Dent back in action
LONGBOAT KEY — Taylor Dent reached No. 21 in the world at one point in his career. Then a back issue sidelined the power-serving right-hander.
He wasn’t able to do the thing he had done since his youth — play tennis.
The injury caused the 6-foot-2 pro to lie in bed.
Hour after hour. Day after day.
“I spent eight months in a cast — in a three-quarter body cast for 23 hours a day,” Dent said. “So, at that stage I was just resigned, ‘Oh, let’s just get this standard fusion. Let’s just get this over with. I’m tired of being in pain.’”
Dent said he spent almost a year in bed.
Then he said his doctor told him it looked like he was healed and could give tennis a shot.
“I didn’t really think much of it,” Dent said. “I’d go out there and hit a little bit and a little bit. And I’d keep pushing it and pushing it. And that’s pretty much how it’s been up until now.”
It was February 2006 when the 195-pounder went down. Dent had just achieved his highest world ranking.
Now the Bradenton resident is grinding it out on the Challenger Series circuit, playing a first-round match at the Sarasota Open held at Longboat Key Club’s Tennis Gardens.
Ryan Harrison stood across the net on the stadium court’s clay surface. Harrison is 11 years younger than Dent, but that didn’t prevent the 17-year-old from knocking off Dent in a three-setter.
Dent tried to utilize his serve and volley tactics, and showed flashes of brilliance with some deft drop shot winners. But Dent lost control over his forehand, and Harrison won 7-5, 3-6, 6-1.
“I was missing by a couple inches on every shot,” said Dent about the last set. “I probably racked up eight or nine unforced errors, and I was down 5-0 before you could blink.”
However, Dent took the time post-match to participate in some photos with fans. Dent said he’s happy with his current results this season. He added he’ll skip the French Open qualifiers, because “the clay is pretty rough for me.”
“The clay is just my absolute anti-surface,” Dent said. “It couldn’t be any harder for me. It just takes away all the stuff I do well.”
But he’ll make a stand at a Grand Slam event before the season is over. Dent said he’ll play the U.S. Open — which uses lightning-fast hard courts — a surface that is tailor-made for Dent’s game.
And he said he’s thankful for IMG Academies — a place that’s helped Dent on his road back to the sport’s top.
“I can’t say enough about how they’ve helped me,” Dent said. “From the mental conditioning — there’s nutritionists, there’s trainers, there’s physical therapists, there’s great practice there and there’s a whole host of people who are behind me 100 percent. I doubt that I’d be in the same position I am now, without the IMG Academies.”
Dent grew up in Newport Beach, Calif., with a racquet in hand. His parents were tennis professionals.
His wife, Jennifer, played as well. She said she reached No. 52 in the world before giving up the game.
“I believe he’s got the hunger,” Jennifer said. “He’s got the determination, and we’re doing our best to make sure he’s staying healthy and staying fit. We monitor his food, exercise and everything.”
Only time will tell.