The Reprise in Surprise!

 

The Bad Boys of Boston Do One Better at the USTA National 60 Team Championships!

by Laury Hammel

The USTA New England Men’s 60’s Team, infamously known as the Bad Boys of Boston is back from a third consecutive campaign at the USTA National Team Championships in Surprise, AZ.   Once again captained by the highly regarded tennis coach, Bill Drake, the Bad Boys improved their results by nailing down the third place prize in this year’s Championships after finishing fourth in last years national playoffs.   

A new twist in this year’s national championships was the emergence of the New England Women’s 60’s Team who came out of nowhere to go undefeated and garner this year’s national championships!   Affectionately known as the New England Goody Goodies, this group of feminine tennis fanatics would not be denied and their dominant play raised the bar forever for New England senior teams.  

The Roots of the Bad Boys Reprise

Some of you may remember the major surprise at Surprise, that the Bad Boys of Boston pulled off at the 2010 championships by placing fourth and coming a few measly points from reaching the finals (see the 2010 article in “Breaking News” on the NE Senior Tennis Foundation web site, http://www.neseniortennis.org/breakingnews.htm ).  And they did this in dramatic come-from- behind fashion while handicapped with a depleted team of 5 and ˝ players in a three team format-- Hop-along Hammel was limping around the court with a leg injury and doing his best imitation of a tennis player.   After returning to Boston last spring Captain Bill Drake and Lieutenant Bob McKinley caucused and assessed what was needed to take home the gold in the next campaign.  They came up with a four-step plan:

1         Convince the Bad Boys to stay together and give it another go in the 2011 national championships. 

2         Improve the level of training of the Bad Boys by competing in more USTA doubles tournaments and practicing more together in the winter. 

3         Add two more Bad Boys capable of competing at the highest level. 

4         Preach injury prevention to the Bad Boys and pray for some good luck in the health department. 

Step One was fairly easy as everyone enthusiastically wanted another crack at the championships—only John Mayotte couldn’t make it because of a previous commitment. 

Part A of Step Two was put into action all summer and early fall as Lieutenant McKinley and Conway Felton won the 60’s doubles tournament at Beverly, beating Bad Boys Laury Hammel and George Deptula in the finals.  George and Laury continued to hone their doubles skills and ended up being ranked #1 in New England in the Men’s 60 Doubles despite a loss to Bad Boys Captain Drake and John Mayotte at the New England Slams Grass Courts Championships.  This USTA tournament experience turned out to be invaluable to the improvement of the Bad Boys. 

Part B was put into practice beginning in the fall as Lieutenant McKinley continued his organizational wizardry and week after week created world-class senior doubles games on Sunday mornings at Bass River.   The Bad Boys also benefited from their own personal Yoda, Henry Tiberio, who looked on with wise approval and offered sage advice afterwards while holding court in the lobby.

Step Three was a tough one because the job had grown to needing three new highly-skilled players over sixty which is not an easy task.   It appeared that a mini-coup was  in hand when Paul Shaw agreed to play on the Bad Boys, only to find out that he was somehow rated a 5.0 which means he couldn’t play on the team.  Bad luck.  Fortunately, Lieutenant McKinley teamed up with Conway Felton in a USTA tournament as a way of luring him into becoming a Bad Boy—and by the end of the summer it was one down and two to go.  Long-time New England senior player, Bill Busiek was putting in major time into perfecting his doubles skills and played several tournaments that earned him and Neil Prouix the #4 Men’s 60 Doubles ranking in New England.  He agreed to accept the invitation to become a Bad Boy and now they needed only one other.   Long time New England senior competitor and a member of the #2 ranked Men’s 60 Doubles team, George Ulrich, later agreed to join the team to give the Bad Boys a really Handsome Eight!  J 

Step Four, as suspected, turned out to be a bit more dicey than anticipated.  Hammel came up with inner tennis elbow in January and couldn’t play tennis until the first week of April.  That injury kept him out of all of the Bass River practices in the winter.   He was fully healed by the time he landed in Arizona, but he wasn’t tournament tough.  Then Chum injured his left arm and it hurt so bad that it severely hampered his ball toss every time he served while in Arizona.   Despite these minor ailments, the Bad Boys were healthy, badder than ever, and fully prepared for an improved Reprise in Surprise. 

The Bad Boys of Boston

Bill Drake, The Captain

Bill is two-time #1 New England Men’s Open player, coach of world-class professional players, highly successful national senior player, Director of Tennis at The Country Club in Brookline, MA, and part-owner of the Kingsbury Clubs.

