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Seeds of Rivalries Were Planted a Few Years Ago

Tennis: Top players in Southern California Junior Sectional know each other well.

June 24, 1998|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FOUNTAIN VALLEY — Among the masses, the thousands of young tennis players in the 96th annual Southern California Junior Sectional Championships this week, it's easy to spot the rivalries.

Among the boys and girls, in all the age divisions, the seeded players know each other well.

And among players from this region who have traveled south for this tournament, the hottest rivalry will take place in the boys' 16-and-under division, where Philip Sheng of Thousand Oaks and Travis Rettenmaier of Camarillo are the top two seeded players.

Throw in Ryan Redondo of Ojai and Nicholas Weiss, a former Calabasas High player, and the draw looks like a full-blown shootout.

"Whoever comes out on top, it's a pride thing," Rettenmaier said. "We're always trying to prove something to each other."

With qualifying rounds out of the way, the sectionals begin with the round of 32 at Los Caballeros Sports Village in Fountain Valley and several nearby sites.

This is one of 17 sectionals nationwide. But here in the tennis hotbed of Southern California, 1,700 players have entered the 12 divisions, making this the largest junior tournament in the United States. It also ranks as one of the most competitive.

The list of past players reads like a Who's Who of tennis. Jack Kramer, Stan Smith and Pete Sampras played here. So did Tracy Austin, Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams.

It is no mean feat to bring together Southern California's top talent. Junior players are often drawn away from home by tournaments around the country, national training camps and international traveling squads.

Usually, as little as half of the top-ranked players will enter a given tournament in the area. The sectionals can attract all but a few of the best because they serve a qualifying event for the USTA national championships later this summer.

"The sectionals are kind of like a Grand Slam for us," said Darren Joe, a star at Westlake High last season who will play for Princeton in the fall. "Everybody has to be there, so it's a tough draw to get through."

Joe will face a slightly depleted field in the boys' 18-and-under because a few of the top seeded players, including Andrew Park, are playing in an actual Grand Slam--the junior Wimbledon championships.

In the boys' 14-and-under, Robert Yim of Glendale is seeded third and Stephen Amritraj of Calabasas is fourth. In the boys' 12-and-under are second-seeded Sergy Vagramian and sixth-seeded Samuel Tadevosian, both of Glendale.

The girls' divisions feature several top players from the region, including Maureen Diaz of Glendale, seeded fourth in 18-and-under; Jieun Jacobs of Valencia, seeded sixth in 16-and-under; Lori Stern of Ojai, seeded third in 14-and-under; and Erica Sauer of Somis, top seeded in 12-and-under.

While players have been training hard all week, they have also been looking forward to meeting up with long-time competitors they have not seen for a while.

Rettenmaier, for instance, has just returned from touring Europe with a junior national squad. He will see his buddy, Redondo, who spent much of his spring playing tournaments in South America.

"Usually, when you have rivalries, the kids dislike each other," Rettenmaier said. "But a lot of us have been friends for a long time."

Play begins at 9 a.m. today. The semifinals and finals are scheduled for this weekend.

That's when the rivalries, friendly and otherwise, are likely to be settled.

"It's huge," Joe said. "Very exciting."

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