Fight to win, or go down swinging?

It’s been 20 years to the almost exact day that the only recorded NCAA Division 1 tennis match ended in an all in brawl. Yep, an all in brawl! During my freshman year, Austin Peay vs Tennessee Tech ended in a double TKO when all of the courts cleared for good old fashioned melee.

College tennis didn’t feature prominently in the news despite the quality of players playing at the time. From memory I can vaguely remember that the Bryan brothers were playing at Stanford and James Blake was playing at Harvard, obviously all went on to have amazing professional careers. (Ironically, the Bryan’s were known for their singles at this stage of their careers)

It would take something out of the ordinary to gain publicity back then. But then Austin Peay State University vs Tennessee Tech University happened. In fact, the brawl made ESPN Sportscentre, the ‘USA Today’ and various other national and regional newspapers. Thankfully this was a time before online social media, otherwise I’m sure it would have been a worldwide online viral sensation!

Going into the match there was some history between our two teams. Simply put, we didnt like each other. Tech’s assistant coach would do things like stand behind the court during doubles matches and yell out to his team what hand signals we were using and things like that. The last time we played some words had been exchanged (which wasn’t uncommon) but there was some still some tension and it showed on this day.

Our number 3 singles player was a guy named Steve from Florida. He was a serve and volley style player and played with a lot of emotion. (In fact, he once won a deciding rubber and after shaking his opponents hand, rode his racquet like a horse around the court cheering and pretending to whip its butt. Still one of the funniest things I have ever seen on a court!)

Steve was playing Gustavo from Tennessee Tech. On a change of ends Steve and Gustavo exchanged words, heated words. Things escalated quickly and out of nowhere Gustavo punched Steve in the face!!! The umpire had no choice but to default Gustavo and award Steve the match. Naturally the two didn’t shake hands as they had to be separated. As Steve walked off the court his opponent chased him and they physically got into it. Then court by court, players cleared and an all in brawl ensued!

Haymakers were being thrown everywhere and the referee defaulted everyone. Marcus from Sydney was our number 6 player and in an attempt to break up the fight put an opponent named Volkan in a Rugby League style spear tackle that had to be seen to be believed. Our number 1 player Pavel was a massive unit and was first on the scene to try to break things up. Even our team booster and number 1 fan, George, who was in his 70’s, but nonetheless a former green beret US soldior, got caught up in the brawl. I didnt see it, but our beautiful female assistant coach Angie from Canada was seen in amongst it!

From Austin Peay, Steve was suspended for 2 matches, while Marcus and Pavel were given 1 match suspensions.

For Tennessee Tech, Gustavo and Volkan were banned for 5 matches

The match gave our team our 15 minutes of fame and gives the expression ‘Fight to win’ a whole new meaning!

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