My Miami tennis diary
Updated: Aug 18
I had no idea really what to expect, other than that I had been selected to represent Australia in the world ITF Seniors world team championships in Miami, Florida.
Along with a couple of other Melburnians (the super-fit duo of Jarrod Broadbent and Richard Dodson) we made up the entire 45+ mens Australian team which, when we got to the practise courts, seemed a little light-on.
The first time I have ever represented Australia - resplendent in green and gold outfits that were probably visible from anywhere in Miami. Or maybe even across the Pacific.
But there we were, seeded 6th in the Round Robin event (out of 23 countries and up against the heavyweights of the ITF circuit like France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands) on the slow, green clay courts of North Miami.
Amongst players who looked not just fit, but taut, used to training sessions that would leave most juniors I know to shame - out there in the humidity, often shirtless, practising for a couple of hours after their singles matches had finished.
Day 1 versus the United States
Group F Australia 2 USA 1
Shane Scrutton (AUS) defeated Raj Vashwani 7-6 (5), 6-0.
Jarrod Broadbent (AUS) defeated Michael Chang 6-3, 6-4.
Arthur Fernandez & Neel Grover (USA) defeated Shane Scrutton & Richard Dodson 6-4, 7-6.
You don't really know how hot it is, until you start playing and feel the heat build and build and build - and that's after about four games ...
Seeded 6th and playing on a surface similar to en-tou-cas but with more zip, we started well with a 2-1 win over the host country in weather that felt like you were running straight into a wall of humidity. Not so much fitness as climatic preparation - and the exact opposite of playing Melbourne winter pennant.
Going on first in singles I played Raj Vishwani, a lithe, consistent Californian who ran everything down and counter-punched when I didn't expect it. But I hit the ball a bit harder than him. I led 4-1 (with a chance for 5-1) when my legs surrendered. Surprisingly and completely spent after 6 games. Before I knew it Raj had climbed back from 3-5 down to 5-5, then it was 6-6, as the games went on and on, as Raj just scrambled everything back and kept me out in the sun.
I knew exactly what the opposing coach was going to say at the changeover (under the ITF rules, a bit like college tennis, the coach can coach from the sidelines). As I poured ice all over my neck and Richard introduced me to the wonders of electrolyte tablets, I looked over. I didn't need to lip-read either.
I could have told him myself - just keep him out there, he’s got nothing else.
Richard and Jarrod had been here before (playing in world championships) and knew how to prepare for an event like this - so I had to learn fast.
Up 6-5 in the tiebreaker Raj and I both knew that this was pretty much the deciding point. Get back to 6-6, and with him serving, it might just be a case of 'I should have won the first set, but didn't.' The set had gone for at least an hour already, but one last drop shot which he almost desperately lunged and made, was enough. We both knew that whoever won it would probably go onto win the match, and Raj tired enough in the second for me to get on top.
Playing at number 1, the US had, as their number 1 player, a player by the name of Michael Chang.
Fortuitiously, it wasn't THE Michael Chang, but a very determined and nimble one (also from California) - who also kept Jarrod out in the afternoon sun for a couple of hours, scrambling every shot back like his life depended on it.
But Jarrod too, had a bit too much firepower from the ground, and came up with some telling first serves at a couple of critical moments to get himself out of trouble. Jarrod had represented Australia several times at world championships like this before, and was ranked inside the top 10 in the world. Even he was struggling physically.
2-0 up, we had only the doubles to play, which, although a 'dead rubber' turned into an intense affair against a couple of big-serving doubles specialists in Art and Neel, who were determined to at least get a win on the board for the host country.
But we kept it very close, and in a dramatic finish (fist pumps by our opponents and a few 'USA' chants thrown in) we only just went down 6-4, 7-6, saving a couple of match points on my serve when down 4-5 to force the issue to a tiebreaker.
On one of the match points, a rocket return from Neel looked like it was the match point winner until I checked the ball mark, as our opponents celebrated a little early.
