The age old question in all sports is who is better. Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb? Dempsey or Ali? Jacobs, Haber, Lewis, Alvarado or Chapman? We will never know but it's fun to speculate.
One of the comparisons we never hear too much about is that of the great doubles teams. If you focus only on singles, you owe it to yourself to watch the top players play doubles. It is a great game to watch and we've set up the entire tournament on CD-ROM.
For some time we have been gathering information on all the great doubles teams, past and present, over the last 40 years--USHA National champions, USHA National Invitational and Pro champions. Their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies were input into our Simon Computer Program. Nearly 100,000,000 bits of information went into our Univac L computer. All the teams were entered and played at the ages when they won their championships.
Here are the 21 doubles teams:
At the University of Texas in Austin they have permanent seating for 1,000 people. Ticket prices range from $200 to $1,000 and have been sold out for months. Gatorade, Spaulding, Nike, Continental and Simple Green are the major sponsors with $1,000,000 in prize money.
The Ben Thum and Chatten Hayes Group are covering the event for ESPN. They have six cameras running full time, two each in the left and right corners of the front and back walls, one at the six foot level in the center of the back wall and one overhead camera for a complete perspective. The plan is to film and edit for a full series on ESPN.
Complete each tournament bracket to make your entries as you go along or fill it in advance and see how you do.
Referees. How could we go wrong with Al Gracio the all-time floor manager/referee. The linesmen are former world rules and referee's chairman Neal Nordlund and Ben Loiben. These three will control these very difficult matches.
All matches will consist of two out of three games to 21.
We have 21 teams that have won USHA National Doubles Championships during the past 40 years. This means we need to have five preliminary matches to fill out our draw of 16.
In the first preliminary, with too much speed Doug Glatt and Rod Prince beat Kent Fusselman and Al Drews in two straight.
The second preliminary saw Lou Russo and Lou Kramberg beating Jack Roberts and Tom Kopatich 13, 19.
The third preliminary match featured Pete Tyson and Bob Lindsay over Marty Decatur and Steve Lott in two 19, 19.
The fourth preliminary match pitted Ruby and Carl Obert against Gary Rohrer and Danny O'Conner with the Oberts winning in three 15, (13), 18.
Our last preliminary match saw Skip McDowell and Matt Kelly defeat Danny Bell and Charlie Kalil in two 15, 16.
Round of 16
#1 Jacobs/Decatur vs. #16 Glatt/Prince
#2 Alvarado/Roberts vs. #15 Tyson/Lindsay
#3 Bike/Silveyra vs. #14 The Oberts
#4 Sloan/Collins vs. #13 McDowell/Kelly
#5 Chapman/Alvarado Jr. vs. #12 Russo/Kramberg
#6 Neveau/Fein vs. #11 P Haber/Ardito
#7 Lewis/Pfeifer vs. #10 Singer/Decatur
#8 Kendler/Monreal vs. #9 S. Haber/Schneider
#1 Jacobs/Decatur vs. #8 Kendler/Monreal
#2 Alvarado/Roberts vs. #11 Haber/Ardito
#3 Bike/Silveyra vs. #7 Lewis/Pfeifer
#4 Sloan/Collins vs. #5 Chapman/Alvarado, Jr.
The Final Four
#1 Jacobs/Decatur vs. #4 Sloan/Collins
#2 Alvarado/Roberts vs. #7 Lewis/Pfeifer
The second game takes an hour and a half; and in the middle of the game Fred Lewis' strength and stamina start to take over as he is pushing both Alvarado and Roberts around the court. Pfeifer is using the fly kill every single time the opportunity presents itself. The second game goes to Lewis and Pfeifer, 21-18.
As the third game begins most of the experts believe that Lewis and Pfeifer have taken control of this match. They expect the third game to be a repeat of the second game except with Lewis/Pfeifer winning by a larger margin. The experts have failed to take into account the competitiveness of Alvarado and Roberts who quickly jump out 8-0. Lewis and Pfeifer, time out. They come back in after the time out and score points on a roll-out serve by Lewis on the left sidewall and a flat kill from 25 feet in the right corner by Pfeifer. They are put out on an uncommon hand error by Lewis who attempts to stiff-arm short-hop a ball with his left hand to the corner and picks up the left side on the way in. The ball does not reach the front wall.
