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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | Cardinal Rule

Bryan Loses to Stanford Teammate Wolters

April 26, 1998|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OJAI — The smallest things can make all the difference in a close tennis match.

A lob here. A forehand there.

A few such turns of fate left Bob Bryan counting the ways in which victory slipped away.

The Stanford sophomore and reigning Pacific 10 Conference champion lost to teammate Ryan Wolters, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-5), in the semifinals of the conference championship on Saturday.

"There were probably seven big points in that match," Bryan said. "He either aced me or hit a big winner or made a passing shot."

Those seven points came sandwiched in the most exciting action of this 98th Ojai Valley tennis tournament, with crowds packing the stands and walkways at Libbey Park.

The people came to see two highly ranked players from the nation's best college team.

They came to see a rematch of last year's final in which Bryan beat Wolters 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

And, early on, it looked as if they might see another Bryan victory.

The Camarillo native stands tall and thin, somewhat gangly on court, but possesses a booming forehand. He paired that asset with several acrobatic volleys to win the first set.

Wolters was not overly concerned. If anything, the match last year was an anomaly, a case of Bryan playing at the top of his game and Wolters suffering an off day.

As Stanford Coach Dick Gould explained: "It's obvious they are really close."

The proof came in the second set as the teammates clawed their way into a tiebreaker. It was a familiar situation.

"We play practice sets up at school and they usually go to tiebreakers," Wolters said.

"It's always close with us," Bryan said. "A tossup."

"But we usually stop right there," Wolters said. "We don't even bother with the tiebreaker."

Forced to play on, Wolters hit steady shots from the baseline and chased down every ball, winning, 7-2, as a frustrated Bryan slammed his hat onto the court.

Throughout the morning, Bryan seemed on the verge of taking control but Wolters refused to cave in. He is more compact than Bryan, maybe a little quicker. Maybe his greatest asset is resilience.

"That's all it comes down to," Wolters said. "It can be just the little things."

And it was the little things, such as well-timed shots, that decided the third set.

At five games all, with a break point in hand, Wolters hit what appeared to be a winning lob. Bryan turned and raced to the baseline. Facing away from the net, he desperately flicked the ball back.

A surprised Wolters volleyed into the net. The trick shot allowed Bryan to hold serve for a 6-5 lead.

"I usually go between my legs on that one but my dad gets mad, so I just backhanded it," he said. "It seemed like luck was going my way."

Wolters hung tough, though, surviving two match points to force another tiebreaker.

In perhaps the biggest point of the match, down 4-5, Wolters hit another lob. It was a courageous choice and, this time, Bryan had no tricks up his sleeve.

Two points later, Wolters had his victory.

In the final today, he will meet yet another teammate, Paul Goldstein, who beat Washington's Eric Drew 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Stanford's Teryn Ashley will play UCLA's Annica Cooper in the women's final.

"I wasn't surprised [to win]," Wolters said. "I thought I was playing well even when I lost the first set."

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