It was definitely out, as the roving referee confirmed when asked to adjudicate. It felt like a winner, looked every inch like a winner, but it was wide (as I dutifully circled it). This was the world champs, and nobody was here who was going to go down without a fight.
Later, the referee said 'I haven't met one Aussie who made a bad line call'. "I hope you still haven't', I replied - and at least he laughed.
It made me think that, had I lost the first tiebreaker in my singles (and the match), playing the US in a deciding doubles match, could have been a whole new ball game.
In a round robin format like this, it really comes down to your draw as to how far you will get. When Russia played Italy the second singles match (featuring former top tenner Andrei Cherkasov) lasted over four hours. Cherkasov relentlessly skipping across the baseline, returning everything, and a flat backhand that would give you nightmares if you ever thought about chip and charging. He could change direction too, at will. All with zero expression.
A backhand that had gotten the better of Andre Agassi, and a shot that looked like every Russian has copied since, including Kafelnikov. And he was their number 2 player.
Day 2 versus Costa Rica
Group F Australia 3 Costa Rica 0
Shane Scrutton (AUS) defeated Andres Morales 6-3, 6-1.
Jarrod Broadbent (AUS) defeated Fabrizio Golvin-Guevera.
Jarrod Broadbent & Richard Dodson defeated Golvin-Guevera & Adolfo Rubin 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.
Our next match was against unseeded Costa Rica, who we dispatched fairly comfortably 2-0 in singles. Jarrod and I both won in straight sets against opponents who both suffered in the heat more than us, and didn't quite have the experience at this level.
The Costa Ricans saved their best tennis for the doubles, but once Richard got his range on returns and Jarrod started dominating at the net with some well-timed interceptions, we ended up winning the last two sets comfortably.
It gave me a chance to be the unofficial coach from the sidelines. And our confidence was growing.
Day 3 versus Great Britain
Quarterfinals Great Britain 2 Australia 1
Shane Scrutton (AUS) defeated Nick Adams (GB) 6-3. 7-6 (1)
Ross Matheson (GB) defeated Jarrod Broadbent (AUS) 6-4, 6-3
Matheson & Timur Shadiev (GB) defeated Shane Scrutton & Jarrod Broadbent (AUS) 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.
That put us into the quarterfinals against Great Britain for a shot at at least making the top 4, and we had at least matched our seeding (6th).
First-up I played another super-fit opponent in Nick Adams, who came out firing winners everywhere, to go up 3-0 (double break), attacking at every opportunity and using a one-handed backhand that looked like his weaker side in the warmup (but wasn't). You weren't really supposed to get away with serve-and-volleying on this surface but he did it intelligently, taking me by surprise, and keeping the rallies short.
At 3-0 up though, he threw in a double fault at the wrong time and, just like that, I broke back. From there, the momentum of the set changed. Nick threw in a few more unforced errors, and I kept the ball deeper from the baseline so he couldn't attack. Suddenly it was 6-3 to me - a complete, unexpected turn-around.
Maybe I was trying to figure out how that actually happened, but the second set was almost exactly the same - Nick broke early, then I was 0-2,0-3, 0-4 down. Then 0-4, 0-30 down, the set almost gone. And when you're 4-0 down you start thinking about the third set decider.
But then, inexplicably, he missed a pretty easy backhand off a very ordinary dropshot that ballooned near the service line, and double-faulted, and a forehand into the net, and I was now 1-4, not 0-5. It was the kind of dropshot you hit and think, well I'm losing that point.. It was only later when I found out why. But suddenly, I was in the set.
Then 2-4, 2-5, 3-5, but I had the momentum. Even when it got to 5-3 and him serving for the set, I felt better. I had made him work for this set after all, and it wasn't over. You don't want to go into a third set having been wiped off the court in the second set without giving any resistance. At 0-30, he went for a big inside-out forehand that skidded off the outside line. I checked the ball - 99% out, no question about it. No more than 1% in, which meant (as I thought about the referee) only one thing - that it couldn't really be called out.