Bob McKinley, The Lieutenant

Bob is aptly called The Lieutenant because he was in the navy for three years and won the All-Navy tennis singles championships.  He played junior tennis in Buffalo, NY and played number one singles and doubles at MIT.   Bob’s been a perennial standout on New England senior doubles teams.

Chum Steele, The Legend

One of the best male players to ever play tennis in New England, Chum played at ten US National Championships at Forest Hills and five Wimbledon Championships.  At the US Professional Championships at Longwood he defeated the then number five player in the world—Thomas Koch. 

 Laury Hammel, The Slicer (and team historian)

Laury is a highly ranked national senior player, has earned nine New England number one senior singles rankings, is the owner of The Longfellow Clubs, and is best known for his heavily sliced ground strokes.

George Deptula, The Microwave

George is one of the biggest hitters in New England senior tennis who can heat up like a microwave.  A late-bloomer, he has been a strong competitor for many years as a top senior singles and doubles player in New England and national competition.   In 2010 he earned the New England #3 ranking in Men’s 60 Singles and the #1 ranking in the Men’s 60 doubles in New England with fellow Bad Boy, Laury Hammel.

Bill Busiek, The Big Mover

Bill moves with great speed and agility on the court, but he developed a new reputation with wowing the fans on the tournament party dance floor.  Captain Drake was so impressed with Bill’s footwork skills  that he demonstrated during the Electric Slide, that he teamed up with him on the playoff match for third place which they won handily. 

George Ulrich, The Volleyer

George is a perennial top senior player and is known for his ability to win matches serving and volleying on any surface including clay. He’s a volleying demon!  Not only were his volleys lethal in this event, but he moved to the net so quickly that it put extraordinary pressure on his opponents.

Conway Felton, The Roller

Conway is one of the best kept secrets of New England senior tennis.  He is a big guy who hits even bigger.  By teaming up with doubles specialist Lieutenant McKinley he found the perfect match as a partner—Bob’s touch and consistency complement Conway’s  power! 

The Preparation in Surprise

 

The Bad Boys are into preparation.   Captain Drake, the Lieutenant, and three others set the tone by arriving on Tuesday with the other three arriving on Wednesday and an eight-man practice was held on Wednesday and two practices on Thursday.  The Captain knew that since it was the Bad Boys first time this year outside and in the heat and the wind, the team needed at least two full days of preparation.  This decision turned out to be pivotal to the success of the Bad Boys of Boston.  

 

Thursday was the night of the traditional players welcome party where the Bad Boys got to strut their stuff.  Last year’s party was a bust because of frigid temperatures, and the Bad Boys left early.  But this year’s party was a pure delight on a warm night with a star-filled sky.  Inspired by the lead dancer of the Bad Boys, Geroge Deptula, the Bad Boys cut more than a few rugs at this shindig.   George succeeded in getting most of Bad Boys up dancing with the New England Goody Goodies and Bad Girls Carol McKinley and Sally Felton.  The Bad Boys got the party rocking and rolling to the max.   After the Bad Boys outlasted the Goody Goodies who headed back to the hotel for an early sleep because of their 7:30 am start, the Bad Boys lived up to their name and descended on various tables of unsuspecting women’s teams from other sections and by the end of the evening few women’s teams escaped the Bad Boys’ invitations/exhortations to rock and roll.    The night proved to be a delightful diversion that loosened up the Bad Boys and got them laughing and having a good ole time. 

 

After a good night’s sleep and an early morning practice, the Bad Boys made the scene at the Surprise courts at 8:30 am Friday morning, April 29—ready to play and charged up to pull a few more surprises.  

 

Day One—Friday April 29th

 

This year there were twelve teams—three flights of four teams.   The winner of each flight and one wild card advance to the semi-finals on Sunday   The Bad Boys flight was a tough one and included last year’s second place team from the South as well as Northern California and Missouri Valley. 

