Broderick: Notes and National Championships
By Peter Keiser
This same belief became a thirst for improvement and he brought it to paddle tennis with a single-mindedness and passion that have vaulted him to the top spot in men’s platform tennis doubles.
To understand Broderick and his relationship to the game of paddle tennis, try this for an analogy: If Drew Broderick ate lobster, and I mean really ATE lobster, this is what would happen: after he got finished with it, the plate it came on would be empty. I mean empty; empty as in nothing; as in bone dry – no claws, no tail, no tendrils, no supposedly indigestible, potentially poisonous innards and roe, no salty drip trickle of wasted liquid, no nothing. Every part of the crustacean would have disappeared, the cracked, jagged, slicing shell would have been pulverized, ground and then blended into a slurry – a Lobster Milk Shake, shaken not stirred. Flavorful, too! By Broderick.
Now shift that image over to platform tennis and you can see the parallels. He consumes paddle the same way he disposed of that lobster. The three- time winner, four- time finalist of the Nationals and present number one ranked (with Jared Palmer) player in platform tennis, Broderick has gotten there and stays there because his game evolves continuously.
That’s the challenge-his challenge- and he embraces it full bore. He loves to win. Though his “theme and variations” approach to the game is similar to many pros, the difference is that he has developed so many avenues of skill to execute the strategies he uses against his opponents, including the uncanny, almost instantaneous spot on recognition of their strengths and weaknesses.
He is a master tactician attuned to the nuances and subtleties of today’s game. He never stops studying, tweaking, experimenting with, thinking about paddle, always with an eye toward improvement of both the game and his performance of it. As such, he has wrapped himself in the partnering mantle that draped Steve Baird in three different decades (70s, 80s, 90s).
At first glance, Broderick seems an unlikely candidate as a master of partnering. We have the model of an ideal partner as the strategist, a complementary player skilled in his or her own right but particularly talented at assessing and blending team abilities and then facilitating their deployment effectively. More often than not, this player is a right- hander in the deuce court looking to set up the big gun, usually right handed in the ad. If there is a lefty, the old maxim of paddles in the middle holds sway, automatically putting the southpaw in the deuce court.
Broderick sets all that ‘what’s usual’ talk on its ear. He is a lefty, playing the Ad court. That is where he felt comfortable when he started to play the game, and he saw no reason to change; that and the fact that he possesses a strong, two-handed backhand, a personal favorite.
“This is my thirteenth year of playing paddle. In 2003, I started to play from scratch. I had moved down to New Jersey from Connecticut. It was Ron Cummins from The Short Hills Club who introduced me to the game and said to me ‘Play wherever you want. You’ll be the first to win titles playing from the wrong side.’ By the end of my first season I was playing against some of the top players.”
Tennis and its paddle tennis stepchild differ in pace, in rhythm and in violence of stroke. Prolonged paddle points, the steady rhythm of lob, overhead, screen, lob, overhead could lull a player into a lack of focus; does at times threaten to hypnotize an audience into the state of a collective yawn. Images come to mind of Greg Brasher, Senior who many years ago famously would at times put his off hand in a pocket while playing the screens. And that’s why today, you can hear the voice of some thumb jitterbugging, digitally obsessed, game-playing techno-nerd intone “Borrr-ing”!
But not to Broderick. Instead, the length of points serves to fuel his competitive juices, as extended play becomes a contest of will and skill. He hates to lose and with each stroke, the fire of his aversion to defeat burns brighter as does his focused tenacity. They both seem to ratchet up a notch with each hit, like the temperature gauge on a car that climbs inexorably toward red and overheat. Except with Broderick, the hotter the action on the court, the cooler he becomes, exhibiting the calm of merciless concentration that wins him so many points.
Meanwhile, the pressure builds. The drama of who is going to win this point unfolds. Then, if you are Broderick, you assert yourself to best your competitors. That’s the thrill of it. And guess what? You get to do it all over again only it’s new, a new point, another series of shots, spectacular retrievals as you charge from acrobatic plays off the back court screens to racing, reaching and returning a nastily spun drop shot, all of it executed, all of it contested with the strategy and cerebral endurance of a chess match.
Boring? I don’t think so. It appears Broderick doesn’t either. He loves or is driven to compete, to contest with disciplined zeal, everything with every part of his being- physical, mental, emotional. And it’s platform tennis that offers him literally millions of opportunities to do so.
Broderick is not alone in finding the paddle life -line that assuages and actively engages the need for competitive drive within a group of select athletes. Tremendously talented tennis players, both foreign and domestic, whose highlight reel careers have maxed out, must now find another way to make a living.
Many continue with their relationship to the game transitioning from touring to teaching pros. The problem is that their skill has not been great enough to make them money on the tour, but it is far greater than what a collection of amateur organizations can satisfy. Without skill parity, there is no place to exercise the competitive spirit that, from an early age, is so much a part of these players’ lives.
Broderick echoes this observation when he talks about the differences he sees in the game between now and when he first picked up a paddle racquet thirteen years ago.
