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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Tradition Draws Awe at 'The Ojai'

Tennis: Rich history, quaint setting bolster yearly tournament which serves as tuneup for NCAA competition.

April 23, 1998|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OJAI — Describing the Ojai Valley tennis tournament isn't easy, even for a guy like Bob Bryan.

Bryan has grown up around this place.

As a junior player from Camarillo, he won four doubles titles here with his twin brother, Mike. As a Stanford freshman last year, he won the tournament's premier event, the Pacific 10 Conference men's singles championship.

So how does Bryan describe Ojai?

"The tradition," he said. "It's really special."

But wait. There's more.

"The trees around the courts," he said. "It's a relaxing week because it's a lot of fun."

And another thing.

"It's also a tough tournament."

"The Ojai" returns for the 98th time beginning today with more than 1,600 players competing in 38 junior, high school, college and open divisions. Over the next four days, hundreds of matches will be played at dozens of locations, including backyard courts at private homes.

Such quaintness is integral to the Ojai, which ranks as one of the nation's oldest tournaments. So many traditions have survived through the decades.

The volunteers who run this event in the plush surroundings of the coastal mountains still pour orange juice from a court-side tent each morning. They still serve tea in the afternoon.

The players are seeded in each division but the seeds are not announced, lest anyone's feelings are hurt.

"Like tennis used to be," said Joe Bixler, a former tournament official. "A game for the gentle folk."

Yet the Ojai has always attracted stern competition.

This year, the boys' divisions include Ryan Moore, ranked 19th among 18-and-under players nationwide, and Nicholas Weiss of Calabasas High, who is the No. 11 player in 16-and-under.

Amber Liu, No. 12 in girls' 14-and-under, will be there. So will Kristin Kraszewski, the No. 14 player in 18-and-under, representing the University of Washington.

The tournament also features the Big West Conference championships and Division III regional competition.

But the cream of the crop is undoubtedly the Pac-10 matches. Stanford brings the No. 1 men's and women's teams to face highly ranked UCLA, USC, California and Washington.

"It's a traditional thing," said Jim Muldoon, the conference's assistant commissioner.

The coaches place great emphasis on Ojai. For their teams, it represents a warmup for the impending NCAA tournament.

"Last year, we won the singles and the doubles," Bryan said. "It really builds momentum. We were really rolling going into the NCAA."

So the sophomore and defending singles champion is excited about Ojai. He has tried to prepare the two freshman on his team who have not been here before.

It isn't an easy task.

"I try to tell them about it," he said. "They won't really get the feel until they get there."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Ojai at a Glance

What: The 98th Ojai Valley tennis tournament, featuring competition in junior, high school, junior college, college and open divisions.

When: Today-Sunday.

Where: Tournament headquarters are at Libbey Park (Hwy. 150 at Signal St.) in Ojai. For information on matches at this and other sites, call (805) 646-7241.

Tickets: At Libbey Park, adults are $5 during the week and $8 on the weekend. Discounts for seniors and students. Children under 6 are $1. Admission at other sites is free.

Parking: Free at all sites. Lots at the south end of Libbey Park.

Internet Address: www.ojaitourney.org.

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