Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Happy Silver Anniversary Cliff Swain!

It was 25 years ago today that you won your first professional racquetball event: the $10,000 Tulsa Pro-Am Racquetball Championship, which was the fifth event on that season's Racquetball Manufacturers Association tour.

You were "a quiet college student" from Braintree, Mass., a "lanky lefthander" ranked 24th, who had never made it past the round of 16 previously. But the Tulsa courts were especially conducive to drive servers, because the front wall, as well as the back wall, was glass, so it was difficult to return the rocket serves you were hitting.

You beat Steve Lerner in the 32s, 11-10, 9-11, 11-4, 4-11, 11-1, and Bret Harnett in the Round of 16, 11-3, 1-11, 11-4, 11-10. Then in the quarter-finals, you faced veteran Jerry Hilecher, who had defeated Mike Ray in the 16s. You won that in four games, 11-4, 11-8, 7-11, 11-4.

You split the first four games of the semi-final with Gerry Price, and in the tie-breaker Price, another hard serving player, got a 10-4 lead. You would have been excused for feeling that lead was insurmountable and giving in at that point. But you didn't. Three aces helped you come back and win the tie-breaker 11-10 and take the match, 11-7, 5-11, 1-11, 11-8, 11-10, to advance to your first pro final.

You started the final against Scott Oliver in the same way as you had game 5 of the semi: down big early. Oliver led 8-1, but again you fought back and won 11-10. Four for four in games decided by one point.

But as in the semis, you dropped games two and three, 11-9, 11-6, before righting the ship and winning game four, 11-5, to set up another tie-breaker. But in this tie-breaker, you took the big lead, dominating play for a 9-1 advantage. Lights out. The party's over, yes? No.

Oliver switched things up, and hit high lob z serves to you. It must have bamboozled you as the score went from Oliver serving 1-9 to 10-9, match point. Perhaps no other sport can have such severe shifts of momentum.

You fought off match point twice, and then back in the service box again brought out the rocket serve and hit two "perfect drives into the crotch of the right side wall" that "brought the already frenzied crowd to their feet." The Tulsa, Oklahoma crowd gave you and Oliver a long standing ovation prior to the awards ceremony.

Your amazing drive serve and mental toughness that won you all five of the 11-10 games you played in Tulsa were characteristics that would mark your long and illustrious career.

Tulsa might not be one of the storied places in racquetball, like Memphis, Houston, and San Diego. But it does hold a special place in racquetball history, and surely a special place in your heart.

Happy Anniversary Mr. Swain.

Tulsa Pro-Am Racquetball Championship
February 6-10, 1985


Cliff Swain d. Scott Oliver, 11-10, 9-11, 6-11, 11-5, 11-10

Oliver d. Gregg Peck, 11-4, 1-11, 11-3, 11-6
Swain d. Gerry Price, 11-7, 5-11, 1-11, 11-8, 11-10

G. Peck d. Doug Cohen, 11-3, 11-3, 9-11, 5-11, 11-3
Oliver d. Ruben Gonzalez, 11-9, 1-11, 11-9, 11-2
Swain d. Jerry Hilecher, 11-4, 11-8, 7-11, 11-4
Price d. Dave Peck, 11-3, 11-5, 11-9

Source: International Racquetball, v. 3, #3, 1985

Follow the bouncing ball....


millhead said...

Thanks for sharing...

I had the pleasure of meeting and playing Cliff in Wilson promo in the the late 90's. He was nothing but a gentlemen on the court...I did ask him to hit some drive serves so I could say I played against the best. He did. I was amazed.

It was truly special to stand on the court with a 5-time WORLD champion in his sport.

Heather said...

I played in this Tulsa event back in '85 and watched all of Cliff's matches from the front wall. They were great wins and better than advertised!