Saturday, June 13, 2009

Gunning For No.1

The past year, Alex Mingozzi and Matteo Marighella's stock has done anything but plummet.

The top Beach Tennis tandem in the land have only answered to lofty expectations.

Mingozzi and Marighella have kept opponents off balance with freakish athleticism and rocket-launching serves, while managing to keep the upper hand on the Beach Tennis world.

The two italians have long carried the tag of "team to beat," having won the last two Beach Tennis national championships in Long Beach, N.Y.

Last year, the defending national champions staved off a late surge from Phil Whitesell and Chris Henderson, the Americans who recently stamped another tournament championship to their ever-growing resume.

Whitesell and Henderson, both of whom hail from South Carolina, gave the Italians their toughest match on American soil.

This was in Key Biscayne, Fla. this year. The Italians recovered from a neck-and-neck, down to the wire battle. The upset-bid by Whitesell and Hendy was thwarted, but it may have been a harbinger of what's to come.

"The World Champion beach tennis duo of Matteo Marighella and Alex Mingozzi (Italy) defeated former National Champs, Phil Whitesell and Chris Henderson (Charleston, SC) in the Men’s Pro division finals of the BTUSA Key Biscayne Open this weekend, 8-6," says the BTUSA website,

"This was the fourth meeting for these rival teams, each ending with Italian victories. However, Sunday’s event was the first indication that Whitesell and Henderson are closing the gap on this overly-dominating pair."

It was a ziplock-tight affair during last year's national championship in Long Beach as well.

In the end, however, the high-flying Matteo and brute, ball-bashing Mingozzi showed the composure and high-pressure poise one expects from the vaunted veterans.

Rewind the clock to Labor Day Weekend, 2008. Before a live audience on the Tennis Channel and SNY, a barnburner ensued.

Whitesell and Hendy gave an efficient account of themselves, capturing three of their first six matches as the crowd began to smell a remarkable upset.

They were hit with the momentum arrow, and Whitesell pumped his fist emphatically towards frenzied fans hoisting up an American flag.

Fitting, as Whitesell and Henderson began to smell the $15 thousand award. The stakes were raised. In an America v.s. Italy Beach Tennis showdown, Whitesell and Henderson instigating chants of “USA!” from a lively crowd that smothered the beach.

During one wowing play, Henderson lost his racket after diving into the sand and keeping the ball alive.

Mingozzi took advantage of the man-up situation, pinning the ball down the opponents’ throat.

It looked as the ball was going to strike the sand, but the Americans had other intentions.

Henderson, in a wild sequence, bounced back up and lifted the ball over the net with his sand sock.

Marighella and Mingozzi are the only undefeated team on US sand for a reason.

They held off the power surge, running off highlight-reel serves and spikes that lifted them to the national championship.

This year, the stakes are hiked up at Long Beach.

With the way that Henderson and Whitesell have been playing in this year's tour, the Italians may have a major challenge cooking on their front burner.

Jim Lorenzo, the president of Beach Tennis USA, even said "this could be the year" for Hendy and Dr. Phil.

This was after they cruised to the championship at Virginia Beach.

The Italians are looking to make it a three-peat. They own championship rings from 2008 and 2007.

While the pressure pendulum may be cooking for Henderson and Whitesell--who are burning to rob the Italian Stallions of their triple crown, and influx of young talent will be competing in this event.

Tom Curran (Fairfield, Conn.), who starred at Division-I Quinnipiac University as a tennis player, is slated to compete.

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