With the combo season right around the corner, the Hunter’s Green Green Machine is hosting the inaugural Combo Kickoff Classic as some of the top combinations for the 6.5 season square off.
The double elimination tournament will be held Saturday and Sunday morning at Hunter’s Green, though some matches may be played Friday night to accomodate schedules. A match will consist of a pro set, first one to 8 games wins. The championship will be best 2 out of 3 sets.
Here’s the first-round matches and how they shake out:
John Slatniske/Jimmy Dice vs. Bob Fuller/Peter Groer: The two veterans, Fuller and Groer, have come together after Patrick Rairigh had to withdraw due to a calf injury suffered at sectionals two weeks ago. Fuller teamed with Larry Palombo to crush Slatniske and J.R. Daws in the club championship semifinals, and is a solid doubles player. If Groer is in top form his hands can make for a tricky match for his younger opponents. Slatniske, the No. 3-ranked 3.5 at the club according to our panel’s latest rankings (you can see them here) is coming off a 3-1 weekend at sectionals, but this will be his first actual match with Dicesaro. But the big lefty with the best 3.0 serve at the club has been impressive enough in flex league and recreational action that he is No. 4 in the 3.0 rankings (you can see those here). Slatniske, a baseliner, and Dice, a come-forward aggressive netminder, should be one of the top teams in the 6.5 combo league if their styles mesh. They may have too much power and speed for Fuller and Groer, but in an 8-point match, we expect the veterans to provide a scare and a challenge.
The winners will meet Dave Mardo/James Okoh, who were the beneficiaries of the blind draw and drew a bye into the second round. Mardo, No. 8 in the 3.0 rankings, has a win over No. 9 Andy Ritter to his credit, but remains an unknown, as does Okoh, who we have never seen before. No matter who this tandem sees in the second round, a strong performance will give them a boost in the rankings.
Erik Hajek/J.R. Daws vs. John Cotey/James Hann: Damn you, blind draw! This match-up has championship match written all over it — and at the moment, these are the Green Machine’s No. 1 and 2 teams for the upcoming season — but instead is a first-rounder that will send someone into the loser’s bracket immediately. Hajek is the top-ranked 3.5 player at the club, and Daws is No. 2 in the 3.0 poll. But Daws is in a slump that he hopes to bust out of this weekend — he is 0-10 in his last 10 USTA matches, losing them by a margin of 121-41. But Hann, who is the No. 3 ranked 3.0, is 0-5 this year. The two 3.0s could swap spots when the new rankings come out depending on how this encounter, and others this weekend, pan out. Hajek and Daws have long been considered the best 3.5/3.0 combo at the club, but Hann and Cotey went 2-1 at sectionals in January and think a full and emphatic recovery from the last time they played — the duo blew a 9-3 lead in a third-set USTA tiebreaker — could put them on top.
Shaun Cooley/Scott Jankes vs. Alfonso Saa/Stephen Hunter: Cooley, the No. 2-rated 3.5, and Jankes, the No. 1 rated 3.0, can make a claim to being the tournament favorite, though the experience factor still places them right behind Hajek and Daws. Cooley and Jankes played together at the Avila Charity Tournament a few months back and fared well, but they remain an unknown quantity. Cooley is coming off a 2-2 showing at sectionals, including a 1-0 mark in doubles, his strong point. Jankes is sporting a new Wilson Burn racquet, and continues to befuddle his opponents. If he shows up late for this match, which Vegas is listing as an even-money bet as of this hour, a forfeit could derail the title contenders. Saa won a USTA doubles match with Slatniske earlier this year, but has been away working on his game in recent months. He skipped sectionals to train 5 hours a day for the Combo Kickoff Classic, according to sources, and is ready to re-emerge as a force in the 3.5 field. Hunter’s green but continues to improve (see what I did there?) and finally makes his Green Machine Event debut. Ranked No. 5 amongst club 3.0s, Hunter is playing 6.5 combo with the Tampa Palms team in an effort to earn more playing time and shine against the likes of Daws, Hann and Jankes.
Outlook: While Slatniske/Dice have the easier path to the semifinals, we think the winner still comes out of the bottom half of the bracket. The winner between Hajek/Daws, Cotey/Hann and Cooley/Jankes will be whoever has the 3.0 that plays best. Will Jankes continues to be his steady unshakable self? Will Daws finally bust through the ceiling that he has been banging his head against for the last 6 months? Can Hann finally begin to realize the disgustingly large amount of potential he has?
Leave a comment, tell us who you think wins this thing.