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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. Graham/Snyder

The "Louie and Sammy Show" has been a surprise hit in Schenectady this summer. Debbie Graham 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 Debbie Graham and Tara Snyder 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. Murphy Jensen

Suffering from a shoulder injury, Luke Jensen took himself out of the Aces lineup Murphy Jensen 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.

Luke Jensen and Brent Haygarth 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. Haygarth/M Jensen

With Luke Jensen out of action (a fact never announced to the crowd), the set originally Geoff Grant and T.J. Middleton touted as 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. LOUIS 8

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 vs. Haygarth/Graham

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 Samantha Smith forehand winner. 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. Luke Jensen 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.