (i.e. paid) match since retiring back in 2012. Joining Andy in the 2014 PowerShares Series Champion's Shootout was John McEnroe, Jim Courier, and Mark Philippoussis. While this match had neither the huge attendance numbers nor the insatiable energy of the 2009 Davis Cup Tie, it was, nevertheless, a great event for the Birmingham tennis community. Lasting Just over 3 hours, Jim Courier was bested by the great John McEnroe in a third set tiebreak; Andy Roddick overwhelmed Mark Philippoussis 6-3, and Andy then went on to outlast a tenacious John McEnroe 7-5 in the final. It was a great tennis event all the way around. Jim Courier's Inside Out Sports is to be commended for bringing professional Tennis back to our Tennis starved southern community. If you are in one of the other 11 stops on the PowerShares tour this winter, make sure to be there. You won't regret it!

I tweetcasted highlights from the event live. You can take a look at my Twitter feed starting on Feb 13, 2014 at 7:55PM. Of course, it was actually 6:55 at the time, but apparently my twitter app doesn't care enough to check the time zone before tweeting on my behalf. Really Nice Twitter, thanks #firstworldproblems. Oh well. Regardless of the timestamp, there were lots of great moments in the feed so it would be worth just scanning over if you're interested. In case that isn't your thing, however, I'll recap my top three match highlights for you in David Letterman order:

In the final, Johnnie Mac was doing his best to hang on against Andy's blistering serve. Andy was up 40-Love on his serve and McEnroe gets a ball back in play (finally) and ends up with a lightning-fast reflex volley winner catching Andy completely off guard. The crowd goes crazy, and McEnroe raises his hands up in the air like he just won it all. Waving and thanking his fans, he leaves the court and walks completely out of sight like he's got it all wrapped up. Unfortunately, however, he doesn't. He has to come back and suffer through more of the beating being dished out by the great Mr. Roddick. After doing his best to get to every ball, he can and trying desperately to block back any serve falling under 120 mph, McEnroe finally falls to the indomitable Roddick 7-5.

In Andy's Match earlier with Philippoussis, as he is about to end it all, Mark gets in a big first serve that comes in on Andy a bit more than expected. It hits the court and bounces right up into Andy's crotch. That's right. Directly up into Andy's Crotch. Andy just completely freezes for an instant before bending over and collapsing to the floor. He literally collapsed onto the floor. It was hilarious to see but also a bit terrible. Being a guy and having been in that position in the past, I was able to laugh on the outside while wincing in sympathy on the inside. I definitely know that feeling, and it is not a good one. The only thing that I can imagine that would be worse than receiving a crotch shot would be receiving a crotch shot in front of a few thousand fans coming off a big Mark Philippoussis first serve. Yikes! Mark started over to give Andy him a hand up, but Andy was on his feet before he got there. Andy might have gotten up a little too quickly, in fact, as he doubled back over slightly before starting to move around again to try to walk it off. After a three minute walk around, Andy was back on the court ready to receive another serve. Before Philippoussis even made contact with the ball Andy was running off the court in mock fear. It was pretty funny…for us, anyway. It seemed to distract Mark a bit, as his serve went high and deep almost clearing the ball barrier and careening up into the stands. Luckily, however, there were no more injuries on the night and Andy took his first PowerShares Series match easily 6-3. Way to play Andy!

My all-time favorite moment of the night was when my 14 year old son turned to me halfway through the final between McEnroe and Roddick and said, "This is so awesome, dad! BEST! BIRTHDAY! EVER!" Best birthday present ever. Wow. You just can't beat that.

Comments (2) -

Christy Christy says:

This sounded like a great experience with awesome tennis and funny moments! Way to go, Dad!! We, uh, probably shouldn't let your son know about the VIP/play with the pros upgrade option, huh? ;)

Clif Render Clif Render says:

Definitely not, Christy! Son, if you're reading this, she's totally talking about a video game - just a video game. Really. Nothing else to see here. Move along...

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