By Kimberly Cummins
The entire Wildey Gymnasium watched in amazement and appreciation as world number one road tennis player, Mark “Venom” Griffith, performed one formidable stroke after another over the weekend.
Agility, mental toughness, control and excellent technique were the hallmarks of his performance against youngster Shakeem Nurse in the new Barbados Road Tennis Open Championship final on Saturday. It’s no surprise, then, that many of the estimated 5,000 road tennis fans inside the gymnasium stood up to applaud his 21-10, 21-12, 21-9 thrashing against Nurse.
What they couldn’t see was the hard work and dedication that went into what Griffith described as a tough game to beat the youngster, even though the scores didn’t reflect that.
“Shakeem Nurse did extremely well and qualified a lot of balls last night,” Griffith said at Barbados TODAY.
Heading into the final, dedicated fans were already aware of the former Ellerslie High School student’s prowess on the pitch. And with the hype behind Nurse due to his attacking style and fantastic display of good tennis in the preliminary rounds and semi-finals, it’s fair to say that the crowd support was completely behind Nurse. However, Griffith said he was not fazed because when he is dedicated to a task, everyone can expect him to give 100% to ensure he succeeds.
This mindset applies to most things in life and even dates back to his introduction to the sport itself. One night in 2009, he was driving through Bush Hall Yard Gap, St. Michael when he came across bright lights illuminating the hard terrain. Granted, he had heard of road tennis when he was in elementary school, it wasn’t anything that really interested him – not until that night. What was supposed to be a quick peek through the fence just to see what was going on ended up with Griffith spending hours watching the guys face off. This led to Griffith returning to watch the action the next day and every night thereafter. Until one evening, a gentleman named Sam challenges him to pick up a racquet and play.
Laughing as he recalled the incident, Griffith admitted to Sam that he couldn’t play a shot of road tennis, but with his interest piqued he agreed to a condition. That if he took a racket, Sam would have to teach him. Sam agreed.
“That was when I had braided hair and low hanging pants. I was the average youngster from the ghetto. I kept playing until Sam told me I had potential. and that I should try. I still wasn’t sure,” he said.
He only started to take it seriously when, unbeknownst to him, a guy named Mikey Jean entered him into a tournament because Jean thought Griffith was good enough to win a Class B tournament at the time.
“I asked Mikey why would he do that knowing I had just started playing,” laughed Griffith.
Despite his hesitation, Griffith entered the tournament and ended up winning. He received a check and a trophy and it was his “ah-ha” moment. He reflected that he hadn’t given his all to the tournament but if he had to, the possibilities would be endless. So he did, and as the saying goes, the rest is history. In the space of a decade, the 37-year-old has won around 29 Class A championships, including four Monarch of the Courts, three Silver Hill Road Tennis tournaments, three island-wide and now the Barbados Road Tennis Open Championship with a $20,000 purse.
For Griffith, road tennis was a life-changing experience that made him a household name and took him all the way to Dubai. Certainly, he does not know where he would have been today without her.
“When I got out of school, the only certificate I took out was my birth certificate. After getting involved in road tennis, it forced me to speak differently and conduct myself in a different way because before I was a fighter and very abrupt. It changed my whole character. You have to be very disciplined and it allowed me to see my life in a totally different light… and it put me on a I always knew I wanted to be the champion, but I went to Bush Hall one day and saw this junior’s cell phone and it had Mark ‘Venom’ Griffith as the wallpaper, not that you want to be a role model for anyone but, I said if these kids look up to me in that way, then I have to change my life. I wouldn’t drink at tournaments; they wouldn’t hear me use a abusive language. For me, it made me see my life differently,” he said.
Working closely with and mentoring young people is a trait very dear to Griffith’s heart and something he takes very seriously. That’s why youngster Zayn Griffith’s father recently held an eight-week road tennis clinic for more than 30 youngsters aged 7 to 16 in Gall Hill, St. John, and why he wants to coach full-time when he retires from the sport.
He continued, “Not everyone may be academically inclined all the time, but sport is an opportunity for many of these young people, why not help them become better athletes so they can live and live Sport? I’m a Barbados Olympic Association certified coach so it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, plus I love working with young people. So whenever I have the chance, I’m always here to give some pointers, tips or whatever I need. I have no problem volunteering my time in schools, communities or elsewhere. . . . We need more players to come into the community and do things like that too. We need more coaches here in the schools if we want to export the sport. There is only one coach appointed at the moment at the National Sports Council and that is Peter Moore, for both primary and secondary.
“As I said, road tennis and sports in general offer many opportunities and benefits and can really change a person’s life. You can become a full time athlete because of the cash prizes offered now , as long as you have this continuous [support] upcoming tournaments. Yes, you could make a living just playing road tennis, but you should be at the top of your game. For me personally, I looked at it in a different light. I said “look at Venom, you’re only given an opportunity and a window in the sport for such a period of time” and that’s why I ended up making these other investments, just for the longevity of my own personal life to say that I would also have something to fall back on to sustain me whenever I retire from the sport. But basically, you have to dedicate all your time and life to sports. That’s what I did in the beginning. I trained countless hours whether it was running, swimming, cycling, whatever to prepare for the upcoming tournament because your salary is basically based on your performance “, did he declare.
In an effort to nurture more professional athletes, especially in road tennis, Griffith however supported the need for more tournaments throughout the year and especially outside of Barbados so athletes can win. their life. Griffith suggested the introduction of a pro-circuit.
“You have to have a professional circuit, even if it is only regional for the moment, where you play in different islands. You have St. Vincent, Trinidad where you can go and compete and then come home to other tournaments. In this way, you are guaranteed to earn a living and earn a living through sports. But just to have it here in Barbados, there are not that many tournaments so it will be very difficult to do.
Griffith believes there is interest in road tennis in other regional territories, his push just needs to be sustained.
“In St. Vincent, for example, there is also the St. Vincent association which takes road tennis very seriously and also in Jamaica they have started road tennis and they are also looking to play and compete in a very high and competitive level. level as you saw in the last world championships where the international champion came from Saint-Vincent and the finalists came from Jamaica. In 2017, while on tour in St. Vincent, where the Professional Road Tennis Association held a tournament there, we had a Bajan leaving Barbados and traveling to St. Vincent to enter this competition and lose in the final. At this point, St. Vincent had only been playing road tennis for about three years. So if they can move forward and defeat someone from Barbados in that short amount of time, then what if the whole world is picking it up,” he explained.
Griffith’s immediate plans are to take a short two-week break from road tennis to recuperate and recuperate. (CC)