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Lots of Faith and a Mean Forehand : Pepperdine's Andrew Sznaidjer Follows in Footsteps of John McEnroe

May 14, 1987|IRENE GARCIA | Times Staff Writer

When Pepperdine's Andrew Sznaidjer steps on the court for his tennis match, he appears cocky. Even as he warms up, he acts like he's got the match in the bag.

It could have a lot to do with the fact that he's the top-ranked tennis player in his native Canada and has had an incredibly successful first year as a collegiate player.

But as Pepperdine Coach Allen Fox points out, it could be that he just has a tremendous amount of faith in his game.

"He really isn't that way (cocky)," Fox said. "He just says and acts like he's going to beat his opponent because he truly believes it.

"During his first college match at a tournament in Palm Springs, he played the fourth-seeded player from Texas.

"Andrew was unheard of, so he wasn't seeded and I told him 'this guy is a real tough player, so watch out.'

"Andrew's reply was, 'Well, he's in for a real unpleasant afternoon,' and he beat him in straight sets. He seemed cocky, but it's just that he has faith that he can win."

And that's pretty much the way things have gone for the 19-year-old Canadian. Except for twice this season--against San Diego's Scott Patridge and UCLA's Dan Nahirny--Pepperdine's top netter has won all matches.

Not since John McEnroe's first year at Stanford University when he won the NCAA singles championship has a freshman dominated collegiate tennis like Sznaidjer.

The 5-11 freshman is the NCAA's second-ranked player after an impressive 17-2 season (dual matches) in the No. 1 spot for the Waves.

"He's just got so many good qualities," Fox said. "He's very fast on his feet, has tremendous timing and superb hand-eye coordination. With all that, it's hard to get the ball away from him."

It's nothing new for the Waves to have dominating players. The Pepperdine men's tennis program has been top-quality for a long time.

With the help of former collegiate greats Brad Gilbert and Glenn Michibata--both successful pros today--Pepperdine has dominated the West Coast Athletic Conference, winning the title for the past 15 years.

This year was no exception.

The Waves ended their season with a victory over Pac-10 rival UCLA and swept their conference once again with an 18-5 record, even though their No. 8 national ranking is their lowest in 10 years.

With a history like that, Fox, in his 10th year as coach, has seen some of the best tennis players in the NCAA come and go. He knows a good one when he sees one.

Sznaidjer, he says, is an exceptionally good one.

"When he first came out here and I saw him hit, I said, 'Oh my God, look at this! What is this!' I was very surprised, pleasantly surprised."

And the Canadian National champion, who's a member of the Davis Cup team there, has already impressed many in the NCAA with his dominating court antics.

He has surprised many more than Fox by upsetting some of the NCAA's top players, including Richard Bergh of Long Beach State and Billy Uribe of LSU.

He won the Adidas tournament in Palm Springs where the top collegiate players battle for a qualifying spot in the annual Pilot Pen Classic tournament.

Sznaidjer, virtually unheard of, beat third-ranked Luke Jensen of USC in the semifinals and second-ranked Rich Leach, also of USC.

"He's just a great athlete and a ferocious competitor," said assistant coach Richard Gallien, who recruited Sznaidjer. "He's a fighter who gives it all he has every single time."

Though most tennis players aren't big and muscular, Sznaidjer is thin and doesn't look strong compared to some of his opponents. However, he posseses powerful ground strokes.

"I remember the first time I saw him," Gallien said. "I was scouting at the Orange Bowl Junior Tournament and was sick as a dog so I was half out of it.

"But this one kid caught my eye because he was hitting every ball as hard as he could every single time."

That's what Sznaidjer is known for. He's a base-line player who rips mean forehands and uses a double backhand to throw off opponents.

He put on quite a show in his last match of the regular season against UCLA's Nahirny, who had beaten him early in the season. Sznaidjer won the first set in a tie-breaker but took the second 6-2 for a straight-set victory.

Nahirny is a muscular 6-4 sophomore with an incredibly hard serve, but Sznaidjer didn't let that bother him. He lets little bother him these days.

"I used to have a bad temper on the court," Sznaidjer said. "Because of it I'd give up a lot of freebies, just 'cause I let things disturb me. That was costing me the match.

"I can't afford to do that anymore. When the score was four-all (against Nahirny), Dan started going nuts. That used to be me. Now, I'm not letting anything bother me."

Sznaidjer realized that temper tantrums contributed greatly to his two losses this season, so he's gone to the extreme. Now he doesn't say anything.

"For the past three weeks I haven't said one word during matches," he said. "The first week it was hard, but now it's fine. I just keep cool and concentrate on every point."

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