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Junior Tennis Is on the Upswing : Sports: The co-owners of Canyon Hills Racquet Club in Escondido are two of the main reasons.

May 03, 1990|DAVE McKIBBEN

As he perused the latest Southern California junior tennis rankings, Jim Hillman couldn't help noticing a certain ZIP code--90274--cropping up in most of the age categories.

"That's the Palos Verdes area, and they always seem to have the most ranked kids out of any area," said Hillman, director of junior tennis for the Southern California Tennis Assn. for 13 years.

But Hillman noticed some other ZIP codes also showing up more--ZIP codes from North San Diego County.

"Tennis down there is definitely on the upswing," Hillman said.

Brooke Galardi, 14, can attest to that. The former Palos Verdes resident moved to San Diego with her family two years ago to find better competition in her age group.

She hasn't been disappointed.

Two of Galardi's main rivals in the San Diego area, Nikki Willette and Lee Ann Rostovsky, are ranked 9th and 10th. And two other juniors Galardi commonly plays, Nicole Elliot and Vanessa Rooks, are ranked 3rd and 11th among 14-year-old girls.

All five girls train at Canyon Hills Racquet Club in Escondido under Woody Blocker and Lee Merry.

"I think the tennis here is a lot better than L.A.," Galardi said. "It has a lot more depth. There are more people to train with and to play against than in the Orange County area."

Willette, who defeated Galardi for the San Diego Section singles title last year while playing for Serra High, said: "I think we're getting to where Orange County and Florida are. A lot more people are coming here because of our reputation for quality tennis."

Blocker and Merry, who co-own Canyon Hills Racquet Club in Escondido, are two of the main reasons for that reputation.

"If you want to play serious tennis, 80% of the better kids in the county come here," Blocker said.

Blocker helped develop such professional players as Michael Chang, Tim Wilkerson, Mike DePalmer, Ben Testerman, Lawson Duncan and Stephanie Rehe, and now he has set his sights on improving junior tennis in North County.

"We're starting to develop some pretty good boys and girls at the younger ages now--11- and 12-year-old kids," Blocker said.

He and Merry, who coaches 16-year-old phenomenon Angelica Gavaldon, work more than 50 hours a week running clinics and giving private lessons.

Eric Tebbs, ranked 3rd among 18-year-olds in San Diego and 46th in Southern California, has been attending clinics at Canyon Hills for two years.

"We moved in the first place to get close to tennis," Tebbs said. "I lucked out when Woody and Lee came to the club. I think the ideas we're getting down here from Woody and Lee are helping us catch up with other areas. But Woody still thinks we're too mellow down here. He doesn't understand that someone would rather go to the beach than play tennis."

In addition to the Blocker and Merry influence, other signs point to North County as a potential hotbed for junior tennis:

* The United States Tennis Assn. has opened an area training center at Canyon Hills. The USTA and three coaches will spend some 50 hours each with the top 24 players in the 13-to-15-year-old age group.

* The city of Oceanside will soon build a public tennis facility with eight courts. Carlsbad is scheduled to build a public facility with 16 courts.

* District tennis championships that had been played at Morley Field in Balboa Park will probably be moved to Canyon Hills.

Curt Condon, the head teaching pro at Vista Tennis Club, said he foresees North County as becoming "one of the top sections in the state for tennis."

"We've got such a booming area and we also have the facilities," Condon said. "We also have the grass-roots programs that are needed to develop good, young players. I'm excited over it. I'm really impressed with what's happening to junior tennis."

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