The Bad Boy’s were deep, with all four teams playing solid tennis and with no team dominant, Captain Drake had the flexibility of several choices when he made his lineups.  The Bad Boys faced a tough Northern California team in the first round and as predicted the result wasn’t determined until the last match.  Hammel and Deptula, New England’s #1 ranked 60’s team, had a sluggish first set losing 6-4 and then turned it up a notch and took the second set 6-3.   In the Tiebreak, Hammel, who was coming off an injury and was a bit rusty, missed a few easy volleys that ultimately cost the Bad Boys the TB and the match, and they were now down 0-1 in matches.  McKinley and Felton had been burning up the courts in practice at Bass River for weeks and they kept their hands hot and won handily 6-4, 6-4.  With the team match now knotted at 1-1 in matches everyone congregated on the court featuring Drake and Steele and watched the momentum shift as The Captain and The Legend lost the second set 6-4, after winning the first convincingly.  So here the Bad Boys were in their first match, one Tiebreak from losing the team match.   The Match Tiebreaker was nerve-wrackingly close, but with a couple of key lobs and reflex volleys The Captain and The Legend lived up to their reputations as fierce competitors and eked out the TB  10-8.  

In any tennis competition, the first round is always a challenge as everyone gets accustomed to the conditions and courts.  The Bad Boys gave a collective sigh of relief when they got through this round relatively unscathed.  However, the Bad Boys were well aware that one individual match could determine the ultimate outcome because last year they squeaked into the semi-finals based on a one individual match advantage over two other teams tied for second in their flight—every single match counts!

The second opponent of the day was a solid Missouri Valley team.  Busiek and Ulrich replaced Hammel and Deptula for this round.  Felton and McKinley were playing on the court next to the crowded bleachers and found themselves in a dogfight where every point was contested.  Hammel and Deptula along with Carol and Sally formed the Bad Boys Block and the noise level became a bit raucous.    The Lieutenant and Conway won a tight first set 7-6, and were even in the second set when a Mo Valley player hit an angle volley winner that was heading for the 4-foot high fence on the side of the court.  Now anyone who knows Conway, knows he doesn’t know the meaning of `give up’ or `let it go’, so he instinctively charged for the ball.  He reached the ball, but the dern fence got in the way and suddenly he found himself face-to-face with a chain link fence.  Intelligently, Felton, rather than colliding with this obstacle, opted to roll over it, which he miraculously and gracefully performed and landed in the dirt/gravel with a perfect belly flop.  This unusual acrobatic feat that ended with a loud thud brought a hush to the crowd, and everyone was hoping Felton was alright.  Fortunately, within a few seconds he was getting up on his knees, saying  “Bring it on, I’m OK, we’ve got a match to win”.   No sissy, Felton wiped off the blood and dirt and got right back into the match and hit a volley winner.  With Felton’s effort serving as an inspiration, Felton and McKinley went on to win the second set 6-2 and put New England up 1-0.  Hammel who was the closest eyewitness to this extraordinary `roll’, was seen after the match studying the fence and the court and trying to figure out the geometry of how this `roll’ actually happened.    Felton, on top of helping win this critical match, was rewarded for his hustle and gymnastic coordination by being forever known as `The Roller’. 

In their first match of the week, Busiek and Ulrich came out swinging big, hitting some clutch overheads, and jumping out to a one set lead.  However, as can happen in doubles, after a couple of dramatic points went the way of Mo Valley, the momentum shifted and Mo Valley won the second set 6-2.  The super Tiebreak was dramatic and could have gone either way, but in the end Mo Valley prevailed and tied the team match up 1-1. 

So once again Drake and Steele found themselves the last team playing, with the team match on the line.    The Bad Boys won the first set 6-3 and looked to be dominating the match, when all of sudden there was another momentum shift and they found themselves in a Tiebreak in the second set.   When the going gets tough for the Bad Boys, the Bad Boys get going.  Not wanting to be in another Match Tiebreak, they won the set Tiebreak and the Bad Boys of Boston were now sitting pretty at 2-0 and leading their flight. 

Day Two—Saturday April 30th

 

After winning two tough team matches that went down to the final individual match, the Bad Boys now found themselves in control of their own destiny—win two matches in the final round robin match and they are into the semi-finals for the second year running.  The problem was that the Southern team they faced was the team that beat the Bad Boys in the semi-finals last year, and they were returning with the same basic team loaded with nationally ranked and highly experienced players.   That being said, the Bad Boys were far from intimidated and were eager for a little redemption after last year’s loss.   

The Lieutenant and The Roller were playing with great focus and were `locked-in’.  They took charge quickly and never let a tough team of Southern boys (that included legendary Hugh Thomson) get into the match and they won with surprising ease 6-4, 6-0. 

