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A surprise at the Delray Beach Open Pro-Am

A surprise at the Delray Beach Open Pro-Am

There was a lot brewing at the Delray Beach Open today. Qualifiers were duking it out for a spot in the main draw. Champions Tour matches were being played to the delight of DBO fans everywhere. But I was frantically stretching. 

Stretching? Yes. After a memorable Legends Clinic yesterday, hitting with the Bryan Brothers, the Jensen Brothers, Tommy Haas, and Sam Querry took a toll. My body hurt. I'm closing in on 53 years old. Injuries, aches, and pains are expected. But last night a flair up of plantar fasciatis left me hobbled in desperate need of Alleve.

I was slated to play the DBO's Pro-Am this morning and my body (especially my left foot) was hurting bad. So after the Alleve and a few diligent calf stretches, I took the court to warm up with one of the good-hearted FAU players that came to participate in the ACEing Autism Clinic. After a few groundstrokes, I hit volleys, overheads, serves, and prayed my bum foot wouldn't completely break down.

Luckily Florida Tennis contributor Adam Ross recommended Oofos sandals and I wore them all morning leading up to the Pro-Am. This helped keep the pain away. Right when I started gaining some confidence, in walked eight super-fit pros. Most were "doubles specialists" traveling the world as part of the ATP pro tour. Oh yeah, these guys had serious game.

The Amateurs, on the other hand, were a mix of crafty club players, tennis fanboys (and fangirls), a few promising juniors, and some seasoned vets who played back in college. I fell into the "seasoned vets" camp and was amped to face off against real professional ATP tennis players.

Above: Hugo Nys hitting his signature one-handed backhand. Photo: si.robi (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The leader of the pack was Hugo Nys who had a career-high ATP ranking of #12 in doubles. Hugo won six doubles titles last year (including an ATP 1000 in Rome) and was a 2023 Australian Open doubles finalist. He's currently the #2 seed in the DBO doubles draw.

In the DBO's Pro-Am round robin format, the amateurs were placed with nearly every pro and I knew I'd eventually link up with Hugo.

The two of us, Hugo and I, finally connected and we proceeded to decimate our opponents. We had some time to kill so I sheepishly asked if we could hit a few balls. He agreed. That led to one of the coolest experiences I've ever had on a tennis court. Surprisingly, I entered "the zone" and didn't miss a ball. Being in a flow state like that is akin to being high. It's pure bliss.

But that wasn't the cool part. Hugo proceeded to ratchet up the pace and depth of his ball to a point where I felt I was on a practice court, pre-match, with a pro tennis player. This was the real deal. He was hitting a big ball. Meanwhile, I was hitting short, slicing defensively, and moving the ball around too much. But... I wasn't missing. 

After that, Hugo said when he faced me in the next round robin doubles with another amateur, he was going to "hit out" against me. And, he was going to practice his serve full-on, no more paddycake tennis (which can be the norm at these Pro-Ams). This was both nerve-racking and intoxicating. 

We faced off in the next (!) round, and Hugo began to simply demolish the ball. Just to me. I managed to bunt a few service returns over the net even though his serve was probably rocketing in at about 130mph. At this point my adrenaline was so high, I didn't feel my "old man" injuries anymore. I was going at it with a pro. 

Yes, I got schooled. Then, it got worse. Once he set the precedent, all the pros picked up their pace and took it to me. I loved every minute of it. In the end, I got a shiny gold medal — the runner-up of the DBO Pro-Am. I haven't gotten hardware like that since I was a junior player. And, sure enough, I got less points than a hotshot junior who walked away the champ.

And even though I got pushed around by the pros, I got a nod (and knowing smile) from Hugo at the end. It felt like I just won a grand slam. 


Written by Florida Tennis' Executive Editor and Publisher Matt Pressman. Top photo (courtesy of Delray Beach Open): a look at the eight pros who participated in the DBO Pro-Am surrounding the medal-winners in the middle. I'm standing to the right of big-hitter Hugo Nys (who's wearing the white Lacoste T-shirt). 

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