“I’m in the heart of my paddle prime,” says Broderick, 37. “Now 18 of the top 20 players are pros. In my first year, it seemed to me that a lot of the top players were businessmen, that there wasn’t really a paddle tennis profession. Today there is. It is our life, our livelihood. We have to grow the game. And the great thing is we’re still competing. That’s a big part of it. Look at Jared (Palmer). He’s just as intense on a paddle match point as he is on a Wimbledon match point.”
Broderick, Head of Tennis and Platform Tennis at The Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J., grew up in Bayonne, N.J. and started playing tennis when he was five or six years old. There was athleticism in the family including his Uncle Bill an esteemed high school coach. The St. Peters High School Athletic facility in Jersey City bears his name.
He also had an older brother, Dave, who would prove instrumental in shaping and honing Broderick’s athletic endeavors. “It was huge having an older brother- six years older- practicing with me. He was more like a coach rather than a rival brother.”
“Baseball and tennis were my favorite sports. I played travel baseball, but after my sophomore year at St. Peters in Bayonne, I stopped and concentrated on tennis.
In 1997, Broderick graduated from high school and went on to his illustrious tennis career at the University of Connecticut (UCONN). “While I was in college, I would see my brother. He knew paddle because he was an assistant pro at The Short Hills Club. I heard about the game that way and knew of Dave Ohlmuller as a paddle player.”
But tennis continued to remain Broderick’s focus as he moved to advance his post college career. “After college, I took my game to a whole new level. People from that level were sharing their experience with you. I roomed with and hit against guys who were so good. I learned from them. Education as well as experience teaches me. I got better after the fact. If somebody had taught me when I was ten what I came to know from playing a year of open prize money tournaments throughout the tri-state area and at times beyond, I believe I would have made it to the next level of tennis. What happened was I matured as a shot maker. Now I know how to play the game.”
He had familiarity as an instructor having taught before his stint on the tri-state circuit wound down. From 2000 to 2003, he taught all over Fairfield County in Southern Connecticut including a year at the Patterson Club and then a succeeding year at The Hunt Club. At the Patterson and Hunt Clubs, “paddle hadn’t exploded yet,” says Broderick. “When I taught tennis at those clubs, I never even looked at a paddle court.”
The year 2003 was Broderick’s best to date given his progression toward becoming a head pro and directing a program of his own. He moved to New Jersey where an already existing paddle popularity was beginning to surge. Furthermore, given his talent and his contacts through The Short Hills Club, Broderick had built in entrée to top echelon New Jersey platform tennis players among them local legends Guy Moore, John Millbank and Anthony Cosimano. The fact that he was part of the New Jersey State Men’s Doubles Tennis Championship in 2004 only furthered his name recognition and reputation.
It was 2004 that also saw him selected as the Director of Tennis and Platform Tennis at the Essex Fells Country Club. He was psyched because it was a new challenge.
“Essex Fells was not as much of a name in paddle at that time,” says Broderick. “When I took the job, I wondered whether or not I was going to be any good at the sport and whether or not I would be any good at teaching it. The people who hired me were really great about supporting me. The Board said ‘we think you should compete. We want you to play as many events as you can.’”
Though Broderick began playing paddle in 2003, he took some time before teaming up with his first “official” partner, Tony Brown. “At first I never practiced with just one partner. I played with Tony for a year and then had Scott Slobin (Director of Racquets at the Patterson Club in Fairfield, CT) as a partner.
The Broderick/Slobin tandem lasted through the 2005-6 season when they finished the year with a Number 15 ranking. Broderick also finished that same year ranked #17 with Guy Moore. The following season, Broderick transitioned to a partnership with Moore that would last five years until Broderick and Chris Gambino teamed up in 2011. Though the Moore/Broderick duo offered formidable opposition (twice cracking the top ten), with Gambino as his partner, Broderick boarded the express train to the Nationals and national prominence. In their first year together, they finished with a #3 Ranking and the following season they would cap off an undefeated campaign with a Nationals Championship and a Number One APTA ranking.
Broderick has now appeared in four Nationals, winning one and losing one with Gambino. He and Jared Palmer are the current Nationals defending champs having won their second in a row this past March at Darien, CT. As we begin the 2016-17 Platform Tennis tournament season, they hold the APTA Number One ranking as well.
Broderick recognizes that his name sits atop the APTA’s current ranking list due in a significant way to his relationship with Moore. The two go back to the early days of Broderick’s introduction to paddle. It is clear that they have had a synergistic effect on each other, their association being particularly helpful as Broderick honed his craft leading up to the partnership with Gambino.
“Chris is my biggest on court influence but I think I have talked with Guy about paddle more than anybody else. We have conversations all the time. “Many of those discussions have resulted in tangible results notably the destination paddle camp they run together at Telluride, CO. Founded by Broderick in 2009, the camp uses their skills and abilities as teachers to deliver “one of the most progressive and innovative systems for improving anyone’s game”. ”We design drills and we always have to make sure they make sense because you’ve got to use what you drill in a match. If it doesn’t make sense and you don’t use it, what good is it?”
Broderick is quick to emphasize three points you can’t control during a match: 1) the let court dribbler, the ball that dribbles over the net cord; 2) the awkward bounce off the net; and 3) a cut winner. That’s why it’s so important to have drills that make sense; drills that will translate into winning those points over which we DO have some control.
