CATHEDRAL CITY — There almost seems to be a set pattern that Richey Reneberg of Southern Methodist University follows during collegiate tennis tournaments.
It goes like this:
He struggles in early matches. In fact, he drops a few sets and almost loses. But, somehow, Reneberg regains his form and starts winning easily. His victories in the finals are routine, usually completed in straight sets.
It happened like that in Los Angeles at the All-American Championships last fall. Reneberg did it--again--in the National Collegiate Tennis tournament at the Desert Princess Country Club and Resort here.
This is pretty predictable stuff for Reneberg watchers. Kind of like a test pattern.
This time, in the early rounds, he needed to shake off the flu. At Los Angeles, it had been a shaky forehand.
And this time, Reneberg didn't even give his opponent a chance to get started Sunday morning in the tournament final, as he defeated freshman Andrew Sznaidjer of Pepperdine, 6-1, 6-2.
There was a difference, though, between Reneberg's victims in the two finals. In the first one, Steve DeVries, a senior at Cal, was the defending champion. But Cathedral City was the coming-out party for Sznaidjer, who had lost just one set leading up to the final of his first collegiate tournament.
"It seemed to me like he thought he was going to come in and beat everybody," said Reneberg, who was seeded No. 1. "If he keeps thinking like that, he'll have trouble because there are a lot of guys out there who can play."
Sznaidjer's coach, Allen Fox, compares his player to Brad Gilbert, who spent one season with Pepperdine. Gilbert played Davis Cup for the United States last year and has been in and out of the world's top 20.
"They're both supremely confident players who are absolutely sure they'll win," Fox said. "He's (Andrew) very confident but not in a bad way."
Before the match, Fox said that Sznaidjer is the type of player who hits the ball as hard as he can almost all the time.
He was right. And that's what went wrong for Sznaidjer. For most of the match, the rallies consisted of three or four shots before Sznaidjer would hit the ball long, wide, or in the net.
"I didn't know how to play him," Reneberg said. "That's why I was so surprised it was easy. I just wanted to get a lot of balls back. He seemed to want to win it with one shot.
"It's impossible to keep hitting as hard as he does and not miss. Even (John) McEnroe and (Ivan) Lendl miss a few. I felt if I got it back, he'd miss."
When Sznaidjer was down 0-1 in the first set, he blew four game points. The failure to win that game seemed to stick with him. From then on, Sznaidjer's game unraveled, and it was partly due to Reneberg's efforts.
"I was forcing it too much," said Sznaidjer, who is from Toronto. "I was trying to go for too good a shot. Then I tried slowing it down. This might sound corny, even though I'm upset I lost, I'm kind of happy I did, because now I have something to work for."
Then there is Reneberg's situation. He solidified his No. 1 position in men's college tennis and needs only to add a NCAA singles title to complete his amateur resume. As a sophomore, he reached the NCAA final, before losing to Dan Goldie of Stanford in 1986.
With the easy victory over the latest threat, Sznaidjer, it would seem Reneberg has a clear path in reaching his final goal, the NCAA title. However, there is a blip on the screen.
That is USC's Rick Leach, who is not exactly an unknown, but hasn't played a collegiate singles tournament this season. Leach, ranked No. 2 in the coaches' poll, took the fall semester off to play professional satellite tournaments. The expected meeting between Leach and Reneberg didn't take place because Leach came down with the flu on Friday.
"Since the last two tournaments have been here in California, a lot of people have been asking me about him," Reneberg said. "He definitely has a chance to win (the NCAA title), but there's a lot of guys who could do it."
In the meantime, Andrew Sznaidjer, will be heading back to the drawing board, trying to figure out how to break down Reneberg's game.
"Now his name will be etched on Andrew's bad list," Fox said. "Although it's really hard to get worked up against Reneberg because he's such a nice, friendly guy."
Well, it appears Sznaidjer might be able to overlook Reneberg's pleasant personality.. All he has to do is think about the numbers: 6-1, 6-2.
"We were joking that I have to make a list of guys, the guys on my hit list," he said. "I could do what that football player did . . . the guy who knocked out (Jim) McMahon. Maybe wear a towel with his (Reneberg's) name on it.
"Let's just say I'm going to follow him and keep my eye on him."
The defending NCAA singles champion Patty Fendick of Stanford defeated her teammate Lisa Green, 6-3, 7-6, in the women's final. It was Fendick's first tournament since the U.S. Open. Fendick, seeded No. 3, had missed the fall season with a hip injury. Green, who wasn't seeded, rallied from a 5-3 deficit in the second set to send the match to a tiebreaker.