Thursday, May 8, 2014


2014 Club Championship Doubles

More, more, more. More is better. There is not much that is more satisfying than seeing an increase of participation from year to year. There has been a noticeable growth in the amount of doubles play in the past season, with many new people ‘testing’ the waters. Overall, I think we are getting better at it (just look at the 4-for-4 victories we had against Windsor at the Cross Border recently!) as younger members are venturing into the “old-man” territory. And that “old-man” stigma is slowly fading, thankfully! No matter your age, doubles can be competitive – and more importantly – fun.

We had 64 players enter the Doubles Club Championships this year – a record. The A draw was slightly larger than 2013, and surprisingly, the B draw was smaller. What made up for it was the explosion in the C’s. It went from 10 teams to 18.

An 18 team draw pretty much guaranteed that whoever won it would have a tough time doing so. A lot of rookies jumped in this year, and inexperience on the doubles court is not something easily overcome. Playing against knowledgeable opponents in this game who are familiar with the angles, will bite you on the behind almost every time. Exception to the rule: Sean and Dane Fossee.

Virtually zero playing time leading up to this event, Dane and Sean defied the odds. Their first match was against Chuck Doyle and Mike Newman – Chuck was the veteran here as Mike was even less experienced than the Fossees. The 3-1 victory was not all that unexpected for Dane and Sean, and I thought they would struggle to keep up in the next round against Steve Murphy and Paul Ward. However, not only did they sustain, they beat them – in 5. Suddenly, they turned into serious contenders.

Sean Fossee, Dane Fossee, Andrew Spohn, Paul Flan
The semi final would sort them out, surely. Jon Walton and Shail Arora play regularly and when the match started, they took control early and the 2 games to love lead. However, somehow, Sean and Dane mounted a comeback to snatch the next 2 games and extend it to a 5th. It all appeared as if their run would end, try as they did, at 11-14 down, Jon and Shail just needed to convert 1 of the 4 match-balls they now held. They couldn’t. The next 4 rallies went to the Fossees and they pulled out a remarkable 15-14 in the 5th win. Could they possibly win the final?

Meeting them in that final were the reigning C champions Andrew Spohn and Paul Flanagan. These two did not have an easy run either. They did win their first match 3-0, but then met full resistance in the next round in the shape of Ken Katz and John Conway. Ken has tasted Club Championship victory before in 2012 so he knows he is capable of doing some damage. And they almost did. Andrew and Paul are probably counting themselves fortunate escaping with 15-13 in the 5th win, and they took advantage of it with a solid victory in the semi final over Mike Petix (2011 Doubles C Club Champ) and Curt Pedersen 3-1.

One of the advantages the Spohn / Flanagan team have is the fact that Andrew is a leftie – it’s an all forehand combination. Unfortunately for them, that advantage was lost is the final because Dane Fossee is a leftie too. It would be a forehand battle. Although the end score doesn’t reflect it, it was a tight contest. Each game went point for point until about 10-all. Then, maybe because of experience, the Spohn / Flanagan team would assert authority and run it out to 15. When you play together for a couple of years, you learn how to cover your partner’s back. Andrew and Paul did that effectively and took the 3 games to nil win and with it, the defense of the Doubles C title!

Although it was a smaller draw than last year, it was a very competitive one. Leading up the final, only 2 matches ended up 3-0 – both of them at the hands of Ryan Bendzinski and Anthony Fracchia. Although Anthony is a higher level singles player, his doubles experience in minimal. Lucky for him he is a fast study. Both he and Ryan are quick, so extending the rallies is a big part of their tactic. Still, you do need to hit some shots in doubles – you can’t live on defense alone. Or can you? Their biggest test would be in the final at the hands of Greg Rivard and Rich Stimson.

