In the annals of tennis history of Hunter’s Green, a few notable matches stand out as the greatest ever:
In 1913, George McFunkbuttons wins at No. 2 singles to snap a 27-match losing streak as Hunter’s Green shocks St. Pete Yacht Club to win the Region 4 championship 3-2.
In 1927, Peter Groer celebrates his 30th birthday by winning at No. 1 singles 6-0, 6-0 against Rod Laver, who was vacationing in the area, and then comes back in disguise to win at doubles to give Hunter’s Green a dramatic 4-1 win over Birdview C.C., which later would become Harbor Island.
You can arguably add Saturday’s thriller to the list.
The Green Machine pulled off stunning comeback wins at No. 1 and No. 3 doubles to open the 3.5-over-18 season with a 3-2 win over Westchase.
“I’d put this win ahead of the others, mainly because they other ones are made up, and let’s be honest, Groer wasn’t 30 in 1927, he was only 24, so that was a dead giveaway,” said John Cotey, the team’s captain.
FUN FACT: Hunter’s Green men have won the 3.5-over-18 in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
The home win for the defending league champions was one of the best of Cotey’s career. He expertly put together a lineup that had some scratching their heads, but his careful deployment of players in the right positions only enhanced his standing as the 2007-2008-2009-2010-2011-2012-2013-2014-2015 USTA 3.5 Captain of the Year.
“It’s a little embarrassing and a little strong to suggest I’m that good,” said Cotey, chuckling, “but hey, when it’s the truth, it’s the truth.”
Though Groer was unable to pull out a win at No. 1 singles, John Slatniske came through at No. 2 with a thorough 6-4, 6-2 win, his fifth straight singles win dating back to last season.
Slatniske led both sets 5-1, and despite his inclination to choke away big leads, held on for the tough win.
FUN FACT: Slatniske was 8-2 in 3.5 singles last year, including a win at sectionals.
At No. 2 doubles,
Larry Palumbo Andy Ritter and Bruce Bursack dropped a match in straight sets, but Ritter was hobbled by a groin pull. And his forehand. And his backhand. And his drop shots. And his serve. Otherwise, Ritter said, “I was pretty good.”
Then the magic started.
After a miserable first set in which they lost the last four games, Cotey and the great-great-great-great-grandfather he never had, Herb Gabora, rallied to a second-set victory and then pulled off a miracle in the tiebreaker to win 2-6, 6-2, 10-7.
“I knew if we were to have a chance at No. 3 singles, I had to have someone who could make up for his partner’s molasses-like slowness, lack of mobility and inability to run down shots due to his advancing age and laziness. Herb was the perfect choice,” said Cotey.
FUN FACT: Counting the recently completed 6.5 and 7.5 combo seasons, Cotey has now won 10 straight USTA doubles matches with nine different partners.
Gabora, 4-0 in 18-over 3.5 tennis the past two seasons, was a buzzsaw, chopping backhand after bankhand at sharp angles across the net, giving his opponents fits. His volley game was nearly flawless, and in the tiebreaker he ran down a few shots that a man who subsists on Metamucil muffins and black coffee with prunce juice creamer never should.
“Yeah, whatever, it was tennis, I played, it’s just a game, get out of my face and off my lawn jerk face,” Gabora said.
FUN FACT: The 6-2 loss in the first set was the first time Gabora has lost a set in 18-over 3.5 tennis since 2013. In the past two seasons, he is 11-1 in sets, and 8 of those have been by 6-3 scores or worse. Damn, son.
The shot of the day came courtesy of Erik “Gran Oso” Hajek. After he and Patrick Rairigh’s Knee Braces lost the first set 6-4, they rallied to win a tie-breaker in the second set at 7-6, and then in the third-set tiebreaker Gran Oso returned an overhead smash so high and with so much spin, the ball landed on the opponent’s side of the court and sprung back into Gran Oso’s court for a winner.
Leading 9-8, Gran Oso, who had struggled with his serve, cracked a winner that his opponent could not return, giving the Green Machine the overall 3-2 win.
“Time and time again, while I’m sipping on this gin, Al Davis said it best, just win baby win,” Oso said.
FUN FACT: Since the USTA online records on go back to 2013, there is no record of the last time Rairigh’s Knee Braces lost a 3.5-over-18 doubles match in the regular season. He was 4-0 in 2013, 2-0 in 2014, 5-0 in 2015 and 1-0 so far this season.
The Green Machine, the only team to win this week while losing more games than it won (36-50, how the hell did we win again?), will roll into Harbor Island next week for their second match, albeit without Grand Oso. Harbor Island is also 1-0, after beating HCC 3-2. The other winner this week, Cheval, beat Fishhawk 3-2.
REALLY SUPER AWESOMELY FUN FACT: The Green Machine will be off the following week as most the crew heads to Daytona Beach for 6.5 combo sectionals.