Alvarado/Roberts go into serve with a big lead and know that they need to stay focused. Alvarado serves from the left and gets a quick service ace with a reverse down the left sidewall that is unreturnable. After a long volley, Naty floors a fly kill from 35 feet for a handout. Roberts serves down the right and gives Pfeifer a hanger which he immediately buries in the right corner. Lewis and Pfeifer serve and run four points on a combination of kills and passes. What is important is every rally is going two and three minutes as Lewis starts controlling his opponents. The Alvarado/Robert's once large lead has shrunk dramatically and they need to make their move. They take a time out to try and regroup and decide to go at Pfeifer on the serve since Lewis' returns have become so steady. They get a crotch for a service ace on the right and a serve that looks like it will go long but catches the crotch between the back wall and the floor for a second service ace to go up 10-6. At this point they go for another service on the right which hits a little bit too high and Pfeifer gobbles it up and flattens it. The second service ends up in a long volley with Lewis hitting a pass shot down the left to regain the serve, 6-10. At this point Lewis controls a long volley from start to finish which ends in a questionable hinder call which looked like an unavoidable to the computer.
Lewis and Pfeifer serve again at 6-10. If we were playing a tie breaker at this point, they would be in a lot of trouble but they are playing three 21 point games as Pfeifer and Lewis attempt to regain control of the match. All of the volleys are now lasting longer with Alvarado and Roberts making one get after another. Pfeifer is all over the floor but he is not alone as Alvarado and Roberts are also scrambling. The one constant is Lewis the ultimate court general watching the soldiers battle each other while he controls the battlefield. At the three and one half hour point in the match, Lewis finally serves a crotch to the left that is unreturnable. Lewis/Pfeifer win 21-17 and move into the finals to confront the monster team of Jacobs and Decatur.
This is the match that everybody has been waiting for. Two teams that are undefeated in their careers Jacobs/Decatur, 11 years without a defeat and five national doubles championships vs. Lewis and Pfeifer although never playing in the Nationals nevertheless are undefeated in their career including national invitational and pro doubles championships. The left side men are known for their great serves, defense, choice of shots and the ability to push people around the court. The right side players are great competitors, great volley enders and great support for their partners. Neither of these teams have ever tasted defeat yet one of them will walk out of here with that unenviable experience. The big questions are, will Lewis be able to push Jacobs and Decatur around as he does everybody else? Will Lewis and Pfeifer be able to return the low hard reverses of Marty Decatur and the awesome power placement and hooks of Jim Jacobs? Will Jacobs be able to loosen up sufficiently to play under the constant pressure that Lewis will attempt to put on him? Will Pfeifer be able to control himself and not take too much of the court? These are the questions that will be answered in the next couple of hours.
Lewis and Pfeifer start quickly with Jacobs having early match butterflies. He miss-hits on a couple of punch returns to the ceiling and the balls don't even reach the front wall. He is really tight. This is important to him. Decatur on the other hand always plays the game as if a gang of hoodlums is threatening his family and is at his best when things get toughest. Pfeifer is an animal and he never saw a ball that he could not kill. It would make no difference if the score was 20-20. If the opportunity is there, Gordie will end the volley. "Steady Freddy" has a game plan and he will push you around, force you to do things that you don't want to do he will take advantage of every opportunity.
It's 0-5 Jacobs and Decatur serving, Jacobs attempts to cut a reverse too thin and hits the ball into the ground. Decatur serves a crotch ace to the left and gets a weak return from Lewis on the second serve which he promptly kills into the right corner. It's more of the same with Lewis and Pfeifer scoring another 5; and Lewis controlling the match. Jim is still tight and they take a time out at 2-10.