But a couple of points later I broke him, as he threw in a couple of unforced errors out of nowhere. And then it was 5-5, the set well and truly alive. I was getting better, the rallies were getting longer, I was actually getting on top in some of them. Then 6-6, and 7 points away from going up 1-0, with a real chance to make it to the semis. And for some reason, I didn't make a mistake - winning it 7-1, even out-of-the blue serving and volleying at 4-1 for my solitary serve-and-volley statistic for the match.
After the match Nick told me he had started thinking about the third set while up 4-0 in the second set, and that unexpected miss of my dropshot suddenly made sense.
So we were up 1-0, with Jarrod and big-serving Brit #1 Ross Matheson to follow. Matheson had played at Wimbledon and looked like your consummate serve and volley player, serving big with a huge reach at the net, and not allowing Jarrod's fitness, all-around game and consistency to wear him down. Jarrod had a couple of early chances to break but couldn't, as Matheson's serve got better - and for a big guy he was moving well.
So into the doubles we went - 1-1 with a spot in the semis up for grabs. We went with Jarrod and me in the doubles, even though we had never played doubles before. Which caused a problem - Jarrod had a great backhand return from the ad side, but I was a lefty, and lefties usually take that side to capitalise on getting forehand returns crosscourt. In the first set, that didn't work. We couldn't get near Matheson's huge serve and Shadiev camped on the backhand side and nailed every ball from that side straight at our toes. We weren't playing that badly, but we were outplayed by a team hell-bent on winning to get into the semis.
So we swapped sides - to immediate effect. The Brits marginally dropped their level and Jarrod immediately looked more comfortable from the backhand, ripping a few crosscourt backhand winners of his own. We also started getting onto Shadiev's serve which, by comparison, we could attack. The second set was as decisive as the first - 6-3 to us.
In the ITF rules, a team is allowed a 10-minute break at the end of the second set. In retrospect, this hurt us. We had all the momentum and the Brits looked flat - but it gave them time to regroup and get psyched up for one more set, which they did, playing like they had in the first set, and winning the decider 6-3. We were disappointed - but they had barely missed a ball in the third set.
Day 4 versus Germany
Playoff for 5th - 7th place
Australia defeated Germany 3-0
Shane Scrutton (AUS) defeated Sven Voigt 7-5, 6-1.
Jarrod Broadbent (AUS) defeated Martin Gentzsch 6-2, 6-2
Shane Scrutton & Richard Dodson walkover vs Mattius Huning & Lars Wellman
Despite our disappointment at only being a set away from making the top 3, we were determined to finish off strongly against Germany, who had beaten Croatia and Portugal in their round-robin draw, but fallen to Spain in their quarterfinal.
At number 2 I was paired against Sven Voigt, another super-fit opponent with a superb, one-handed backhand who could run all day, and got to every single dropshot I hit (at least 7) in the first set. The rallies would go like this - long rally, inevitable dropshot by me, running pick-up from my opponent, lob by me, smash winner by him. And repeat.
There were a lot of breaks of serve, but after winning the first set 7-5, Jarrod told me to attack Groen's forehand, which I hadn't done at all. And it worked - in the first set he had looked very comfortable running to the backhand, and I ended up winning the second set 6-2. That was the advantage of being in a team - it might only be one thing that needed to be said, but it could be crucial. And our team had traveled the furthest out of anyone there.
There are players who are tall, and then there are players are really tall, whose reach and extension gives them a huge advantage - that was Jarrod's opponent, Martin Gentzsch.
One of the tallest players at the event - who served with an arc-like trajectory virtually down into the court.
But Jarrod attacked it early. Some of his returns looked like he was trying to lop down a tree branch, and he was too sharp from the baseline, even bombing a few aces of his own, and moving Gentsch smartly around the court.
With that win we had finished in 5th place, and we had beaten our seed.
And it was one of the best tennis experiences I've ever had.
Jarrod and Richard stayed on for the individual world championships at the same venue the next week, Jarrod reaching the quarterfinals of the mens singles event.
Tennis is a sport. It's not life or death. It's a chance to get out on the court and express who you are and what you can do on the sporting field. But you just never know how things will turn out, do you? So get out there and do it while you can.