Mark Griffith comes out on top of clash of titans
Mark “Venom” Griffith has a new kind of poison.
And it works on both big and “l’il men” too.
Griffith gave himself an Independence Day to remember and an early Christmas present, by upending overwhelming favourite, Antoine “Lil Man” Daniel in Sunday night’s final of the Massy United Insurance Clash of the Titans road tennis competition.
The 30-year-old silenced the over 4,000 spectators who crammed into the Villages at Coverley –– most of whom came in anticipation of a victory for Daniel –– with a commanding 22-20, 21-12, 16-21, 21-15 victory over his archrival.
The win not only assured Griffith of a mammoth $12,000 first prized cheque, but it also helped to build his growing reputation as the country’s best player.
It marked the first time in three outings that Griffith had defeated Daniel, after being eliminated by his nemesis in both the Silver Hill Road Tennis Championships and the Monarch of the Courts competitions earlier this year.
But after those two losses, Griffith went back to the drawing board. He watched countless DVDs of Daniel’s games, which he used to study and analyze his playing style, as well as to formulate a plan on how he could repel his opponent’s wide array of shots.
It worked to perfection.
“I went home and did my homework. The exam came and as you saw here tonight, I passed it with flying colours. I now have my Bachelors and my Masters degrees in road tennis,” an exuberated Griffith, surrounded by his fans, told Barbados TODAY moments after his victory.
“I proved tonight that I am the most complete road tennis player in the world. I said I was going to make Antoine Daniel wish he was a defender and tonight we saw him trying to defend against the best defender in the world.”
While Griffith did almost everything right, it all went wrong for Daniel on the sport’s biggest stage.
He opened up the contest with a sizzling forehand shot, which sped past Griffith’s backhand and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
However, there was very little else for his fans to shout about thereafter, as he sent shot after shot either into the top of the net or outside of the court.
Even when he did happen to land his shots, Griffith was there to return most of them, forcing him to play three or four shots in succession.
At one point, Daniel even tried to suppress his aggressive nature, opting instead to try to out-rally his opponent; but even that proved to be ineffective.
“Well, to beat ‘Venom’ I have to be stroking the ball on the court, but somehow the ball kept finding the net all of the time, and I can’t beat him spoiling,” an evidently and understandably disappointed Daniel explained.
“‘Venom’ is a good player, he can play tennis well. You don’t get to be the defending champion if you are playing foolishness. He played the better tennis tonight and he won.”
Not even a heavy downpour that delayed proceedings by almost two hours, and threatened to bring the event to a premature closure could damper the spirits of those in attendance, who roared in approval when Daniel won the first point at 11:10 p.m.
That didn’t faze Griffith though, and he quickly rebounded to lead 10-6, behind a myriad of errors by Daniel.
Another forehand into the net by Daniel, extended that lead to 17-8, as shouts of “pig him” echoed from the stands.
During a surreal two-minute span though, Daniel found his groove, as he unleashed several forehand winners past his opponent on his way to locking the score at 20.
A rattled Griffith however regrouped to win the next point, with Daniel’s forehand into the net gifting him the opening set.
The second set was all one-way traffic, with Daniel sending four straight forehand shots into the net to give his opponent an early 4-1 advantage.
Griffith never relinquished that lead, which ballooned to nine (11-20) at one point, when a clearly frustrated Daniel sent a wild backhand shot into the net.
He did manage to avoid a 3-0 whitewash, by regrouping to win the third set through the use of some crafty “injections”, which his opponent failed to adjust to.
But Griffith ensured they would be no fifth set, as he controlled the fourth set from start to finish.
He transformed a close 4-2 lead, into a comfortable 14-5 lead, as a tiring Daniel tried to keep pace with his rallying game.
Daniel did manage to get within three at 13-16, but a composed Griffith kept his cool, throwing his hands in the air when his opponent sent another forehand shot into the net at 12:03 a.m., bringing an end to the contest.
His father Mark Griffith was the first to rush over to him, lifting him and spinning him around in excitement, before several other of his fans quickly joined the celebrations.
Kim Holder and Dario Hinds were also in winner’s row, as they captured the women’s and juniors titles respectively.
In the evening’s first game, Holder, suffering from a bout of chikungunya and a sore left foot, was forced to fight from a game down, and save five match points, before eventually defeating Rachel Smith, 17-20, 25-23, 21-17.
Hinds meanwhile had a hard-fought and exciting 12-21, 21-17, 21-19 win over Darius “Baraccus” Gaskin.