1999 World Team Tennis: Schenectady vs. St. Louis
by Christopher Gerby
St. Louis Aces at Schenectady County Electrics
Schenectady, New York
July 13, 1999
Two days after defeating an Idaho Sneakers
team featuring identical twins Bob and Mike Bryan, the
Schenectady County Electrics were about to meet another
pair of doubles-playing brothers. As a matter of fact,
ambidextrous "Dual Hand Luke" Jensen and his happy-go-lucky
brother Murphy inspired the Bryan twins with their
entertainment-emphasizing brand of doubles. Now that they're
semi-retired and well past their prime, it might be tempting
to write the Jensens off as a novelty act. You have to give
the guys their due, though. The Jensen brothers managed to
win the French Open in 1993 and became two of the best
ambassadors men's doubles could ask for, regularly packing
stadiums with their fan-friendly antics. They're consummate
performers and, for a time, were very skilled players.
As successful on and off the court as the
Jensen brothers once were, their St. Louis Aces had lost
all three of their 1999 matches by lopsided scores. They appeared
to be in pretty good spirits, though. About 20 minutes
before Tuesday's match, with hardly any fans in the stands to
entertain, the Jensen brothers were already in animated
knucklehead form. They joked around with chair umpire Tom
Patterson and chatted excitedly about the amazing run of
service holds little-known Wayne Arthurs recently went on at
Wimbledon. When Aces teammate Tara Snyder joined them
following her practice session, Murphy started a rolling
an implement of some kind (it looked like the shaft of a
lacrosse stick...or maybe a Jedi light saber) up and down
her back. When she let them know she was heading off to
change (clothes), Luke quipped, "Don't change too much."
Luke left the court shortly thereafter himself,
but returned with a huge bag full of hard plastic party
hats. The 33-year-old donned one of the hats himself, not
exactly epitomizing the dignified stature of his player/coach
title. Meanwhile, the hometown Electrics were having some
fun of their own. A few minutes before the match got
underway, doubles specialists Louise Pleming and T.J.
Middleton put on an impressive little display, tossing
grapes to each other and catching them in their mouths.
Such is the loose, playful atmosphere of World Team
Tennis. This ain't Wimbledon, folks.
1st Set -- Women's Doubles: Pleming/Smith vs.
The "Louie and Sammy Show" has been a surprise
hit in Schenectady this summer.
Louise Pleming (who perks
up whenever you mention her home town of Walla Walla in Australia)
and Samantha Smith (a fan favorite back home in England)
are playing top notch doubles for the Electrics. They
posted winning sets of 5-1 and 5-0 in the first two
home matches of the season, but were bound to get a fairly
stern test on Tuesday, facing a pair of Americans: Debbie
Graham and Tara Snyder. A World Team Tennis veteran,
Graham has one of the bigger serves on the women's tour.
You don't hear much about it because official service
speeds are only recorded on Center Court. Graham has been a
doubles specialist ever since a major health scare (massive
blood clot in her lungs) derailed her career in 1995, so she
doesn't get many opportunities to play on Center Court.
Graham and Snyder were in the spotlight on this
evening, though, and would aim to avoid the fates suffered
last week by Sacramento and Idaho, who were thumped by
Schenectady in the first set of those matches and never
quite recovered. Smith held serve for Schenectady in the
opening game, but Graham got St. Louis on the board with
some strong serving of her own. Graham then gave her team
the lead, drilling a forehand volley down the middle of
the court on break point in the third game. The Electrics broke right
back, however, a sizzling forehand winner by Smith ending a
rough opening service game for Snyder. The teams changed
sides, tied at 2.
Smith and Graham exchanged holds again, as
Debbie lived up to her team's name
with a pair of aces.
Pleming was then broken for the second time in a row,
missing a high forehand volley at 30-40. Down 3-4, the doubles
combination which had been serving Schenectady so well was
now in danger of dropping a set. The eighth game went to
40-40, so a winner-take-all "game point" (the Team Tennis alternative
to traditional deuce/ad scoring) would end it one way or
the other. A few strokes into the rally, a forehand by Pleming
clipped the tape and sailed just wide. Graham and Snyder
looked at each other in disbelief, smiled broadly, and
raised their arms in triumph. "Yay, we won!", a genuinely
surprised looking Snyder exclaimed as she arrived at the
Aces bench. OVERALL SCORE: ST. LOUIS 5, SCHENECTADY 3
2nd Set -- Men's Singles: Geoff Grant vs.
