Recently, I had the nerve-wracking* pleasure of being on Amy Fetherolf and Jeff Sackmann‘s Margin of Error podcast, during which we discussed the ATP’s amazing new HD Challenger livestreams, Keith Crowley‘s important petition and ongoing efforts to increase prize money at tennis’s lower levels, and a bunch of other good stuff.
At one point, though, Jeff had the temerity — the sheer sac, man — to ask me to name, for the spectator just dipping his or her tennistical toes into challenger-watching waters, the five (seriously, Jeff: just FIVE?!) players a person should look out for.
More specifically, who are the crazy/good/weird players who’d consistently treat that spectator’s eyes to something special. Furthermore, these players shouldn’t necessarily be the next young, up-and-coming stars, many of whom I’ve already identified here.
Well, in my estimation, I totally whiffed on my answer to that question. I mean: have you ever walked into a grocery store without a list and immediately forgotten everything you’re supposed to get? That’s what happened to my brain there.
So, since I have a website that I occasionally even update, I thought I’d take advantage of that and give you a more considered answer to that question. Without further ado**, I give you the official Challenger Tennis Top Ten*** Players to View:
Before I discuss the man so boldly listed above, I’m going to take you, dear reader, on a journey backstage at Margin of Error HQ. A special trip in which we peek behind the podcast curtain**** and take a look at what goes on behind the scenes.
Immediately after my inaugural podcastic performance came to a close but while everyone was still on the call, I started kvetching about how I’d totally choked the Top Five question. And five seconds after that, we came to a unanimous agreement that Mr. Samuel Groth really is Top Five on all of our lists.
Confession: I’ve been a fan of this 26-year-old Aussie for aaaaages (kindly pronounce this with an Ozzer-bite in your vowels: “iiiiiges”). Like, since the only YouTube video of him was a through-the-back-fence shot of him taking serves while practicing on some side court. Like, since even before he beat Janko Tipsarevic in Nottingham quals in 2008.
But enough about me. Here’s why you should watch Groth:
1) A mammoth, monster, weighty, whopping, walloping first (and second) delivery. Currently the world record holder for fastest first serve at something like 800 MPH, give or take.
2) One-handed backhand, all-court game. Variety. He’s more than just a servebot, folks.
3) Color commentates his own matches as they happen. If there’s a more vocal player in all of pro tennis, I can’t think of him. In addition, he has several go-to verbal plays, most of which I’ll let you discover for yourselves.
But here’s a slight spoiler: I’d not only happily attend, but would pay money to happily attend, a one-man epic-length spoken-word opera performed by Mr. Groth entitled, “Towel, Please!”
The sheer dynamic range of emotion and pathos the man can inject into those simple syllables has to be heard to be believed.
5) I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the current World No. 163 played Australian Rules Football during a hiatus in his pro career, have I? Well now I have.
Ah, Dustin Brown. Where to even start with this breathtaking and occasionally bewildering 29-year-old racket-wielding artiste? Known as Dreddy, for reasons unbeknownst to me…
… this tremendous talent has every shot in the book, then a few more from tomes yet undiscovered.
The 29-year-old GERmaican — whose mother is German and father is Jamaican, and who changed his nationality from Jamaican to German due to lack of fiscal support from the Jamaican Federation — is someone who you may recall from his Wimbledon campaign this past summer, when he qualified and made the 3rd Round, beating Lleyton Hewitt along the way.
Once renowned for travelling the globe in his van, Dustin is now making more news on the court, getting his ranking back up into the Top 100 again and most recently making the quarterfinals at the ATP 250 Doha. Brown has a penchant for the spectacular, often opting for a gobsmacking high-degree-of-difficulty shot when an ordinary high percentage play will do.
At times superhuman and at others superstitious (he often asks for the same ball back on points that he’s won), I’d bet Dustin Brown is near the top of most peoples’ Top Ten Players to View list. And it’s time to add him to yours.
WARNING: since been getting his ranking back up, this may be a limited time only offer — watch him at the Challenger level on these beautiful HD streams while you still can, people!
p.s. When you can’t follow him on the court, he’s also one of the best people to follow on Twitter, and is one of the fan-friendliest guys on the tour.
Welp, there’s eight more on my list, but I’m gonna hafta stop here for now. This is merely your appetizer, so be sure to stay tuned for the next PTV installments!
Oh, and by all means sound off in the comments or to me on Twitter with suggestions of whom you’d like to see on this list. Who are your favorite challenger players to watch?
*I do have a bit of stage fright, at times.
**Because, let’s face it, there’s been a lot of ado. And, quite frankly, who needs more of it?
***Because, seriously: FIVE?!?!
****The Curtain of Error?