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The Man Who Won The Turning-Point Match Played With Four Rackets - None Of Them His Own

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: February 13, 2006
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Feb. 13, 2006

BY SONNY DEARTH, www.dailypress.com

The man who won the turning-point match played with four rackets - none of them his own - and saved three match points.

The man whose loss clinched the team outcome was painfully wracked in cramps all over his body and barely could walk.

Was that enough drama for one day?

That was the scenario in Sunday's 4-3 victory by Old Dominion's men over William and Mary at McCormack-Nagelsen Tennis Center in the colonial capital. A thrilling victory for ODU and assistant coach Eric Christiansen, whose first child had been born earlier in the week. An excruciating loss (emotionally and physically) for the young W&M squad, which took out its frustrations on James Madison by beating the Dukes 7-0 later in the day.

We'll spare you all the numbers, since you can find them elsewhere on hamptonroadstennis.com and in the Daily Press. But no one who stayed for the last hour of the 3 1/2 it took to decide a victor will forget how ODU junior Nate Grover of Suffolk, the only local product on the six hard courts, used his teammates' rackets and found his way past W&M freshman Alex Zuck, who had seemed en route to all-but-certain victory.

After losing the first set 6-1, Grover started booming serves and groundstrokes and won the second 6-2. The emotions were running high, and practically every point was punctuated by a reaction by one or both players. The Tribe had lost the doubles point - in a tiebreak, of course, at No. 2 - but seemed in great shape to win at least four singles for the team triumph.

Pounding his chest after winning big points, Zuck led 3-0 and 4-1 in the third, but Grover blasted his way back to 4-all. "Yeah," he often screamed.

Zuck held for 5-4, then had three match points on Grover's serve. Undaunted, the big lefty survived 'em all with his bold bull-rushes to the net. Once he missed his first serve, went to the bench to grab another racket, and won the point with serve-and-volley tactics on the second ball.

With an ice bag on his knee afterward, a fairly delirious Grover explained that after losing the deuce point, he went to pick up a ball - and smashed his racket so hard that it cracked. But he didn't want to risk a match-ending point penalty by changing rackets before his first serve, which maybe would have made an umpire believe Grover had broken the racket in anger (a code violation).

"I need a cortisone shot," Grover said of his aching knee, which was feeling a lot better after some of his thunder-clap aces and deft winning volleys. He was pumping his legs and arms in celebration after numerous points, seemingly an out-of-body experience. "I didn't know Nate knew how to dance," said his mom, Jan, who watched the thriller from the overhanging observation deck and who has watched thousands of matches in her time.

Asked if he thought the victory was his biggest as a Monarch, Grover said, "I think so. I went nuts."

His thrill of victory was contrasted with the agony of defeat two courts away, at the No. 4 spot. Tribe rookie Billy Mulligan had rallied to win a second-set tiebreak against Kyrgyz newcomer Alex "Sasha" Seleznev and was at 3-all in the third when fans pointed out that the freshman from Miami was cramping.

Mulligan took a timeout at 4-5 and went flat for several minutes, getting a trainer's massage. He hobbled. He tried to whale forehands with, as Jamestown High coach Peter Schweitzer pointed out, Carlos Moya style. But after saving a couple of match points, Mulligan hit one over the baseline to give ODU its decisive fourth point. All you could think was, "Ouch!"

Christiansen, coaching ODU's 4, 5 and 6 guys while Darryl Cummings was at VCU guiding the women's team, said, "I haven't had any sleep for three days, and then to come into this environment, I felt like I was gonna pass out."

And to think: You could see W&M-ODU II. And probably W&M-0DU III.

W&M will try for revenge on April 6 at Huntington Park in Newport News. On April 22, the Tribe and Monarchs likely will meet in their seemingly annual 2 seed-vs.-3 seed semifinal in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, also at Huntington Park. It will be tough, though not impossible, for the 71st-ranked Monarchs and 66th-ranked Tribe to knock off VCU, which is 34th now and will move up soon. The Rams' 4-2 victory over No. 13 Wake Forest, which decisively beat ODU and W&M on Super Bowl weekend, will ensure that rise.

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