For USC junior Ryan Moore, there was only one way to describe his glorious run to the Pac-10 men's singles title at the Ojai Valley tennis tournament.
"Unbelievable," Moore said in amazement after his 6-3, 6-2 victory over K.J. Hippensteel of Stanford Sunday before jam-packed stands at Libbey Park's center court. "That's how I envisioned myself playing one day."
If you can envision Michael Chang in his prime, then you have an idea how well Moore played Sunday and in his previous four matches here. He sent most of Hippensteel's twisting, kicking left-handed serves back at his feet. He hit crushing forehands deep into the court, pinpoint passing shots and he even served and volleyed with great success.
He even sounded like Chang.
"The key to everything this week was my footwork," said Moore, a former star at Servite High. "It allowed me to get to the ball and set my feet. It gave me more options when I hit the ball."
Hippensteel said he barely recognizes the player he beat just three weeks ago at USC.
"His strength has always been his conditioning," said Hippensteel, who also lost to Moore last weekend at Stanford in straight sets. "Now he's going for his shots and he's not just happy with keeping the ball in play. That makes him pretty dangerous."
Moore didn't look very dangerous entering the Pac-10 championships. He had just climbed into the Intercollegiate Tennis Assn.'s top 100 at No. 77 after wins over Hippensteel and Balazs Veress of California. Four players ranked ahead of him stood in his path, most notably Alex Kim of Stanford, defending NCAA singles champion and current No. 1.
For awhile, it didn't appear that he would see any of those ranked players. He trailed Arizona's Whi Kim 4-1 in the third set.
"I was out of here," Moore said. "At 9:30 Thursday morning, it wasn't looking too good."
But once he rallied to knock off the big-serving lefty, things began to look a lot better.
"Sometimes you need that one close one in the beginning," said Moore, who should jump into the top 50 of the ITA rankings with his wins.
Sunday's match could have been much closer had the 25th-ranked Hippensteel converted a few of his break-point opportunities. But Moore saved three break points in the first game of the match by hitting two aces and a forehand winner. He recovered from 0-30 at 3-2 in the first set and he saved another break point at 5-3 in the first set. In the second set, Hippensteel didn't have a break point.
"He did exactly what I asked him to do," USC Coach Dick Leach said. "He kept attacking, kept moving his feet and he didn't get complacent and play not to lose."
Playing aggressively, Moore had 25 winners and only 17 unforced errors.
Maybe it shouldn't be so surprising that Moore is playing the best tennis of his life in Ojai. He has been coming here to watch his older brother and sister and the Pac-10s since he was a little boy. As a junior, he won the 14s and the boys' interscholastic singles.
"I like every part about this place, and the fans are great here," he said. "When I was little, I'd watch Pac-10 guys play and wonder if I could do that someday. Now, it's happened."
Moore is the second Orange County player in a row to win the Pac-10 men's title and third in five years. Stanford's Geoff Abrams (Newport Harbor High) won it last year and USC's Adam Peterson (Mater Dei) won it in 1996.
USC freshman Melissa Esmero, a two-time Times Orange County girls' player of the year at Mater Dei, won her first Ojai title in six attempts with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over teammate Krissy Hamilton in the Pac-10 women's invitational final.
Esmero won her first three matches of the tournament in three sets, but she lost only seven games in the semifinals and finals. Esmero plays No. 6 singles for the Trojans. Hamilton is USC's No. 7 player.
Arizona State senior Faye DeVera, a three-time Times' Orange County player of the year at Villa Park, ended her last Ojai with a loss to eventual the Pac-10 women's singles finalist, Racquel Kops-Jones, in the first round and she teamed with Pac-10 singles champion Adria Engel to reach the quarterfinals of doubles.
DeVera, who will graduate in December with a degree in sociology and a minor in business, is contemplating a professional career.
If DeVera plays the satellite circuit, she said she will probably start in Asia next year.