When they come back Decatur has moved to the left and Jacobs to the right. Our guess is that Jim wants the opportunity to get his head back into the game and see if he can shake some butterflies. Decatur is not the left side player that Jim is, but he is formidable and loose. Lewis can control him far easier than he can Jim; but Marty is a fighter and continues to put on pressure. 20 minutes later they are still at an 8-point spread but it is 18-10; and Jacobs goes back to the left. Jim has been there before. He has a quiet confidence that anybody who has ever played him starts to recognize. It turns out it is too late for the first game. Pfeifer and Lewis win 21-14. But there is no one in the audience that feels that the match is over.
There is a definite difference in the posture of both teams. Fred is still trying to control the match but Jacobs' superior physical ability is neutralizing those attempts. In the computer's opinion Fred Lewis is technically the greatest left-side doubles player who ever played the game; but he does not have Jacobs' unbelievable physical ability. Jacobs, on the other hand, might very well be the best athlete that ever played the game and he is almost Fred Lewis' match on consistency and choice of shots. On the right side, Marty Decatur is, without question, the greatest all-around doubles player in history. Marty has won over 20 National one-wall, three-wall and four-wall national championships with 10 different partners. He has done it on the left side and on the right; and he is the ultimate competitor and team player. Jim was quoted in Ace Magazine in the 1970's: "When things get toughest, that is when Marty will play his best."
Gordie Pfeifer is known as a great singles player and no one ever thinks too much about his doubles. But he forms a rare complement to Fred Lewis on the left probably because Fred, like Marty, is a very flexible doubles player and can adjust his game to meet the needs of his partner. So here we have, arguably, the greatest singles player of all time in the court with two of the absolute greatest doubles players of all time and one of the greatest competitors of all time. The second game continues...
While Lewis is still able to control the game somewhat; he is not able to do it in the same dominating fashion as in the first game. Jacobs is now returning Lewis' pass shots, which is preventing Fred from maintaining control of the volley. On the other hand, Jacobs and Decatur have found that they can get some success in serving to Pfeifer on the right side because Gordie is not used to anybody serving him, especially with the quality and variety that Jacobs/Decatur are throwing at him.
Many years earlier, Jacobs and Decatur developed a doubles strategy called "freeze out." It means that a team will freeze out one of the partners on the other team and direct all of the attention to the other player. In this case, the "other player" was Gordie Pfeifer. In a relatively short time it became very apparent that Gordie was going to get all of the serves, and all of the shots. If the ball was wet, he was going to be the one to dry it off. Effectively, what Jacobs and Decatur were telling Gordie is, if the team of Lewis and Pfeifer is going to win this match, you, Gordie, are going to have to beat Jacobs and Decatur yourself. Jacobs was using his powerful right hand serves; and Gordie was giving up weak returns. Don't feel too bad Gordie; this has happened to every team they have played against. Jacobs/Decatur go out to an 18-5 lead; and the match has definitely turned. Ten more minutes, and the second game ends with a 21-8 win for Jacobs and Decatur. The experts in the crowd now believe the match is over, but they did not count on the grit and intelligence of Fred Lewis and Gordie Pfeifer.
During the break Pfeifer and Lewis make a decision. There is no way that Pfeifer can read and react to the awesome hooks that are being thrown at him; so they decide if the ball goes straight down the right sidewall, Pfeifer will play it. But coming up behind him will be Fred; and if the ball picks up the sidewall either on the bounce or on the fly, Pfeifer will continue to the right and Lewis will move to the right and play defense off the return of service and see if that can stem this awesome service tide.
The third game starts out the same as the second with Jacobs and Decatur serving at Pfeifer; only Pfeifer has handled his assignment very well. He is a quick study; and the strategy of service return works. Pfeifer, not having to cover serves breaking both ways now can punch the ball to the ceiling or rap it around three walls. What he can't handle, Lewis does; and all of a sudden we have a match again. It's 5-all, and both sides are struggling to gain an advantage.
At this point, Jacobs and Decatur decide to start serving to Lewis again since their strategy of serving to Pfeifer has ceased to work. Lewis continues attempting to control his opponents; only this time he meets with far stiffer resistance than before. This is now the Jim Jacobs that everybody knows and fears; and it is a classic confrontation. Lewis and Pfeifer hit the pass shots, Jacobs makes great returns, Jacobs takes over the volley, with three-foot hooks down the center of the court and a power that only the likes of John Bike and Steve August have ever dreamed of. Pfeifer and Decatur are running a marathon trying to position themselves, taking away angles and trying to set up their partners, but not really hitting the ball all that often. Both Pfeifer and Decatur are masters at being able to stay out of the way of their partners and occasionally step in and do something very effectively.