Anthony Fracchia, Ryan Bendzinski,
Rich Stimson, Greg Rivard
Rich can hustle, and Greg can hit it – hard. A more evenly balanced team in that regard. That being said, the two did have a tougher time reaching the final than the Fracchia / Bendzinski team. They won their first match against some “unknowns”. Dave Walker and Jason Currie practice their doubles craft early in the morning, so the ‘regular’ players (the ones who lay during the daylight hours!) have little or no clue as to who they were up against. Greg and Rich did not have it easy. They were pushed by Walker / Currie all match long but eventually did end up the 3-1 winners.

In the semi, they met up with Patrick Petz and Manny Tancer. (Patrick and Manny scraped through round 1 with a 3-2 victory over Matt DiDio and Robin Basil – that “racquetball guy”. Racquetball players can be extremely effective doubles players since they are accustomed to hitting the ball with power and hitting angles comes naturally to them.) The Petz / Tancer team are not about power, but about consistency. Manny will just keep chugging along like Forrest Gump running cross country, and Patrick will throw in the drops and short stuff. It was a competitive semi, especially with Stimson and Petz going head-to-head. It was a tough semi too. Both teams played well, but it was the Rivard / Stimson combination that proved to be slightly better on this day. 3-1 was the score.

Picking a winner for this final was a toss-up. Based on a little more experience, if I was forced to, I would have picked Rivard / Stimson to edge out a win. Lucky I don’t go to the casinos. Ryan and Anthony started out very strongly and didn’t let up – at least for the first 2 games. Almost devoid of errors, the pair did very little wrong and the score up to that point was unmistakably one-sided. Rich and Greg had to step up and in the third game they applied more pressure which upset the applecart a little, and with it took Bendzinski / Fracchia out of rhythm. Managing to steal the third was one thing, but keeping that pressure up for two more games was another. Anthony and Ryan adjusted well and finished out the match with a solid 3-1 win. Time to step up to the A now, lads!

For the club best, it’s impossible to look past Kirk Haggarty and Mike Eugenio. They have won this title 3 of the past 4 years (2010, 2012, and 2013). Astonishingly, Kirk only steps on the doubles court during this event. And every year, he manages to maintain a level worthy to take the title. I don’t recommend that tactic, but it seems to continue to work for Kirk. I wonder how much better he would be if he played regularly through the year? Kirk and Mike again reached the final this year with a solid 3-0 win in the semi over Greg Rivard and Jed Elley.

Last year, Jed teamed up with Peter Logan and they reached the final only to lose 2-3. This year, Peter matched up with Bill Oddo - a solid replacement. Logan / Oddo beat Mike Skaff and Fred Fordon 3-0 in the first round where they then met up with the “Blue Chips” team of John Rakolta and George Kordas. George and John are a little bit of an anomaly. They are singles players and pretty much play their singles style on the doubles court – rather effectively. It can drive opponents nuts. But Peter and Bill are no rookies and while the Blue Chips style proved to be effective often, it certainly wasn’t often enough. As I mentioned previously, it’s awfully difficult to overcome experience on the doubles court; knowing the angles is what the game is all about. Logan / Oddo proved that to their younger opponents with a well-rounded (but not overly simple) 3-1 victory. On to the final.

Kirk Haggarty, Mike Eugenio, Peter Logan, Bill Oddo
Favorites going in would have to be Mike and Kirk. Of course, my predictions of finals past can put the ‘kiss of death’ on them, so let’s see if I have cursed them as well. At least for the first two games I didn’t. The power of Mike’s forehand, complimented with the ‘steady-Eddie” hands of Kirk were too much to handle for Peter and Bill who did their best to stay in the rallies as long as possible. Just being a couple of steps behind was all it took for the opening in the front corner to be taken advantage of – along with patience – and Kirk and Mike were well in the driver’s seat with a 2-0 game lead. Nothing dramatic changed in the third game, but thanks to a few less unforced errors along with some nice winning angles, Bill and Peter found themselves 14-12 up. They couldn’t convert the first two, but third time was a charm. The fourth, unfortunately for Logan / Oddo, was a photo copy of the first two. Once again Kirk and Mike stamped their authority and confidently established a lead they would not relinquish. With a 15-10 win, Kirk Haggarty and Mike Eugenio pick up another DAC Doubles Club Champion title!

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