Suffering from a shoulder injury, Luke Jensen
took himself out of the Aces lineup
on Tuesday evening.
His only duty would be as the team's coach...and that
wasn't much duty. Whereas Wayne Bryan and Joey Giuliano
shouted bits of strategy and encouragement to their
Idaho Sneakers on Sunday night, Luke Jensen was just
chatting with his teammates and -- for the most part --
not paying all that much attention to the match. He did
have a coaching decision to make here, though. Would he
play his brother Murphy in men's singles or use the team's
unsung fifth member, fellow doubles specialist Brent
Haygarth? Nepotism won out. Murphy Jensen has never won an
ATP Tour singles match (and hasn't even played one since
May of '98), so the 2-point lead looked very shaky when he
took the court to face Geoff Grant of the Electrics.
Grant's two-handed strokes and never-say-die
spunk helped make him the league's
Rookie of the Year in
'98 and gave him the early advantage in this set. He
quickly broke Jensen at love. "Hey, I'm winning," Grant
said as he tried to reassure a baby in the stands who had
started crying. He then whipped up two aces and a service
winner to take a 2-0 lead. Murphy looked hopeless, to be
quite honest, moving stiffly and finding no answers for
Grant's power. Having seen his little brother lose eight
of the set's first nine points, Luke Jensen put on his
coach's hat (not literally -- he was still wearing the
plastic party hat) and made a substitution. World Team
Tennis coaches can switch players once per match and Luke
wisely did it here, sending in Haygarth.
The move looked brilliant when Haygarth
immediately held at love. Grant battled right back,
though, going up 3-1 with an ace on game point. Haygarth
continued to serve well in the fifth game, but scrappy
Grant kept getting balls back and eventually broke for a
4-1 edge. Haygarth plays like a right-handed Jeff
Tarango. Not the same attitude, mind you, but the way he
moves around the court is very similar. He maybe
could have used some of Tarango's mental warfare tactics
against the red hot Grant. The Massachussets native trailed
30-40 in the next game, but hit two service winners in a
row to finish off the set. Haygarth had made things
competitive, but it still went down in the books as a 5-1
set in favor of the Electrics. OVERALL SCORE: SCHENECTADY 8,
ST. LOUIS 6
3rd Set -- Men's Doubles: Grant/Middleton vs.
With Luke Jensen out of action (a fact never
announced to the crowd), the set originally
the night's highlight was anything but. Brent Haygarth
and Murphy Jensen both have receding hairlines and that's just
about the most interesting thing you can say about them as
a doubles team. They quickly got down 3-0 against Geoff
Grant and T.J. Middleton, who play together on the ATP
Tour and have worked well as Schenectady teammates. A love
hold from Jensen brought St. Louis back to 1-3, but Grant
quickly extended the lead to 4-1, ending his service game
with a pretty spectacular one-handed forehand winner down
the line. Haygarth held for 2-4, but Middleton then put
the set away. His service winner at 40-15 finished off
the 5-2 frame. OVERALL SCORE: SCHENECTADY 13, ST.
At the start of the 20-minute intermission, local DJ
"Dr. Sound" (who plays music and sound effects throughout
the Electrics' matches) dedicated Bobby McFerrin's "Don't
Worry, Be Happy" to Luke Jensen. Later on, when Luke was
off passing out the plastic hats to fans, "Dr. Sound"
played "What's New, Pussycat" by Tom Jones in honor of
Louise Pleming. No explanation given -- he just said
Louise's teammates had gotten together and picked it.
Whatever. Most of the fans were out at the concession
stand or the hat giveaway, so it was as good a time as
any for an inside joke.
4th Set -- Women's Singles: Samantha Smith
vs. Tara Snyder
Ranked #33 in the world late last year (she's
currently #53), Kansas-born Tara Snyder figures to be one
of the better players in World Team Tennis this season.
She didn't look it early in the night's fourth set, however.
Samantha Smith won the first three points and, before long,
had a 2-0 lead. Smith became very erratic, though, and a
pair of double faults contributed to her losing serve in
Game 3. After Snyder held for 2-2, Smith committed a
double fault on game point to fall behind 2-3. Even aside
from all those double faults, the set was becoming ugly.