Clearly, Broderick was ready for Gambino. And it was Gambino, already with a Nationals title to his credit, who approached him in 2011. As a former Director of Tennis at Navesink Country Club, Gambino was involved in an annual charitable fundraiser that featured the eight top ranked platform tennis teams at the time. “The top eight teams were playing and I needed a partner,” he said. “I asked Drew because I always respected his game and thought it would be interesting to see how we would play together. The combination worked – quickly! “We were seeded eighth and we beat Johan du Randt, and Jerry Albrikes [winners of the 2010 Nationals] one and love the first time we played together,” Broderick said. “My first year playing with Chris we were a top four seed.”
They didn’t stop there. “In 2012, Chris and I were undefeated,” continued Broderick, “and we beat Johan and Matt Porter for the Nationals.” The 22-0 mark matched Gambino’s effort with Dave Ohlmuller ten years earlier, the last time the feat had been accomplished.
For two more years the pair remained together, reaching the Nationals Finals in 2014 only to be turned back summarily by du Randt and Mark Parsons who repeated as Nationals Champions and looked invincible for years to come. “Who’s going to beat them?” was the mantra- like, rhetorical question repeated so often following their decisive triumph.
Broderick would have the answer. Time, distance and injury had taken a toll on Gambino. “Chris was hurt. It was an amazing feat for him to even get there, get to the Nationals.” With Gambino sidelined, Broderick and Jared Palmer began practicing over the summer. “We lined up some practice matches with Jon Lubow and Steve DeRose; also with Marco Grangiero and George Wilkinson. In the beginning, it didn’t seem to me we would be matching up against Johan and Mark but then as we went on Jared and I started beating everybody.”
“We played eight tournaments. I have never played so many. But we wanted to get to the Nationals. Our thinking was that we’ve got to get on the court with Mark and Johan. Let’s get to a finals with them so we can be figuring them out to beat them at Nationals.”
“Of course,” Broderick continued, “going on the court with Mark and Johan is not anything like going out on the court with anybody else. I have had a strategy for every player and team except du Randt and Parsons.” And it looked like it would stay that way when in January of 2015, the reigning champs would take down the Broderick and Palmer pairing that had emerged as a powerful contender.
Two months later, the platform tennis world zeroed in on Chicago, site of the Nationals. Escaping some single digit temperatures, the day of the Finals brought the two teams together in good paddle weather with Palmer and Broderick dashing through the defending champs in the first set, 6-0. Eyebrows stopped twitching when du Randt and Parsons won the next set, 7-5. But then before you could finish taking a “things- back –to-normal” breath, the contenders were Nationals Champions having streaked away on another 6-0 skein.
Oh, there was general talk in and around the winner’s camp about patience, about playing the percentages, about keeping the ball in play, but also hitting the shots. However, any specific, detailed, how-to information of the kind Broderick would record in the book he keeps on all the players he faces, that information stays with him. And with good reason, especially when those trade secrets bring him and his partner a second, consecutive Nationals trophy. Broderick and Palmer retained their Nationals crown defeating du Randt and Parsons in the two-set, 2016 Nationals Finals.
On the brink of a new season, Broderick sits at the top of the paddle heap. He possesses all the attributes of the ideal partner and adds a singular twist. He sets up his teammate, allows himself to be set up and makes the twosome better overall by using a massive, ever expanding arsenal of shots. So you have a painter whose palette of strokes is greater than anybody else’s, a professional who has unrivaled mastery of when and where to use them, and a grinder whose feistiness and grit spur him through the valleys of tough matches. There has already been allusion to a love to win/hate to lose competitive streak.
Not to be lost amid his myriad capabilities as a player is the fact that Broderick is a first class teacher bringing that talent to all ages and abilities. His own experience in raising the level of his game after concluding a tremendously successful college tennis career has left a positive mark. Improvement is for everybody. You CAN teach an old dog- perhaps any dog- new tricks. Broderick’s up for the challenge, and he would make it fun for all those involved.
“He’s brought so much to Canoe Brook since he arrived,” said Sheryl Barcic, a Canoe Brook Country Club employee for over ten years. “He’s in charge of tennis and paddle and there are so many things going on – a Winnable “B” tournament with 40 teams, a Golf/Paddle Scrambles that’s a great idea. Then there are the leagues and men’s and women’s paddle teams. Even or odd numbers of players, of teams it doesn’t make any difference. He makes everything flow and we all have such a great time.”
Broderick recognizes the explosive popularity of paddle tennis and has a firm idea of what role he needs to play as part of it. Growing the game is a very real thing to him. Aside from the influx of highly skilled tennis players turned platform tennis pros and the incentives that brought them there, Broderick sees live-streaming as huge to the paddle tennis future, reaching so many people and making the game more accessible, more familiar. “Live-stream has changed things,” he says. “I remember when I was little seeing people on the screen. You are so amazed. It made such a big impression on me.” It takes no stretch of the imagination to believe that Broderick might still be at the top of the heap when some young kid, paddler or not, says that about him.