SARASOTA – The only thing better than hitting the tennis shot of a lifetime against the No. 1 player in the world … would be to have the proof to back up the story.
Sarasota resident Ray Collins not only has the memory but also the video that captured his trick shot, an unlikely behind-the-back execution on a point that caught a surprised Novak Djokovic flat-footed.
It was a shot that left Andy Murray laughing, Ana Ivanovic awed, Djokovic impressed . . . and Collins disbelieving what had just taken place.
“I walked up to Murray and said, ‘Did I just do that?’ He just started laughing.” Collins said. Collins then walked toward Ivanovic and he said the same thing. “Did I just do that?”
She replied, “Nice shot.”
And Djokovic bowed a bit as he approached the net after the shot by Collins floated over his head and bounced just inside the baseline.
“I said, ‘I didn’t mean to do that,’ ” Collins recalls saying to the No. 1 player in the world. Djokovic replied, “Good shot.”
The shot came when Collins, along with a few other media types, got the chance to play a point with the three tennis super stars during a charity event in Key Biscayne.
Murray, ranked No. 2 in the world, teamed with Collins, who has played tennis most of his life and calls himself a USTA 4.5 level player.
Across the net were Ivanovic, once the top-ranked woman in professional tennis, and Djokovic, who is currently ranked No. 1 in men’s tennis.
Nervous? Yes. Very, very dreadfully nervous he was. But not so much that he didn’t have the presence of mind to ask another journalist to record the point on the HD video camera Collins had brought along.
After the introduction, Djokovic served and the players settled into an extended rally. Eventually, Collins was drawn toward the net and was caught leaning to his forehand side when Djokovic hit a shot to his backhand.
Collins, a right-hander, swung his racket behind his back and hit the tennis ball.
“What I did was simply in desperation to keep the ball in play,” Collins said.
But it is a shot Collins, who played college tennis briefly at St. Bonaventure, has tried, and pulled off, many times.
“I didn’t consciously think to myself, ‘Oh, here is a chance to hit it behind my back,’ ” he said. “It just happened.”
The tennis ball sailed up and over Djokovic’s head. Running backwards toward the baseline, Djokovic tried a between the legs shot but the tennis ball never reached the net.
Collins, a former news anchor in places such as Naples, Buffalo and Richmond, Va., also worked for the Tampa FOX affiliate.
He has been around the area for more than 20 years, has lived continuously in Sarasota for the past nine years and owns Ray Collins Media, where he does video marketing, press and publicity and media skills training as well as freelance writing.
He has done a lot of things in his careers, but he has never had a more memorable month than March.
“March turned into an absolute blur,” admitted Collins.
Not only did he celebrate a milestone birthday (did someone say 50 is nifty?) but he also took a trip to Hawaii, had a cover story in Upscale Living magazine, was selected to the Totally Tennis magazine Hall of Fame, attended the Sony Open tennis tournament, and hit the shot.
It has become a minor sensation on the internet, with more than 6,300 hits on YouTube in under a month.
“The video makes it,” Collins said. “Otherwise it is just some 50-year-old guy telling a story.”
Collins’ next gig will be serving as public address announcer at the $100,000 Sarasota Open, a USTA Men’s Pro Circuit tennis tournament to be played at The Tennis Gardens at the Longboat Key Club & Resort.
The main draw of the tournament gets under way Monday, but the event kicks off on the courts Saturday when the qualifying tournament begins.
Tickets for the qualifying event are $5 for general admission and $10 for box seats. Call 941 809-8996 or visit sarasotaopen.org for more information.
Hugo Armando beat Jordan Cox 7-6, 7-5 Sunday in the Totally Tennis Exhibition Series to successfully defend his title as Sarasota’s No. 1 Singles Player.
Cox, who has played on the pro tour, replaced Attila Savolt, who had a foot injury, in the final. Armando, who had a career-high ATP ranking of 100, used his accuracy to ward off the power of Cox in front of a capacity crowd at the Payne Park Tennis Center.