White line fever continues to strike the high school tennis scene, mainly in the City, where it has been three years in building without much hope for a cure. The one positive note for those stricken is that the plague will disappear by next year.
But the damage will be done. Giora Payes will have left Fairfax to play at UCLA, probably taking three City boys' individual titles with him, the first time anyone has done that since Bruce Manson of Grant in the early 1970s. Then the City will go on and find a new champion.
Today, Payes is a high school senior with two championships, and no one is conceding the third and he isn't taking it for granted. Still, there have always been challengers, but when it came down to the playoffs, all were seconds. Most, in fact, were distant seconds.
An aggressive player on the base line--the white line--the 17-year-old Payes has emulated his favorite player, Jimmy Connors, with staggering results. In two-plus years with the Lions, he has lost only three sets, and Larry Pearl of Woodland Hills Taft has the distinction of being the only one in the City to beat him. That was during the team playoffs of Payes' sophomore season.
Then, Payes was the No. 3 player in the City, and he won his first individual title by rallying from deficits of 5-4 and 5-3 to beat Robert Vinson of Dorsey, 7-6, 7-6. Since then, it's been No. 1 all the way, though Vinson did manage to take a set from him in the semifinals of the 1986 playoffs. The next match, Payes knocked off Jon Kahn for the championship, 6-1, 6-4.
"He doesn't really have any weaknesses," Kahn said afterward.
Said Fairfax Coach J.B. Luzar: "Last year, he was really pumped up. He really wanted it. It was a no-mercy match. He was all over Jon in the first game, and that was it."
And from Palisades Coach Bud Kling: "He had an answer for everything Jon did."
This season, Payes is 9-0, having scored his latest win last Thursday in an East Valley League match with Martin Harris of the Downtown Business Magnet specialty high school. Harris was the former No. 2 player behind Vinson at Dorsey.
The victory also improved the Lions' record to 6-3 and kept them in contention for one of the two spots in the City team playoffs. Last year, Luzar's first, the team had only a 1-6 mark.
In between team matches, Payes, the second-ranked player in the 16-and-under age group last year in Southern California and one of only 12 people from around the country invited to try out for the Junior Davis Cup team, was seeded No. 2 and reached the quarterfinals of the prestigious Ojai tournament two weeks ago before losing to Donnie Isaak of Beverly Hills High in three sets. Earlier in the competition, Payes beat Anthony Cortez of Carson, one of those challengers for the City title, after trailing, 4-6, 0-2.
Then, on May 3, he swept Rob Grant of Corona High, 6-2, 6-0, for the championship of the Junior Champions tournament, 18 and under, at the Los Angeles Tennis Center.
"It's tough on me at times," he said. "I like playing with the team, but there's not much competition. I've got to find some matches.
"But I am more excited about the possibilities this year with the team. Last year, we pretty much knew we were going to lose. This time, we know we have a good chance to win. It's a winning attitude."
Payes is ranked seventh in Southern California in the 18s, a fact that he doesn't worry much about. What concerns him is improving his net game to complement the base-line attack and going for City title No. 3 next month.
"It would mean a lot," he said. "It means that I'm the best player in the City, and that would feel really good.
"I feel sometimes like the City individuals is my tournament, since I've already won it two years in a row."
That's two and counting.