05
Sep
09

Taylor Dent wins the ‘match of the tournament’.

US Open Tennis“You people are . . .” Taylor Dent’s voice seem to catch with a minor choke-up before he could smoothly finish the sentence, but he eventually got it all out. “You people are . . . unbelieveable.”

About a half-hour ago, right on 9:50 p.m. and with a lot more people on the U.S. Open Grandstand Court than they had seats, Dent capped off a stunner of a throwback match by converting on his fourth match point to beat Ivan Navarro 6-4, 5-7, 6-7 (1), 7-5, 7-6 (9).

Navarro had been playing serve-and-volley tennis throughout this four hour and 12-minute odyssey and at 9-10 in the fifth set tiebreak, he was coming forward again on his first serve. He hit a moderately paced ball to Dent’s backhand side in the ad court and Taylor was laying for it. He cocked his racket for a half-slice, half-drive down the line and Navarro, storming to the net, never had a chance to cover.

The Taylor rooting section, which had been chanting “Dent, Dent, Dent” from the beginning and who had begun to get under Navarro’s skin as the fifth set wore out, was on its feet along with thousands of others who no doubt were very familiar with Dent’s career-threatening back surgery of a couple years ago and who were thrilled by his comeback.

This was a remarkable match for a lot of reasons. First, the numbers, which were numbing. Navarro got in 81 percent of his first serves, Dent 70 percent. There were 376 points and 255 of them were played at the net. That was the throwback, with Navarro converting 62.3 percent of his 146 approaches and Dent cashing 67.8 percent of his 109 trips inside the service line. Incredible numbers. Pete Sampras vs. Tim Henman numbers at Wimbledon.

Then, there was the time of this match — more than four hours. And the drama of a seesaw fifth set tiebreak, where Dent should have finished it at 7-6, but blew an easy forehand volley.

Finally, there was Dent himself. I won’t go into the full details of Dent’s back problems. You’re probably sufficiently aware of what happened to him and how he had to lay in bed in a body cast most of every day for nine months, sometimes getting up only to go to the bathroom.

And so there he was Friday night on the Grandstand Court. I wondered how his back was going to feel after serving 186 balls in a little over four hours. He probably won’t know that himself until Saturday morning, when he rolls out of bed, and he might literally roll out of bed.

But at 9:50 p.m., he was in Nirvana. After shaking Navarro’s hand, he asked the chair umpire for his mike and — I’ve rarely seen this — addressed the crowd.

“You people are . . . unbelievable.” They roared, of course. Dent had to be running on fumes at this point, oblivious to any pain, if there was any. And there might not have been. He was still cranking in the final tiebreak, ripping off a 144 mph ace down the middle. Earlier in the match he had a 147 mph. He averaged 120 mph on his first serve, 102 on his second. And, except for that gaffed volley at 7-6, you could only marvel at his volleying instincts. They’re there, just as you remembered them before the back surgery.

And so Taylor moves into the third round to play (gulp) Andy Murray. They’ve met twice before, both in 2005, with Murray winning each time. But that’s ancient history. Murray was ranked No. 132 then. He’s No. 2 now. Dent was No. 21 then. he’s 195 now.

With the American crowds stoked behind Dent, this one undoubtedly will be on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court on Sunday. Taylor’s chances of winning lie somewhere between zero and remote, but who knows.

He’s got his back up now. Anything can happen.

Charles Bricker can be reached at bricker@tennisnews.com

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