Shawn Hedrick, a newbie to this event, wowed the crowd with his flair and talent. The director of tennis at the Strand Club in Naples teamed with Griffin, the director at the River Strand Golf and Country Club in Bradenton, for a 6-3 win in the first set.
Hedrick continued his winning ways in the second set when he played with Venezia. At a crucial moment in the second set tiebreaker, Griffin poached and pounded a volley at Hedrick, only to have the strong lefty pull a shot out of his hat that went for a winner. That unlikely return fueled an 8-6 victory in the breaker.
While Hedrick was rocking and rolling, Venezia was simmering and about to heat up. Under the seriesʼ format, the four teaching pros play three sets of doubles, rotating partners each set. The top two players in terms of games won advance to the next round. Going into the third set, all four pros were mathematically in the hunt.
“I felt more and more comfortable as the match went on,” Venezia said.
Teaching a lot of lessons and directing the program at the Landings Racket Club in Sarasota doesnʼt make for much practice time, Venezia explained. Returns that were clipping the net tape in the opening set were now clipping the shoe laces of his opponents. Venezia began to display the volleying skills that made him an All American doubles player at Auburn University.
Hedrick held serve his first six times, but lost his seventh to open the third set. Kalani Hatori, the hammering Hawaiian, who directs the program at Pelican Sound River and Golf Club in Estero, had his serve broken in the seventh game. Griffin sealed the deal, serving at love to close out the third set, 6-2.
That gave Griffin 18 games to take top honors on the day. Venezia beat out Hedrick, 16-15 to move on as well. Griffin only missed about one forehand all day. “I like my new racket,” he exclaimed.
Hedrick said he had a great time playing at the Boca Grande Club and hopes he can return again next year.
“The crowd was fantastic and I love the format, itʼs very exciting and anything can happen,” Hedrick remarked.
Hatori has played in all but one of the pro series and Wednesday was one of his best showings. Though he didnʼt advance, Hatori said, “I always love coming to Boca to play and to say hi to DeeAnn Phillips, one of the series volunteers.”
He added, “That was the toughest opening round match ever.”
That is - until next week, when Abdul Idi, Griffinʼs head pro at the River Strand, makes his seriesʼ debut.
Joining Idi will be last yearʼs runnerup, Jared Kalpin from the Landings in Fort Myers; Adam Zastempowski, the director of tennis at the Jacaranda West Country Club in Venice; and Mark Drons, the director of tennis and fitness at the Vasari Country Club in Bonita Springs.
The action commences at 4 p.m. next Wednesday at the Boca Grande Club. The tournament will continue every Wednesday until the finals on March 14. An optional donation of $5 is welcomed. Proceeds from the match donations and the Tennis Ball and Silent Auction, January 25, go to the Suncoast Humane Society. For more information on the Professional Tennis Exhibition Series contact the Boca Grande Club, at 964-2211.
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