But things were looking bleak in the other two matches.   Drake and Steele had lost the first set to a highly successful team in a back-and-forth Tiebreak and were down a break in the second set.  Meanwhile Hammel and Deptula were playing Bill Hester, the son of former USTA leader Slew Hester, and David Beauchamp, were crushed 6-1 in the first set, and were on serve in the second set.   But this where the Bad Boys slogan came into play--`Never Give Up, Never, Never, Never, Give up!’   Drake and Steele were fighting to get that break back in the second set, and Hammel and Deptula were unwilling to give an inch on their service games.   Although unable to break the boys of the Southland, Hammel and Deptula held their serves six times in a row forcing a set Tiebreak.  By this time Hammel was moving into a state of mind known as `Hammel Time’ where high energy and boisterous self-expression are the order of the day.  Hammel and Deptula jumped out to an early lead in the TB and won it handily forcing a Match TB to give new life to the Bad Boys.  After a series of terrific and tense points, Hammel and Deptula (and the Bad Boys) found themselves in a major hole--Hammel and Deptula were down double match point with Hester serving at 9-7.  Meanwhile, Drake and Steele were still down a break in the second set and time was running out.  This is when the decibel level increased and the focus narrowed for Hammel and Deptula.  Playing the deuce court Hammel hit a perfect lob return off a first serve that set up an easy overhead for Deptula—one match point erased.  Now the second match point had Hammel serving and he hit a serve into the body of Beauchamp for a service winner—match point number two erased.   Now with things even up at 9-9, Hammel served to Hester who hit a low return that he’d been hitting all match and as Deptula later described it, “That soft forehand slice volley of Hammel’s seemed to take forever to go over the net and land, and it was so short that Hester couldn’t reach it.  That was tense.”   Now the Southern boys found themselves down match point and Deptula was determined to get this match over with.  He crushed one of his patented backhand drive returns and followed it up with a winning volley to close out the match and put the Bad Boys into the final four.     The spontaneous jubilation after this comeback was heard all the way back to Boston as the Bad Boys rejoiced in their Phoenix-like rise from the ashes.    The Bad Boys of Boston then joined to watch the finish of the third match (which now was meaningless) that Steel and Drake eventually lost, 7-6, 6-4.   The Bad Boys are a closely knit team and this team victory was an ultra sweet moment for these tennis warriors from Bean Town.   

There are few things more thrilling and satisfying in competition than to comeback and to seize victory from the jaws of defeat.  The Bad Boys and their coaches/health advisors, Carol and Sally, decided a little merriment was in order after their advancement to the semi-finals and they dined at a Japanese restaurant that cooked the food in the center of the table—a perfect setting for a team celebration.   As it turned out, the party had another special significance—it was a birthday party for Lieutenant McKinley.  The impromptu Bad Boys’ chorus of Happy Birthday sung to Lieutenant McKinley was remarkable in its enthusiasm if not its quality. 

After the food was ordered, at The Slicer’s request, the Bad Boys showed their sensitive side and one by one shared what this team experience and the Bad Boys meant to them.   At this point the rough and tough exterior of these guys melted away as more than a tear or two was shed as the Bad Boys (many who had been friends for over 40 years) opened up about the importance to them of competitive tennis and the camaraderie it elicits.   Sally then took it one step further and asked for another round of sharing where the Bad Boys revealed what interesting and new things they learned about each other on this trip.  It was a tender and sweet night for all! 

However, as the victors from New England were leaving the restaurant, the reverie was ending and they were already putting their game faces on in preparation to win the semi-final match at 8 am Sunday morning. 

"Bad Boys" pre-semi-final dinner (and Bob's birthday)

The "Bad Boys" yuck it up at team celebration


Day Three—Sunday May 1st

In the semi-finals the Bad Boys faced a talented and experienced Southwest Team from Phoenix.  Last year the Bad Boys edged them out of the last semi-finals berth by a single match, and this year they were all business and determined to take full advantage of their home court/climate advantage.   In Arizona it’s usually windy in the spring (certainly more windy than indoors at Bass River) and the Southwest team knew this gave them an advantage.   The Bad Boys didn’t buy into this thinking because of the two days of preparation and the three matches they’d already won.  The stage was set for a highly competitive match. 

Hammel and Deptula started off hot and jumped to an early two-break lead which soon became a one-break lead as their opponents began nailing their return of serves and earned a service break.  At 4-3 in the first with the momentum shifting and Deptula found himself down 0-40 and it was time for some new heroics from this team.  Deptula served three consecutive aces with serves landing on the line each time.  This serving exhibition really turned things around and led to a first set victory for the Bad Boys.    The second set was a see saw battle that ended up in a Set TB where Hammel and Deptula  took charge early and closed out the match and the Bad Boys of Boston were up 1-0. 

