Lil Man defangs Venom in thriller
This was one for the ages. It’s a pity there had to be a loser.
There comes a time when a sport reaches a defining point, where two opponents battle while the fans hold their breath waiting to explode in unbridled support of both the winner and the loser.
Barbados’ indigenous sport of road tennis found its defining point on Saturday night when Antoine “Lil Man” Daniel and Mark “Venom” Griffith thrilled over 1 500 screaming fans at the Villages at Coverley in the quarter-finals of the Monarch Of The Courts tournament.
At the end, Daniel stood tall, and Griffith was left “snakebitten”.
Daniel won 21-13, 22-24, 21-19 to advance to the semi-finals and stay in contention for the first prize of $10 000 while continuing his dominance over Griffith.
By the time the first game served off around 7:30 p.m., most of the choice spots around the impressive arena were taken up, with more than half of the fans being new faces to the sport.
Among those who turned out for the clashes were Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler – who has been in attendance almost every night of the action – and developer of The Villages, Mark Maloney.
It was little surprise that minutes before Daniel and Griffith took to the court at 10:25 p.m., a popular fast food restaurant in The Villages ran out of chicken. However, the feast which Daniel and Griffith served up further whetted the appetite and then satiated everyone’s hunger for entertaining road tennis.
Daniel, employed his attacking game from early and rushed to a 12-6 lead in the first game. However, Griffith battled back to 11-12 and 12-13. Daniel played a wristy smash which stunned Griffith and left the crowd in awe, before extending his lead to seven points (20-13).
The game was then interrupted for 35 minutes with the lights over-heating and cutting out. After the match resumed, Griffith served into Daniel’s forearm and the attacking giant blasted the return through his motionless opponent’s forehand with disdain.
Although Daniel was just as deadly in the second game, Griffith showed why he has built the reputation of being a player whose weight of 160 pounds is made up of 140 pounds of heart.
On his back
Even Daniel was stunned as Griffith employed a crab-like style of playing on all fours while swiftly darting from corner to corner to return some blazing missiles.
At times, Griffith was left on his back and seemed defeated, particularly when he saved a smash in the left corner and then dived into the right corner to return the counter, only to end up rolling into the crowd of spectators who applauded him for his tremendous effort.
However, from a winning position of 20-17, Daniel unbelievably committed three attacking errors and a pumped-up Griffith locked the scores at 20 and at 22 before taking the game 24-22 to stay alive.
Griffith took early charge in the decider as Daniel struggled to regain his touch.
After the scores were locked at nine, Griffith moved to 18-12 and then 19-13. With his hand in the lion’s mouth, Daniel then put down his hammer and used a feather to play a controlled game, scoring eight unanswered points to remarkably take the match.
It was easily one of the best road tennis matches ever played in Barbados, and prompted some fans to jump and start dancing to the soca music being played at the climax.
An almost disconsolate Griffith took solace in the fact that he had made some headway towards working out and defeating Daniel.
“I got too tense in that third game and I made the error of going into a defensive game and waiting for Antoine to spoil and I just didn’t get home,” Griffith told the DAILY NATION.
Daniel also blamed himself for using the same ploy in the second game.
“I stopped fighting at 20-17 and I was hoping that he would spoil, which is bad tennis.”
Daniel also explained his up-and-down play.
“After Venom took that lead in the third set, I decided to play a one-two style of gliding the ball to his backarm and denying him power.
“I am a hitter but Antoine ain’t no idiot. At 13-19 I had to play that way to avoiding clipping the net and spoiling. Yeah, I wanted to throw licks in Venom but Antoine wants to win money,” quipped Daniel.
Daniel will play his semi-final against Curtis Jones on Wednesday at the Ranch, Spring Garden, after Jones ended the fine run of junior Dario Hinds 18-21, 21-14, 21-15.
The other semi-final will be between Julian “Michael Jackson” White and Anthony “Ears” Mitchell. White defeated Anderson “St George” Sealy 21-10, 23-21, while Mitchell won the all-Christ Church clash against Marson Johnson 21-19, 21-19.
In the 21-and-under game, Keon Murrell edged Kyle King 21-14, 18-21, 21-18. Murrell will meet Darius “Barracus” Gaskin in the semis, while Dario Hinds will battle Emar Edwards.