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Taino Able to Rise to Challenge

April 08, 2002|CHRISTINA TELLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eric Taino's week was booked, and Brian Vahaly's was no picnic either. They played a combined 17 matches in the last week, including Sunday's final of the USTA Tarzana Challenger.

Taino walked away the winner after defeating Vahaly, 6-2, 7-6 (6), at the Braemar Country Club.

Both finalists entered the main draw after winning qualifying matches. Vahaly's first-round obstacle was former French Open champion Michael Chang, whom he defeated, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (6), on Tuesday. And the long week caught up to Vahaly with a flare-up of tendinitis in his left hand Sunday.

Taino, who graduated from UCLA in 1997, had taken a quick 4-1 lead in the first set when Vahaly took a three-minute injury timeout. Vahaly came back to win the sixth game, but Taino edged him in the next two, taking the first set, 6-2.

Because the tendinitis impaired his backhand, Vahaly adjusted his game and came to the net more often. But without much experience with that approach, Vahaly was often one step slower than Taino.

"All my winners are on my backhand side, and that's where I dictate play," Vahaly said.

"Without my best shot, I'm pretty bad, so I just tried to change my game."

Thanks in part to frequent icing of his hand and a creative tape job, Vahaly managed to push the second set into a tiebreaker.

The tiebreaker was tied three times before Taino pulled out the 8-6 win. "It got tight there for a second, and it could have gone either way, in the second set for sure," Taino said. "I tried not to overhit and do enough just to win. I think that helped a lot, not overplaying."

Taino won $7,200, Vahaly $4,240.

After the match, Taino traveled to Calabasas for his second qualifying match in the USTA Calabasas Challenger.

Vahaly is questionable for the Calabasas tournament because of the tendinitis.

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