Steve Wiere had a flashback Thursday as he talked about his qualifying-round entry in the Volvo Tennis of Los Angeles Tournament.
He remembered Pete Sampras, the No. 1 player in the world coming off the Wimbledon championship, had entered the main draw. Sudden enthusiasm was injected into his mood.
"I grew up with Pete Sampras," said Wiere, a former Calabasas High player who spent three uneventful years on the pro tour. "I've played him five times and never lost."
But that was when Sampras and Wiere were two of the top junior players in Southern California. They haven't seen much of each other since then. Wiere explained why:
"I got about as high as 560th in the world," he said.
At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Wiere, 25, packs a big serve. He was always one of the best in his youth. He remains the only freshman in Southern Section history to win an individual title after he and Steve Oliver captured the 3-A doubles championship in 1983.
Calabasas won four consecutive section championships during Wiere's years there. Wiere's last match as a Coyote was a loss in the 1986 3-A singles final to Jeff Tarango. Tarango now plays professionally.
At Northern Illinois University, Wiere broke Tim Gullickson's school record for victories with 93, reached the NCAA tournament as a freshman--he was one of only four from the Midwest Region to get a berth--and then decided jump to the pros after his junior year.
Now he's retired at 25.
"I expected to do better," he said. "But I guess everybody does."
Wiere teaches at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach these days and occasionally kicks himself for being too immature and not hungry enough on the tour. Unlike a lot of players, he had a private sponsor to cover his expenses. The sponsor eventually cut him from the budget after deciding a 560th ranking was not smart money.
But entering the Volvo qualifying, which starts next Thursday at the Universal City Racquet Centre, might be the first step toward a second attempt at the tour for Wiere, who was fifth in the final 1992 Southern California Tennis Assn. men's open rankings.
"My goal this year is to be No. 1," he said. "I think I'm a lot wiser to the sport since I've been teaching. In the pro tour, I think I could realistically get in the top 100. I'm not looking to get to No. 1 like I did before.
"(Getting to 100 in the rankings) can happen real fast, I've learned. It can happen if you have one good tournament. I know that my game was good, but I didn't believe in myself."
Television provides a constant reminder of the way Wiere's tennis career might have been--and someday might still be--when he watches Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, David Wheaton and Michael Chang. He has faced all of them. He beat Chang in juniors.
And, of course, he has that 5-0 record against the Wimbledon champion. It is conceivable they could be matched again early in the Volvo tournament: No. 1 versus the former No. 560.
"I don't think his game's improved that much," said Wiere of Sampras. "He just believed in himself."
Long shots: While Wiere was one of 16 players to receive an automatic berth into the 32-player Volvo qualifying tournament, more than 150 players will fight for the other 16 spots in a pre-qualifying tournament beginning next Monday at the Racquet Centre.
Eleven local players have entered the pre-qualifier: John Rom (Van Nuys) of Pierce College, Rafael Huerta (Granada Hills), the 1992 and '93 City Section singles champion at Chatsworth High, Jim Wilson (Woodland Hills), Mike Bannister (Newbury Park), Jaime Barajas (Granada Hills), Robert Turobiner (Encino), Marc Simon (North Hollywood), Raymond Finks (Sherman Oaks), Sam Pitts (Woodland Hills), Chris Neuer (Calabasas) and Rudy Vargas (West Hills).
Almost three decades: The National Senior Hardcourt Tournament has reached the quarterfinal round and, at 10:30 a.m. today, Gene Malin of Woodland Hills and Jim Rombeau of Houston will square off in a long-awaited rematch--after 27 years.
The last time the two faced each other was in the 1966 singles final of the City Section individual tournament. Rombeau of North Hollywood High defeated Malin of Grant, 6-2, 6-2.
Now Rombeau is seeded fourth in men's 45 singles in the national event hosted by the Westlake Tennis & Swim Club. Malin is seeded fifth.
"Finally, I have my chance to get even," said Malin jokingly, as his friend, Rombeau, stood beside him. "The last time I played him, Jim was one of the nation's top 10 juniors."
Malin played 10 years on the pro tour--never breaking into the top 100 in the rankings--before returning to the Valley as one the area's top age-group competitors.
But Malin hadn't been seen much since he walked out of a national grass-court tournament Santa Barbara, unhappy with the direction of both the tournament and the U.S. Tennis Assn.
"Basically," said Malin, "I went underground."