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Friday, August 12, 2016

Bulgarian Down..... aka The Highlands


After our last match where Stan twice almost completed his quest for the golden set and blew Scott off the court, Scott got to thinking about what he could do to turn the tables.   He quickly settled on the idea that if he could get Stan to come to the clay courts in Forest Park it might give him the edge he desperately needed.  Forest Park is well known to all St. Louisans and receives over 12 million visitors per year.  It hosted the 1904 World's Fair and is surrounded by turn of the century mansions.

The clay courts in Forest Park are contained in a little known facility known at The Highlands formerly the AAA tennis club.  The courts are tucked away in the southeast corner of the park near the McDonnell Planetarium.   Most of the courts we play are public but these are quasi-private.  They are open to the public but charge either an annual membership or a daily court fee of $10.  However - for those "in the know" two of the courts are open to the public "free of charge" but you must ask for them.  

Scott plays in a USTA mixed doubles league at the Highlands and over the past 8 years has compiled a 30-11 record and a 73% winning percentage.  This may be because he has excellent partners but still there seems to be something about this clay( Har- Tru) surface that works for his game.  Clay can be a tricky surface for some.  Click here for some good tips on clay court play.  

On this early August day it rained in the morning and at match time at 12:30 pm the temperature was in the mid-80's with 80% humidity.  As we stepped on the courts you could not only feel the humidity but the presence of the greats who had played on these courts before.  Jimmy Connors, Dwight Davis, Pancho Gonzalez, Pancho Segura, Ken Flach and Ted Drewes are just a few of the great men who have played on these courts in their 100+ year history.   Scott arrived a few minutes early and had a nice chat with Head Pro - Mark McPhilips about the successful and growing summer programs at The Highlands.

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As we stepped on court 8 we noticed a bank of trees along one side of the court and deemed them to be in play if a ball hit one of them.  Warm up was quick and so was the sweat.  The temperature may have been in the 80's but the humidity was going to make this match a challenge.  Scott knew in addition to the clay factor that heat had helped him in the Westminster Christian Academy match.   He quickly decided to make Stan hit as many balls as possible and see if the heat would take its toll.   Stan won the toss and the first set was on.

Scott immediately broke Stan's serve.  Stan broke right back to even the set at 1-1.  On Stan's next service game the clay became a factor.   Scott first hit a sidespin backhand which jumped sideways as it bounced causing Stan to make an error.   On the very next point Scott hit a sharp cross court serve return which Stan scrambled to retrieve then Scott blocked his shot back into the open court....  the speedy Stan quickly got to the ball but the clay just deadened the bounce.   2-1 Scott.



The three broken service games were followed by holds by each for a 3-2 Scott lead.   Then two more breaks.  4-3 Scott.   Then a hold by Scott put him in a position to break Stan for the set.   In Stan's service game Scott played the two best points of the match.   The first was a 20+ ball rally which had drop shots, moonballs and finally off of a deep ball by Stan, Scott unleashed a monster forehand into Stan's backhand corner which overpowered him and resulted in an error.

Two points later Stan drove a mid court ball into Scott's backhand corner for a winner but somehow Scott stabbed at it and produced a perfect lob over Stan's head into his backhand corner for a winner.   BUT..... Stan persevered and won the points that mattered to stay in the game and more importantly the set.   5-4 Scott.

On the next game Scott served for the set and Stan unleashed a barrage of shotmaking with a backhand winner, a forehand down the line winner and an inside out forehand to tie the set at 5-5.   Unknown to Scott his plan was beginning to work.   Stan fatigued from the effort to get even lost his service game at love and Scott was able to serve out the set at 7-5.

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A battle was shaping up but on the changeover Stan retired due to heat exhaustion.   A cheap victory perhaps...but Scott was willing to take it!    We quickly retired to the clubhouse for some air conditioning to cool Stan down and then walked over to Keagan's Restaurant for a couple beers and some appetizers.  Our server Sarah took great care of us.   Not long after we arrived the skies opened up again and we realized how fortunate we were to have a few hours of great tennis amidst the rain.

For convenience we went to Keagan's which is the club eatery, however, The Central West End is nearby and features an amazing selection of places to eat and drink after a match.   Court condition - in clay court terms not perfect - courts could use a little more topping but Folks this place is a close as it gets to Tennis Heaven in St. Louis so it receives a 10 all the way around!