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A THORNY ISSUE: Road tennis on the rise

Andi Thornhill

A THORNY ISSUE: Road tennis on the rise

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Mention the name Antonio Daniel and you have the image of a man who has come out of retirement to light up the road tennis courts.

His attacking, stylish play has wowed the crowds and added a new spark to the game. His name is on everyone’s lips as the fans can’t seem to get enough of him.

And to think he only took back up his racquet after a 15 year self-imposed sabbatical. It’s truly a fairy tale comeback, apparently inspired by a young snake who told Daniel he was going to make him quit road tennis.

Little did Mark “Venom” Griffith know he had pulled the tail of a lion that has bite and pedigree. Perhaps someone should have told him that Daniel won an unprecedented Junior and Senior double in 1986 before he was born.

If that can be considered ignorance or disrespectful, we have to thank him for motivating Daniel to practise even harder and produce extraordinary performances on the courts. I can still hear the oohs and ahhs ringing in my ears from a crowd lapping up his every stroke in the final of the Monarch Of The Courts two weeks ago.

He rewarded himself and loyal subjects with a $10 000 performance that left the island’s number one player Julian “Michael Jackson” White shell-shocked. It wasn’t so much either that he had avenged a previous defeat to White in Silver Hill but the manner of his triumph was ruthless and resolute.

He put the tigerish White under pressure by winning the first two sets with such ease that it was hard to comprehend even a fourth set in the best of five duel for the biggest payday in road tennis history.

In fact, I thought Daniel was too eager to finish off his man in the third and made some crucial unforced errors in the top half of the set and White used his experience and resilience to postpone his date with the executioner.

The inevitable was concluded in the fourth set and it didn’t mean that White was poor, it was just a case of being outclassed by a better play on the night. Actually,I can’t wait to see the rematch.

No disrespect to those who helped build the foundations of road tennis but I can’t remember a specific period  when a player like Daniel has excited passions and inspire a few more hundreds to watch the game.

He has rock star status at the moment and could consider doing some merchandising!

Collectively, the St Michael North-West Foundation can’t outshine Daniel but as facilitators they should be very satisfied and proud with the inaugural tournament of this kind.

Just when you thought road tennis couldn’t reach a higher level it did.

The organisation of the competition raised the bar for the sport and anyone seeking to duplicate it. Dale Clarke and his hardworking associates can take a bow for a job well done. Everything was on point. The sponsors should be happy too.

To his credit, Clarke has been in the forefront of putting money in the pockets of players as the head of the Professional Road Tennis Association (PRTA).

It was a radical approach that enhanced the self-esteem of the players who were used to playing just for trophies and bragging rights. Racquets Of Fire, with its financial incentives, changed that mindset forever, it seems, as other tournaments since then include prize money.

The defining effect of Clarke’s vision is that more players have entered the competitive arena and there’s more national interest in road tennis. Not only that, he has also partnered with the Caribbean Media Corporation(CMC) to ensure the sport gains wider exposure in the Caribbean and North America.

I think we are also fortunate to have the constant presence of photo-journalist Kenmore Bynoe who does exceptional work in promoting the exchanges with lens and pen. It should be so much easier now to sell the brand, especially with Antonio Daniel back with the kind of bang he has had!

• Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award-winning sports journalist. Email: [email protected]