Meanwhile, Felton and McKinley continued their hot hands and took a two service break lead against Peter Bronson (the holder of many national singles and doubles titles) and his partner Phil Anderson.   But, the Southwest gunslingers were not to be denied and they started making some shots and fought back to tie the set at 6-6.  In the TB the Bad Boys had their chances but couldn’t quite convert and they lost a very close TB and the first set.    In the second set, Felton and McKinley lost their serve early and had several chances to even the match but it was not to be, and they lost the second set 6-2.  The Bad Boys’ team match was once again down to the last match with Captain Drake and Ulrich fighting for every point.  Their opponents were Bill Austin and Myron Snow, a pair of wind-ball masters--they needed no weatherman to know which way the wind blew.   It was uncanny how many critical points were won by lobs that seemed to be going long or short and then reversed direction.  It was like a great putter in golf reading greens--the Southwest duo read the wind perfectly.   After a long hard-fought match Drake and Ulrich finally succumbed 7-5, 7-5, and the Bad Boys were booted out of final round of the championships. 

Because the Bad Boys had come so close to reaching the finals, the disappointment was monumental and deflating.  Nonetheless, the Bad Boys were determined to improve on the previous year’s fourth place by taking home the third place trophy.    The Pacific Northwest team was loaded with exceptional talent (including two top ten ranked doubles players) and until the semi-finals they were also undefeated. 

Hammel and Deptula lost in a tight match to Doug Ruffin and Stephen Hopps 7-6, 6-4.  Ruffin is currently ranked #3 in the nation in singles and #4 in doubles (with another PNW teammate, Al Lockwood) and he was able to dominate the match with his combination of power and consistency.    Felton and McKinley returned to their winning ways and won their match handily 6-3, 6-2.  Once again the deciding match fell on the shoulders of the Captain and his partner.   Drake and Busiek played solid tennis and were met little resistance in their 6-1, 6-2 victory that clinched the number #3 trophy for the Bad Boys of Boston.  

Now all that was left was picking up the trophies, posing for photographs, and saying goodbye to new and long-time tennis friends.   It was a job well done!

The "Bad Boys" and the "Goody Goodies" celebrate success

Six of the "Bad Boys" hoist the 3rd place banner

 

Epilogue

The Bad Boys of Boston landed in Boston with their third place crystal trophies in hand and happy and proud that their female cohorts took home first place.   As they anticipated their re-entry into the humdrum of everyday life, they did so filled with vivid memories of passion and pathos.  They were feeling the full range of human emotions ripple through their bodies--including pride, humility, frustration, and gratitude. 

Pride because the Bad Boys…

                -Played as a team and made the WE bigger than the ME

                -Fought their hearts out and left nothing on the court

                -Exhibited superb sportsmanship

                -Played some fine tennis and took home third place out of a group of 12 worthy competitors

Humility because the Bad Boys…

-Found out first hand that no matter how good you think you are, there are many fantastic players over 60 who are as good or better than the Bad Boys

-Learned once again that this sport is wonderful in so many ways, but in particular it exposes our failings and weaknesses for the world to see-- there is nowhere to hide 

-Saw time and time again how the best players are almost always the most humble, and their humility is one reason why they are so good 

Frustration because the Bad Boys…

-Remembered the shots they could’ve made that might have made a difference and put them in the finals.  Remembering the whatmighthavebeen’s is the curse of a competitive tennis player

-Understood that third place is cool, but they aren’t going to be satisfied with anything less than the championship trophies--in fact they know that the championship is their destiny.

-Knew they can still do better and it is this frustration will drive them to practice harder, improve on weaknesses, and come back stronger next year

Gratitude because the Bad Boys…

-Love playing tennis and are thrilled that they are healthy; can still compete at a high level; and can run around the court throwing themselves at moving tennis balls --unlike some of their close tennis friends who have either passed on, can’t play because of injuries, or even worse are standing around playing golf

-Appreciate the time and energy Captain Drake and Lieutenant McKinley put into bringing the Bad Boys together and keeping them focused

-Know that there are guys like them in every corner of this nation practicing hard and aiming to get better so they can beat the Bad Boys next year which is what makes this competition so much fun

-Are grateful for the support of the Bad Girls--Carol McKinley and Sally Felton for their faithful and unwavering support and healing therapy

The Reprise in Surprise was a definite improvement as the Bad Boys brought home the #3 trophies.  Far from satisfied, they have their sights set on winning number one before they’re done!