The real game is on the left side. Watching two chess masters attempting to gain an advantage is something truly wonderful. Fred plays the doubles game a little bit better than Jim does, but Jim is a little more physically talented than Fred. Fred's hands in the front court are a little bit quicker, but Jim's a lot faster and much stronger. Fred never makes a mistake; but Jim always tries to force his opponents to make errors. Who will break?
The score is now 10-all; and the volleys are lasting a very long time. Players have hit the floor in the first half of this third game 20 times already; and Decatur's knees are bleeding and the back of his legs look like a checkerboard. Both Jacobs and Lewis are pouring sweat. They have each changed their shirts twice in this third game and it's only 12-all. Jacobs and Decatur get the serve back. There is a quick moment in the service box when Jacobs and Decatur aggressively slap hands. Lewis yells to Pfeifer that it is their time and they have to make their move. This exchange is out of character for both teams who normally appear very unemotional.
Decatur, who has been serving low hard serves to the left since the end of the second game, all of a sudden hits a deep three-wall serve which goes behind Pfeifer off the backwall and barely hits the right wall. Gordie completely misjudges the serve for a hand error, 13-12. Decatur hits the same serve to Pfeifer on the right. This time Pfeifer overswings at the ball and creates a backwall set-up which Jacobs buries it in the right corner, 14-12. Decatur tries to serve another, but this time it catches the wall a bit too much and Pfeifer buries the ball. Handout.
Jacobs moves to the right side of the service box and crushes a low hard natural hook that almost hits the crotch in the left sidewall and explodes off of the sidewall catching Lewis completely by surprise and hitting him in the body, 15-12. Jacobs moves to the right again and crushes the ball toward the exact same spot; only this time Lewis is prepared, and as he waits for the ball to explode, he is left flat-footed as Jacobs has thrown him a left reverse. The ball runs the left sidewall and dies before it gets to the back wall, 16-12. Time out, Lewis and Pfeifer need to regroup.
Jacobs serves a big reverse down the center but the ball hangs up off the backwall and Fred buries it left sidewall, front wall. Hand out, side out, 12-16. Lewis serves a natural serve down the right. Decatur moves over to return it, but the ball catches the right sidewall at the crotch and Decatur can't, 13-16. Lewis serves to Decatur again; the ball comes off the backwall, Decatur attempts to hit a left sidewall pass, but Lewis takes the ball out of the air with his left hand and flattens it, 14-16. He has pulled out all the stops. Lewis serves again and, after a long volley, Pfeifer gets a weak return in the front of the court and hits another kill shot, 15-16. Time out, Jacobs and Decatur.
After the time out, Lewis grounds the ball on his first serve trying to be too perfect. Pfeifer moves to the left and serves to the right. Decatur punches the ball to the ceiling; and after a long ceiling volley Jacobs takes the ball off the backwall with his left hand and rolls it out in the front left corner, side out, 16-15.
The crowd is going crazy. That last volley is classic Jacobs and Lewis handball. Both players acting like masters attempting to move their opponent from one place to another like they were on a string. While Jacobs eventually won the volley, nobody actually won this confrontation. Jacobs and Decatur back into serve. Decatur takes a little bit off the serve and raises it which catches Lewis by surprise and he gives Marty a fly kill opportunity which Marty promptly flattens in the center of the court, 17-15. Decatur serves to Lewis again. This time the ball comes off the backwall in the deep left side and Jacobs and Decatur lose a pass down the right side. Handout, still 17-15. From the left side Jacobs overpowers the serve down the right side with a huge reverse hook. Pfeifer does not read it; and the ball explodes into his body, 18-15. Another time out. Jacobs on the left again serving to Pfeifer down the right. Looks like the identical serve but this time he throws a natural hook. Pfeifer is all over it and almost breaks down the front wall with an absolutely flat kill shot. Looks like Gordie picked up some of Jim's serving pattern. Side out, 15-19. This could be Lewis and Pfeifer's last chance.
