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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Love-Love Affair in Doubles for Swedes

April 24, 1998|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — Benny Andersson and Stefan Pongratz, a match made not in their native Sweden but on the courts of Southern California, might be home free in the men's junior college doubles competition of the Ojai Valley tennis tournament.

At least, the Ventura College pair were headed quickly in that direction after polishing off Carlos Brady and Jorge Medina of Citrus, 6-0, 6-0, in a second-round match Thursday at Ventura College.

Andersson and Pongratz, who emigrated from Vetlanda to Ventura in search of adventure and sunny skies, entered the 98th Ojai tournament top-seeded among 87 junior college teams and were awarded a first-round bye.

They play Matt Burke and Jerry Martin of Riverside today at 1:30 at Cabrillo Racquet Club in Camarillo in the round of 32.

"It will get tougher," Andersson said. "It's only the first round."

It also is their first season as partners--not to mention roommates in an apartment near campus.

Yet, they have blended smoothly and success has come in strides.

"It's nice having someone to rely on that you know," Pongratz said. "It's hard to find new friends in a new country."

Admittedly more proficient singles players, Andersson and Pongratz, classmates and acquaintances in their homeland, decided together to move to the United States.

They teamed as players soon after enrolling at Ventura last fall.

"Before we got here, we thought we would be at the beach the whole time," Pongratz said. "That's not what it's been like at all."

In October, Andersson and Pongratz, both 21, became the first Ventura College doubles team to win the Rolex tournament at Saddleback College.

They capped the season last week by winning the Western State Conference doubles title at Santa Barbara and have a 28-4 record.

"I'm sure they could play as well with [different partners], but they are very comfortable with each other and they speak the same language," said Nelson Emery, Ventura's coach. "There have been times when they have had their lulls, but when they need to play well, they play well."

A more aggressive style, developed late in the season, has elevated their game.

"We don't have the best serve or return, but we play pretty smart," Pongratz said. "We complement each other. I think I have pretty good sense of each other. We know what we have to do."

They also have an equally unwavering vision of the future, which includes careers in engineering rather than tennis. They carry a combined 42 units and maintain good grades.

They speak in halting English, for which they offer apologies before being interviewed. But their language has improved along with their tennis.

"Tennis is the main reason we came over," Pongratz said. "But we know we're not going to become pro tennis players. But if we can get a scholarship somewhere, that's a good deal."

Said Andersson: "It's not easy to get two scholarships. But we'd like to go together."

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