Two handles better than 1 for Battistone

TENNIS: U.S. Open veteran brings his unusual racket, serve to Tacoma for Pacific NW Open, starting today

Todd.milles@thenewstribune.comJuly 25, 2012 

Tacoma – Brian Battistone has never taken his two-handled tennis racket to Washington state.

That wasn’t a misprint — he uses a two-handled tennis racket.

Two handles stretching off the bottom of a tennis racket is certainly unconventional, but it has worked for Battistone, who is two years removed from an appearance in the doubles championship at the U.S. Open.

Now, Battistone is taking his intriguing racket from the courts of the Grand Slam tournament to the 121st Annual Pacific Northwest Open Tennis Championships, which start today at Tacoma Lawn Tennis Club, where it is sure to be a topic of conversation.

“It’s always interesting to see the reaction when I haven’t played at a particular place before,” Battistone said. “They think it is either interesting or cool. Other people are just freaked out. Hopefully people are excited, though.”

Since he climbed as high as No. 88 in the ATP world doubles ranking using the racket, called “The Natural,” Battistone has become the traveling spokesman for the racket.

Despite Battistone’s success, the odd-looking racket has not been received well by the rest of the tennis world.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are two of the many players to ask Battistone questions about it, with Nadal even messing around with it in the locker room before the U.S. Open in 2010.

Nadal didn’t care for it. That was all the time he would spend with the racket before he embraced his conventional single-handed racket, which he eventually used to beat Novak Djokovic in the final.

“For me (there) is no reason to play like this,” Nadal, who is from Spain, told Sports Illustrated when asked about Battistone’s two-handled racket at that U.S. Open, calling it a needless added complication to the game.

But it’s not just the racket that gets people’s attention. Battistone’s serve is just as unconventional.

His jump serve has earned its share of hits on YouTube. With each serve, he jumps as high and as far forward as he can, which Battistone says allows him to get the best angle on the shot.

He began experimenting with his serve when he returned to full-time tennis in 2008. Battistone first tried running to the line as fast as he could like a pole vaulter, jumping and serving to his opponent — until he learned the serve is against the rules.

That’s when he adapted it to come up with his current jump serve.

“I would use it once in a while, but it became more effective than my normal serve,” Battistone said. “So I continued to use it and over time it has become my mainstay.”

His dual-handled racket, combined with his jump serve make Battistone’s game look at least unconventional.

Battistone, who left full-time tennis in 2000, has used the racket ever since he returned to the pro circuit. He said he has always been somewhat ambidextrous and he wanted to experiment with something that allowed him to take advantage and allowed him to use his forehand shot more often.

That’s when Battistone learned about Lionel Burt, who invented “The Natural” more than two decades ago. Burt was approached by Battistone in 2008 about the possibility of using the racket on the professional tour.

“He had the skills, not the racket, and I had the racket without the skills,” Burt said. “It was a match made in heaven.”

Burt said about 10 players, including Battistone, currently use the racket at the top levels of tennis.

Burt said he hopes his racket catches on throughout the tennis world, but he hasn’t had the money for advertising and marketing it takes to get it going.

“Most people think it’s a gimmick,” Burt said. “But when they see guys like Brian play so well with it, they start to think maybe there is something there. That maybe it has some science to it. Which it does.”

Whether the racket is made to attract attention or take advantage of science is a mission Battistone continues to pursue as he competes on the pro circuit.

In Tacoma, Battistone will compete in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.

Battistone is using the Pacific Northwest Open Championships to prepare himself as he attempts to get back to the U.S. Open.

In late May, he won both singles and mixed doubles at the U.S. Open National Playoff Southwest Section Qualifying Tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz., which allowed him to advance to next month’s U.S. Open National Playoff Championships in New Haven, Conn.

If he wins there, Battistone will be back in New York at the US Open, Aug. 27-Sept. 9 — where his unusual racket and unconventional play are bound to attract a lot of attention again.

121st PACIFIC NORTHWEST OPEN TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS

When: Today-Sunday.

Where: Tacoma Lawn Tennis Club.

2011 champions: Damian Hume, South Africa (men’s singles); Gail Brodsky, Brooklyn, N.Y. (women’s singles); Luke and Clancy Shields, Boise, Idaho (men’s doubles); Brodsky and Denise Dy, Seattle (women’s singles); Clancy Shields and Lauren Jones, Boise (mixed doubles).

No. 1 seeds this week: Clement Reix, France (men’s singles); Brodsky (women’s singles); Brian Battistone, Las Vegas, and Trevor Dobson, Redondo Beach, Calif. (men’s doubles); Brodsky and Suzy Matzenauer, Lakewood (women’s doubles); Battistone and Brodsky (mixed doubles).

The skinny: Hume, a Boise State product, will not be back to defend his men’s singles crown, leaving the bracket wide open. Reix, a Clemson graduate who is ranked 420th in the world, gets the nod as the top seed. … Brodsky has a realistic chance of sweeping all three titles this week. However, she takes on Matzenauer, a local standout who graduated from Bellarmine Prep, as her women’s double partner. Dy, who won it with Brodsky last year, will play with Irina Tereschenko. That duo is seeded third. … This year, the main draws have been extended one extra day, starting today instead of Thursday.

Schedule: Wednesday, noon to 4 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday finals: women’s singles, 11 a.m., men’s singles, 12:30 p.m., and all doubles, approximately 2 p.m.

Admission: Daily pass, $5; tournament pass, $20.

Todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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