Anyone who has watched a Pro League match on Hilton Head Island is quick to tell you: This is real tennis.
Now in its fourth year, the five-week long league was set to wrap up play for the season before the championship match between Island Family Dental and Merrill Lynch was suspended by thunderstorms Friday.
Before the skies opened up, a large crowd at the Long Cove Club were treated to a high-level display of doubles tennis, starting with the third-place match between Players World of Sport and Spinnaker resorts, and continuing with the final.
The league is composed of four teams of pro and high-level amateur players living on the island. For players such as Tom Shimada, a former top-40 doubles player on the ATP, the Pro League is both a chance to play in a friendly, team-focused setting and an opportunity to let the competitive side out. With almost every player coming from the island, Shimada said he enjoys playing in front of so many members of the community, who come out each week to enjoy some free tennis and a laid-back atmosphere.
"I think that's what makes this Pro League so great," Shimada said. "Once we get out there, we do try our best, and we want to put on a good show for everybody."
Shimada and Koenke were tasked with taking on Merrill Lynch's No. 1 doubles pair, Pro League co-founder Matt Wuller and Christian Coley. That match featured a variety of lengthy rallies that drew applause and delighted cheers from the crowd. As play was halted, the match stood at 6-3, 2-3 for Island Family Dental.
Wuller said he and fellow player Lee Holyoak came up with the idea for the league while sitting in a bar. He wanted to find a way to get some of the club pros and coaches from the area involved in competition.
"All the guys, really no matter what level they're at, just enjoy coming out here," Wuller said. "What makes it even more fun is the excitement of the crowd."
Despite the cordiality that some of the players displayed -- many of them are good friends -- Shimada made it clear that his priority, and that of the other players, was to win.
"We're all taking it pretty seriously," Shimada said. "At the end of the day when we shake hands, we're all part of the same tennis family here."
Matches are set to resume at 9 a.m. Saturday at Long Cove, with the Merrill Lynch team leading the other two matches.
Tom Shimada/Paul Koenke (IFD) lead Matt Wuller/Christian Coley (ML), 6-3, 2-3
Tom Ruth/Garrett Leal (ML) lead Mike Sutcliffe/Glen Sheaffer (IFD), 6-4, 1-1
Mike O'Regan/Royce Silvan (ML) lead Mike Pollard/Katie White (IFD), 6-4, 2-1