Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Looking Back: Taylor Dent's Magic Moment

Taylor Dent has announced his retirement at the age of 29. Luckily for us the impression he left on Grandstand in '09 will last forever.

Most of you already know that Taylor Dent, who is known, among other things, as being a part of the first father son duo to own Open Era ATP titles, announced his retirement yesterday.

The news comes as a bit of surprise to the many fans who just recently welcomed Dent back from a two-and-a-half year layoff that featured three back surgeries (including seven months in a full body cast) and many doubts that he would ever step on a tennis court again.

In his brief return to the tour, Dent not only played the signature brand of smashmouth tennis that had made him a force to be reckoned with ever since he had turned pro -- he also connected with his fans in a way that very few players ever do.

While the former No. 21-ranked player in the world and Olympic semi finalist never attained his previous highs on paper after returning to the tour in '09, he did climb over 800 spots in the rankings to reenter the top-100.

During his inspiring comeback, Dent managed 24 tour level wins, one of which will be forever remembered by those who witnessed it.

It was pure magic, and there are scores of fans who'll enthusiastically agree that watching Dent defeat Ivan Navarro on Grandstand at the 2009 U.S. Open was the best moment they've ever had watching tennis.

On that night, not only did Dent display the ferocious brand of serve and volley tennis that was his calling card over the course of his 12 year career, he also brought forth a torrent of emotional gratitude the likes of which we rarely see from a player.

Speaking from a fan's perspective, Dent's joyous post-match celebration and impromptu microphone-yank from the umpires chair will forever go down as one of the most captivating acts of fan appreciation ever seen on a tennis court.

In order to see the true beauty of his behavior -- and consequently glimpse into the soul of Dent the man and Dent the player -- you have to empathize with the plight of the fan first.

How many times have fans wondered if the players really care about them or consider them an integral part of the tennis experience? Sure, there are always the obligatory "without you guys this wouldn't have been possible" comments that players throw out there in their post match interviews before they whack three balls into the upper deck and call it a night.

But what Dent did transcended the previously established meaning of fan appreciation. He obliterated it and set the new bar ineffably high.

When the 6'2" 195 lb. Dent grabbed the microphone and thanked the fans who had gone crazy on Grandstand he was basically telling each and every one of them that they matter more than they could ever imagine. It was a moving display of player-crowd synergy that may never be matched again.

If you watch the video, you'd think that Dent won the tournament and had just given the each member of the crowd an equal portion of his prize money. Or you'd think that he just scored the winning goal for U.S.A. Hockey to defeat the Russians in 1980.

In reality he had only won a 2nd round match, but the circumstances of his victory -- the long road back, and his ability to comprehend the meaning of it all as it was happening -- made this an affair to remember.

For his comeback, and for his rare ability to connect emotionally with the fans, Taylor Dent will be sorely missed on the tour. But the memories, thankfully those will always be there.

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