Dent tires, then retires
Taylor Dent basically gave the 2005 RCA Championship title to Robby Ginepri last Sunday in what was an anti-climactic, if not disappointing, finals match. Ginepri, consistent with his winning performances leading up to the finals, was dogged against Dent who was just doggone tired - retiring from the match in the third set with Ginepri ahead, 4-6, 6-0, 3-0. Theirs was the first all-American finals the RCAs had seen in 13 years. Robby Ginepri defeated Taylor Dent 4-6, 6-0 and 3-0 at the RCA Championships on Sunday.
Ranked No. 98 on the ATP tour, the unassuming Ginepri was the first unseeded player to win the RCAs since it became a hardcourt competition in 1988.
Leading up to the finals, Dent (24, from Newport Beach, Calif.) was all power. Defeating his best friend on the tour, Jan-Michael Gambill, 6-3, 6-4 in the second round, his low-bounce slices had Gambill scrambling to return them - scooping up the ball with that awkward looking, but effective, two-handed backhand. Gambill's game uncharacteristically imitated that of Dent's with lots of volleying, perhaps because the two play every week together and are doubles partners (they even picked up their tournament badges together). Or perhaps because he didn't want Dent to take the net first.
Gambill only kicked his game up a notch when he had to fight for a point, as evidenced in his first round win against 15-year-old dynamo Donald Young 7-5 (10) 6-2. If he performed with that determination constantly maybe he would have an elevated ATP standing. In spite of the ridiculously incessant chatter coming from the north seats throughout their match, Dent and Gambill fully duked it out.
The semi-finals match-up of Dent and Greg Rusedski, the 2002 RCA Championship winner, put these two serve and volleyers head-to-head for what was Dent's best performance of the week. It was a skillful contest with Dent chipping every return serve deep into Rusedski's court and pinning the serve and volleyer back on the baseline. Rusedski's not used to seeing his serves come back like that. After Dent aced every point to win his second set (2-2), Rusedski shamelessly double faulted with his lefty serve. "You will overcome the headband," a Dent fan in the west stands shouted, referring to the white headband Rusedski wore. And he did in a good fight.
The other semifinal face-off between No. 10 seed Karol Beck and Ginepri took place after a heavy rain when conditions were downright sultry and humid. About 35 RCA staff furiously dried the surface with big rolling squeegees, eight compressors and by stomping on towels splayed across the court. Ginepri wore Beck down by pummeling his backhand side. He served wide on a deuce court, with Beck predictably returning it back to the middle, allowing Ginepri to send it down the line with his big forehand for the point. To win the first set, Beck got offensive, but overall he was just playing badly. This showed as he fumbled through the second set, looking at times like he had mentally given up. Beck has defeated Ginepri the previous two times they've met on tour, but at the RCAs Ginepri won 5-7, 6-2, 6-3.
And again, in the finals, Ginepri's opponent appeared to mentally give up. Not even Dent's pick-me-up after a couple of unfavorable calls by the chair umpire - a chocolate chip cookie from the Center Court Café - could boost his momentum. With 118-degree heat on the court, it probably added to his decline. Maybe Bud Collins' RCA-themed pants and kryptonite colored Lacoste made him dizzy. Who knows, but even Bud managed to down a bag of kettle corn when all was said and done. Dent's arms got noodly and he wasn't chasing down every shot the way he typically does. He was frustrated and caved. And, Ginepri was just that much more solid.
Ginepri (22, from Marietta, Ga.) took home $74,250 in winnings, but probably should buy a lottery ticket considering his luck at the RCAs. He'll be interesting to follow as the U.S. Open Series progresses.
Visit www.nuvo.net/archive/081601/sports/081601_sports_b.html to read MLP's 2001 interview with Taylor Dent. Visit www.nuvo.net/archive/2003/07/23/tennis_is_me.html to read MLP's 2003 interview with Jan-Michael Gambill.