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A THORNY ISSUE: Delightful Daniel shows world class

ANDI THORNHILL, [email protected]

A THORNY ISSUE: Delightful Daniel shows world class

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ARGUABLY the best display ever in a set by a player justified claims that road tennis is a world-class sport.

It unfolded dramatically on semi-final night at the World Road Tennis Championships when Antonio “Lil Man” Daniel produced a master class to take the venom out of the game of No. 1 seed Mark Griffith.

The match-up had enough history about it to fill a book and clearly Daniel was fired up and ready to rewrite history, perhaps in a manner not even he had predetermined or scripted beforehand.

Coming into the encounter, Griffith had easily disposed of Daniel in big finals organised by the Professional Road Tennis Association (PRTA). He treated him like an errant schoolboy who had broken the rules and needed to be taught a hard lesson.

You could only assume those nights of humiliation played heavily on the mind of crowd favourite Daniel, who could not put a hand wrong in the first set. It was road tennis perfection that may very well become the standard of how the game should be played by locals and foreigners alike.

I have followed the career of Daniel since he was a precocious Grantley Adams schoolboy back in the early 1980s and he has had many glorious moments, but I think he outdid himself last Saturday night against Griffith.

Looked invincible

antonio-lil-man-danielYes, he was clearly in a zone that made him look invincible, even immortal, but his temperament surprised many because he wasn’t only destructive offensively, but his defence was virtually perfect as well.

In previous games against his archrival, he refused to balance the two or even try to amend his approach when things weren’t going his way.

We proceeded to see a wind of change that revealed the sport is an art. It is theatre and there is no limit to its marketability, given the new heights Daniel took it to with his superb display.

He moonwalked as his rasping forehands, played from all angles, left Griffith shell-shocked, bewildered and crushed.

Griffith had never been chastised in such a fashion and even though he recovered partially from the humbling experience of being sowed to be more competitive in the second set, the mental damage had already been done from the first set that should become compulsory viewing for those who want to learn to play the game.


It was obvious that others felt the same way too as they enthusiastically and surgically analysed the pros and cons of his display and remained in the courtyard long after the night’s offerings. This is what it takes to grow your sport. The best salesmen sell the most products and are paid the highest commissions.

Two years ago, I sided with Daniel in his unsuccessful battle with the PRTA to be paid an appearance fee, but his epic performance against Griffith showed why his request had plenty of merit. Players of his calibre bring people through the turnstiles because they are entertaining and trigger a frenzy that ordinary players can’t. At the end of the day, sport is about entertainment and the best entertainers deserve top dollar. Bottom line.

So there was consensus that Daniel proved that road tennis is on the threshold of international recognition and that it made sense to introduce an annual world tournament. Television exposure will continue to do wonders for the game.

Just because of what he viewed on television, the Japanese ambassador to Barbados made it a point to come to the Springer Memorial Auditorium the following night to see first hand what the game was all about. He even played an exhibition match against the chief executive officer of the National Sports Council, Jerry Blenman. With such spontaneous enthusiasm on show, I can see a local contingent going to Japan not long from now to introduce the sport there.

Similar jurisdictions and markets are ready for road tennis, so we must do all we can to expose it and export it while ensuring that it is patented as a unique Bajan creation. The foreign players were also in awe of our product and the standard they have to aspire to be on part with our world-class practitioners.

Showed promise

On the flip side, we need to improve the quality of the officiating because some of the calls had the potential to bring the game into disrepute. I know the time will come when we will have television replays to settle disputed calls, but in the meantime let’s make a greater effort to improve in this area.

In an incident related to officiating, I believe that promising Rachelle Smith will come under the microscope for some of her responses to calls that went against her, but I wouldn’t crucify her. I would counsel her because she has a contribution to make to the game.

Emotion can cloud our judgment in very competitive situations and we must learn how to control it to the best of our ability given that the levels of adrenaline flowing in the heat of the moment can overcome us.

For the next tournament, and generally, I want to see the exchanges beginning punctually. We can’t continue to schedule games at a particular time, start much later and simply say it’s part of our culture. We can’t encourage this because the time is coming soon when we will have commitments to international broadcast entities and we will have no choice other than to begin on time.

The discipline must be initiated from domestic tournaments. We must try to get it right in critical areas if we want to establish road tennis on the world scene.

• Andi Thornhill is a veteran sports journalist.