Players, supporters, champions, and grandees assembled in Gotham City this past Thursday to commence the Silver Racquet weekend, and to honor the contestants for our greatest of games’ greatest of titles: the World Singles Championship.
Dinner for seventy was served at two long candle-lit tables in the main dining room of the Racquet & Tennis club, peering down over Park Avenue. The fare featured the now traditional lamb shank—cutlery optional—which was well-complimented by the wine selection. Post-prandial words of welcome, comments, introductions, and stories were highlighted by offerings from Messrs. Scott, Coyne, and Sutton—who has apparently started the NARA season off 2-0, having shut down the recent US Amateur stag in Detroit with his tales. (It might provide some measure of comfort to know that the second term of Mayor De Blasio notwithstanding, the thought police were held at bay, as the politically incorrect clearly felt at liberty to express themselves.)
Play in all three sports of rackets, real tennis, and double squash continued through Friday and Saturday morning, and by lunchtime Saturday, the club was buzzing in anticipation of seeing Champion James Stout take on his most certainly worthy Challenger, Tom Billings, in the 2:00pm first leg match.
The patrons, which included such current and former world champions and challengers as Will Hopton, Jonathan Larken, Neil Smith, Shannon Hazell, James Coyne, and the great John Prenn, took their seats in the tall and steep gallery overlooking the Edward Foote Ulmann racquets court, while the players had a brief knock-up. Following referee Coyne’s admonition to the gallery as to the contents and import of Rule 16, which proscribes the proffering of inappropriate verbal outbursts or coaching from said gallery, Marker Rob Whitehouse, professional of Philadelphia, initiated the proceedings.
The Tennis & Racquets Association correspondent has summed up the ensuing action capably and thusly at www.tennisandracquets.com :
The World Champion was in top form as he started the defence [sic] of his title. Jamie Stout led from the front, establishing a 5-0 lead in the first game. Challenger, Tom Billings, was also playing well and rallied back strongly. But Stout played a supreme fault free game, hitting perfect length and edged towards the opening game, winning 15/4.
The second game was a classic as Billings’ confidence grew. Although Stout made the early running, leading 3-0, then 5-2, Billings dug deep to level and then establish a slim 7-5 lead. Back came Stout to level and then develop his own 10-7 lead. Both players were playing astonishing shots to generate breath-taking rallies, thoroughly enjoyed by the packed New York gallery. Again Billings recovered to 10-all and then his own slender 11-10. But the World Champion used his local knowledge to tip the balance and win the next five points without reply, winning the game 15/11 to establish a two game to love lead.
After the excitement of the second game, the third proved to be one-way traffic. Billings had produced sublime Rackets to match Stout but the Champion now stepped up his game to an entirely new level. Points slowly accumulated as Stout closed in; Billings fought valiantly but it was Stout who was producing a masterclass, eventually securing the third game 15/0. The gallery, especially the travelling contingent, were subdued; but everybody appreciated the Champion’s display.
Stout was now in the ascendency and carried his dominance into the fourth game, establishing the early running, leading 3-1 and then 6-2. Billings now matched his illustrious opponent, producing his top form, but still the Champion moved on, increasing his lead further to 9-3. Again, Billings stepped up and now started to regain ground, recovering points slowly against the free-flowing Stout, and after three further hands levelled the game before creating his own lead 11-9. The earlier subdued gallery were now in full voice – the game could go either way. Stout came into serve but again Billings held his own and then scored again on his own hand, to lead 12-9. Stout fought back to 11-12 but again Billings drove on to reach 14-11. After an unbelievable rally to save game point, Stout inched back to 14-12 and then 14-all on the next hand. Billings called a set to three but the momentum was now with the Champion. Winning three points without reply took the fourth (and final) game 17/14, and create a four games to love lead.
[To the foregoing narrative of the match’s play, we would only supplement to point out that any subduction of the crowd would have taken place in the 2nd row, where not one but two errantly placed and highly-paced balls met with the foreheads of a couple of the gallery members. Not phased in the slightest, each of these gentlemen remained in-position, resolute, and focused, even as they applied some lump-reducing ice bags to the affected areas. One sport was even seen balancing a full martini in the other hand, no doubt on the advice of medical professionals.]
The Silver Racquets ball lived up to the colossal reputation it has taken on in recent years, as Games Committee and Silver Racquet Chairman Peter Pell has built it into the zenith of the New York social season, affording the City’s most beautiful people an opportunity to mingle with some of the game’s intrepid competitors. 519 was the headcount for seated dinner, and those were joined by another two hundred-plus who joined for dancing, reveling and gyrating to concurrently performing live band and DJ until the early hours (or so was reported to your by-that-time unconscious correspondent).
Sunday saw the final of the coveted Silver Racquets doubles championship—now in its 24th year—contested between Messrs. James Coyne & Charles Foreman of Queen’s and Messrs. Walter Deane & Will Hopton of the U.S.A. In the end, the latter prevailed 3-0, clawing out in the first from a 0/13 hole, in what some pundits are saying may be the first of many titles to come for Mr. Deane. Regardless, New York looks forward to properly celebrating the occasion for months to come.
And so we go across the Atlantic to play out the 2nd leg of the Championship, with a challenger who left witnesses in no doubt of his right to be on court with a man who is patently the most dominant champion since James Male, and perhaps, speculators offer, Mr. Geoffrey Atkins himself. Those who are fortunate enough to find a seat at Queen’s next Saturday will be glad they were.