Snyder was dictating play with her deep groundstrokes,
keeping Smith away from the net, but she was also making
plenty of errors.
Snyder held for a 4-2 lead, clinching the
game with a nice forehand pass. Smith finally stemmed the
tide with a service hold of her own, but was still looking very
frustrated. At 30-30 in the following game, Snyder found
herself two points away from the set. Her own erratic play
continued, though, as two consecutive unforced errors gave
the game away and knotted things again at 4-4. The set
would be decided by a 9-point tiebreaker.
Smith won the first point of the 'breaker, but
a backhand winner down the line gave Snyder an early
mini-break at 1-1. She capitalized on it, winning a
couple service points to go up 3-1. Smith retaliated with
a running forehand winner -- probably her best shot of
the entire set -- and was back in it at 2-3. Alas, the
Brit fell down a second mini-break with a wide forehand.
Triple set point in hand at 4-2, Snyder finally
seemed to be in the clear. A forehand error made it 4-3,
though, and Tara angrily slammed a ball against the stands
behind her. She lost the following point by netting a
backhand and bent over in dismay. Suddenly the topsy-turv
set had come down to a single point. Controlling yet another
rally, Snyder forced Smith to stretch for a forehand, which
fell harmlessly into the net. After their misadventures in
men's singles and doubles, the Aces had pulled out another
set, this one by a 5-4 score. More relieved than anything
else, Snyder lobbed a ball high into the sky and received
congratulations from her teammates. OVERALL SCORE: SCHENECTADY 17,
ST. LOUIS 13
5th Set -- Mixed Doubles: Middleton/Pleming
Having cut the deficit to four, the Aces still
had a shot at their first victory of the season. However,
Tara Snyder seemed to be their only player with much energy
at this point and her work for the night was already done.
It was the low-profile team of Brent Haygarth and Debbie
Graham who took the court against T.J. Middleton and
Louise Pleming. Middleton and Pleming appear to get along
extremely well and they'd already teamed up for a pair of
impressive, victory-clinching fifth sets. They looked well
on their way to win #3 after they each won a solid service
game, sandwiched around a Haygarth hold for a 2-1 Schenecatdy
lead in the final set.
Down 40-30 in the fourth game, Middleton
absolutely creamed a Graham serve for a
Pleming bowed to her partner and Geoff Grant did likewise,
rising from his seat on the Schenectady bench. (The other
Electric, Samantha Smith, couldn't be bothered. She was
contentedly munching on a burger and wearing one of Luke
Jensen's silly hats.) A good low return by Pleming on
game point handcuffed Graham and gave the Electrics a
commanding 3-1 lead. A clearly long serve by Middleton at
40-0 in the following game was ruled an ace, making the
score 4-1. Graham made a mild argument (essentially asking
umpire Tom Patterson to pay attention), but she and
Haygarth already looked defeated.
Haygarth ended the next game with a nicely
angled second serve ace, staying alive at 2-4. Pleming
opened the seventh game by blowing an overhead, prompting
Middleton to smile and say, "I'll take the high ones." A
huge return by Graham zipped past Pleming for a clean
winner, giving the Aces new life at 0-30. They were still
desperate, though. At 15-30, Haygarth yelled, "Miss!" at
Middleton as he set up to put away an easy overhead smash.
He didn't miss, unlike Haygarth, whose errant service
return on the next point gave the Electrics a 40-30 lead.
On match point, Graham made a lunging stab at a big
Middleton serve. The ball deflected off her racquet and
ironically hit the umpire she'd chided a few minutes
earlier. The umpire's not in play, of course, so that
errant return completed the 5-2 set and the match. FINAL
SCORE: SCHENECTADY 22, ST. LOUIS 15
The seven point margin was the smallest St.
Louis has lost by this season, but it was
still a pretty
mediocre performance. Nonetheless, the Jensen brothers
were as gracious with the fans as they've always been, cheerfully
signing autographs until every single person who was
interested had one. Basking in the glow of Schenectady's
third straight win, Grant and Middleton were also signing
away on the other side of the court, while Pleming and
Smith (still wearing her yellow hat) conducted a little
on-court clinic with kids from the 15-Love foundation.
Luke Jensen was the last Ace to depart, announcing that
his next stop was "playing a concert in Delaware." Even
as an aging doubles specialist with a bum shoulder and an
0-4 team, Luke thinks of himself as a rock star.