Pfeifer serves a reverse down the right to Decatur; the ball rolls along the sidewall too tough for Decatur, 16-19. Pfeifer serves again to Decatur, who punches it to the ceiling. Long volley. Fred Lewis finally ends it with a classic three-quarter-court left sidewall kill shot with his right hand, 17-19. Pfeifer serves again. Another long volley gives Jacobs a back wall shot. With both Lewis and Pfeifer charging the frontwall, Jacobs throws a reserve hook down the center of the court which catches both opponents by surprise. Handout, still 17-19. Lewis gets ready to serve about six feet off the left sidewall, drops the ball and just flattens the serve to the left sidewall crotch, 18-19. It does not seem that Fred was to intimidated by that hook Jim hit at him. Lewis serving again, identical serve down the left side. The ball appears to flatten out on the left side crotch, but somehow Jacobs gets his hand under it and punches the ball to the ceiling. Fred again gets the same three-quarter-court shot. Jacobs charges the front court anticipating the left sidewall frontwall shot, but Lewis hits a pass down the left side, 19-all.
The crowd is going insane. This is everything everybody expected. A dream match. Lewis serves to Jacobs. A long volley ensues. Fred finally gets an opportunity to end the volley at about 25 feet. Jacobs explodes to the front of the court; and Lewis hits a pass shot that catches him completely by surprise. Somehow, Jacobs slams on the brakes, accelerates as only his powerful legs can do, catches up to the ball and flattens a kill into the right corner, very un-Jacobs-like, but spectacular nonetheless. It seems like the glass walls might come loose and fall on the ball players; there is that much crowd noise. There is a strange smell of burning rubber. Is it possible that Jacobs put so much pressure on his shoes, he actually burned rubber on that play? Side out.
Decatur serving, crotch on the left. "When things get toughest Decatur will play his best," 20-19. Decatur serves to the crotch on the left; only this time Fred has moved up on the ball and stiff arms it. Handout, 20-19. Now Jacobs is serving. All Lewis and Pfeifer need is one more handout to get their opportunity. Jacobs moves to the left, Fred anticipates one of his powerful hook serves. Only Jim changes the pace and serves a three-quarter speed rolling natural hook which looks simple in comparison to what Lewis has seen before. Fred stutters on the return and hits the ball right down the center of the court, front wall, floor, backwall. The ball comes out ten feet into the court and Jacobs has a volley and match ending set-up, but Referee Gracio yells, "Hinder!" A bad call. Evidently the referee anticipated something happening that never did. Tough break for Jacobs and Decatur. Another chance for Lewis and Pfeifer. Al just smiles; good thing Haber wasn't playing.
Still 20-19, Jacobs serving again. Jacobs moves to the right side. It looks like he is setting up to overpower that serve into the left sidewall. Both Lewis and Pfeifer move a step to the left; but Jacobs crosses them up and powers a deep V-serve into the left sidewall which is too hard for Lewis to handle with his right hand. It goes between Lewis and Pfeifer and comes around the back wall. Pfeifer tries to end the volley, overswings and hits a two-foot high pass shot down the right. Decatur scrambles to the rear of the court, dives at the ball and flips the ball over his shoulder for what appears to be an easy volley-ending shot at the front of the court. Lewis and Pfeifer, both anticipating this shot, charge the front wall and run into each other just a fraction of a second after Pfeifer gets his hands on the ball looping it to the front wall. Decatur steps in, takes the ball out of the air and flattens it for a 21-19 game victory.
All spectators erupt in a show of appreciation for these four great warriors. The players, exhausted, hug each other. Both Jacobs and Decatur announce their retirement, Pfeifer can't believe they have lost, Lewis just shrugs, and the USHA begins further negotiations with ESPN to put the magnificent finale on CD-ROM for $29.95.
1st place, $500,000 to Jacobs/Decatur
What a tournament! The 21 greatest doubles team of all time competing for the right to say we were the best of our time and the best of all times.
Look for our next tournament--the fantasy singles.
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