Thursday, September 10, 2009

Team USA Wins Beach Tennis National Championship

Zach Smart is back today to give us the latest news on beach tennis.

Long Beach, N.Y.--They did it.

Years after playing second and third fiddle to Team Italy, Team USA re-staked its claim as the top Beach Tennis squad in the nation.

Phil Whitesell and Chris Henderson captured the 2009 Beach Tennis USA national championship, before a standing-room-only crowd amidst windy, tornado-like conditions at Long Beach.

USA defeated Team Italy,which ate up competition in shark-sized bites the past two national championships, to end a long streak of Italian dominance.

With the win, Whitesell and Henderson hand Alex Mingozzi and Matteo Marighella (Ravenna, IT) their first loss on U.S. soil.

Team USA ran off with a jaw-dropping 8-6 victory to regain the crown.

It's the team's first national championship since 2006, when a younger Whitesell surfaced as the sport's poster boy.

The tables turned in recent years, with posters of Marighella--his eyes burning, his body floating somewhere between the sand and the sky--slamming a ball down an opponents' throat painted all over the city.

Whitesell-Henderson fended off cranked-up wind pressure and flying sand. They capitalized on opportunities at net. They kept their lead intact, handcuffing the Italians with hard, head-spinning serves.

Marighella, nicked up with a wrist injury, was neutralized. The defensive-minded team couldn't handle the ball-mashing Whitesell, who took matters into his own hands during crucial transitions.

Mingozzi, who garnered the nickname "The Gorilla" from announcer Marty "Kodiak" Salokas, was also kept at bay. It was in stark contrast from last year's championship, when the Italians made Team USA work for every point.

The negation of the two-time world champions shifted the momentum pendulum in the Americans’ direction, en direct route to an epic win.

It was the blood feud renewed. A regal rematch the Beach Tennis culture had heavily anticipated since last season.

The boys from Charleston, S.C., climbed out of an early hole in dizzying fashion.

The result?

A Labor Day weekend barn-burner, easily one of the best, heart-racing matches
in Beach Tennis USA's five-year history.

Whitesell and Henderson had Labor Day weekend circled in on their calendars for quite some time now.

The Americans shouldered lofty aspirations all summer long, throughout a national tour which spanned 10 cities.

“For the first time in four years, we talked about celebrating,” said Henderson, the rotund rail-splitter who had trouble finding his rocket serve (he encountered difficulty with the wind pelting him in the face) before recovering it in the semis.

“We planned how to celebrate (the win). We never even talked about how we were going to celebrate before. I think that is a step in the right direction.”

Said Whitesell, “We've been humbled. We’ve been underdogs to the Italians for too long. Matteo is a little hurt with an injured wrist, that gives us a little more opportunity. Is it our time? I certainly like our chances."

The Americans capitalized on those chances Sunday.

BTUSA president Jim Lorenzo, who’s been pegged as a biased, undercover fan of Team Italy, has told Whitesell and Henderson this could be their last season on the pro tour. The loquacious, longtime emcee said Whitesell-Henderson should make the transition from the sand to the broadcast booths next season.

Of course, this was all in jest.

Now Whitesell and Henderson are laughing their way to South Carolina, the glistening trophy sitting next to them on their trip home.

Team USA, which scored major victories at The Windjammer and the Virginia Beach Blast, are both on the wrong side of 30.

So, if the final chapter in the Beach Tennis careers of Whitesell and Henderson is nearing...

If their days are truly numbered on the BTUSA professional tour, the championship couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We’re ecstatic right now,” said a sweat-soaked Whitesell.

This titanic win shows that Americans have caught on to the sport that's super-popular over the waters.

It seems the old phrase "it's hard to beat a team three times in a row" came
back to haunt Matteo and Alex, who've ascended to superstar status in


David went after Goliath with a tennis racket and emerged victorious this Labor Day Weekend.

The matrix-like Marighella, he of the springy bounce (the kid jumps out of the beach), and the mammoth Mingozzi, sold the store before a national audience on the Tennis Channel.

Nobody could have foreseen this, even with Marighella’s wrist injury triggering a trace of doubt.

The energy pumped through the Whitesell's veins like gas pumps through SUVs.

The high-octane player was soon over-saturated with it, screaming like a mad dog every time he hit the deflated tennis ball. Before every serve, he muttered "Phil The Thrill" to himself.

Yeah, the guy's super-sized ego seems to weigh more than his paper-thin frame.

That ego and will to win helped catapult Team USA to a 2009 National Championship.

With that, the patriotic tandem (sporting nifty American flag bathing suits
which may have been purchased at Target) tossed their rackets in the air, embracing each other in the triumphant state of euphoria.

It’s been a long enough wait for Team USA.

The Italian-bred monkey is finally off their back.

To learn more about Beach Tennis USA, please visit the official website here


Vince Spence said...

A person who does not set the high standards I maintain for myself in the area of relationships with females, might wonder aloud why they don't wear what lady beach volleyball players wear. Thank God, I am not THAT person.

But, I guess I am curious also...

Apryl DeLancey said...

You got me there, Vince.