Kelly Jones is chasing a 100-year-old record and the sprightlyghost of W. P. Knapp.
Jones, star senior for the Pepperdine tennis team, has twice won national collegiate doubles championships, each time with a different partner, and has a shot at a third NCAA doubles crown this year with his third partner in as many years.
If Jones wins his third in May, he will catch--but not pass--Knapp, the only player in the history of U. S. collegiate tennis to win three doubles championships with three partners. Knapp earned his third in 1886, when he was a student at Yale, according to the NCAA Championships Handbook.
Three others have been on winning doubles teams three times, the handbook says, but none had different partners each time. The last player to be in on three championships was USC's Rafael Osuna from 1961 to 1963, but he did it one year with Ramsey Earnhart and twice with Dennis Ralston.
Teamed With Freshman
Jones won doubles titles in 1984 with Jerome Jones (no relation) and last year with Carlos DiLaura. This year he is teamed with freshman Augustine Moreno, who has played in the Wimbledon junior doubles finals.
The Moreno-Jones duo had a 6-1 record in doubles at the start of the week, a good start for a pair that hadn't played together before this season and were unfamiliar with each other's moves. Last weekend Jones teamed with Marty Laurendeau to win the Southern California Intercollegiate doubles title. Moreno was with Mexico's Davis Cup team for its match against West Germany in Mexico City.
The only loss for Jones-Moreno came when Pepperdine opened the season in the Ryder Invitational Tournament in Florida. The Waves defeated the University of Miami, the tourney host, but lost to Southern Methodist and Clemson. Jones he and Moreno lost their doubles match to Clemson's Richard Matuszewski and partner Brandon Walters, 7-5, 6-4.
Jones had no alibis: "They played well, and we didn't." But he added that Moreno "knows the game of doubles" and that "we have to get used to doing some things."
They Use Signals
To overcome the unfamiliarity, Jones said that he is using signals with a partner for the first time. One signal might indicate to the player serving what position the man at the net will take, whether the latter might move more to one side or the other. Another signal, given with fingers behind the back, might show the server where the net player wants the serve directed so the net man can have a better chance of hitting a winning stroke.
Jones, an "Army brat" who grew up on military posts and has lived and played in many spots in this country and others, said that signals aren't the only thing new about his doubles game. "I am moving more at the net, poaching more, and I am being more aggressive."
He said that when he has played in professional tournaments he has seen "how much more they (the pros) attack. They're so aggressive.
"If you can psych people out with the reputation of being good in doubles and if you can be more intimidating, you can get some free points."
That Jones, a two-time All-American, can be any more intimidating might come as a surprise to those who have had to go up against his powerful serve-and-volley game.
Jones No. 1 in Singles
He has been on Pepperdine's No. 1 doubles team since he was a freshman. His partner in his first year was Richard Gallien, another two-time All-American who helped the Waves advance to the NCAA final in 1982, tried the professional circuit for a year after leaving school and is now Pepperdine's assistant coach.
Jones is also playing No. 1 singles this year after playing in that spot some of the time in his sophomore and junior years. This year he had a 9-5 overall singles record as the week began (including a 5-5 mark in dual match play) and his overall singles record for his first three years was 61-25. In this year's pre-season poll of the Intercollegiate Tennis Coaches Assn., he was ranked second in the nation in doubles and 16th in singles.
Though he has not been as strong in singles as in doubles, he gained a great deal of stature in singles when he upset Stanford's Dan Goldie, considered the nation's best collegiate singles players, in the National Intercollegiate Tennis Championship at Louisville.
The Pepperdine team, seeded fifth in that tournament, also pulled an upset, winning the team title and defeating teams with higher seedings, including No. 1 Stanford, No. 4 USC and No. 2 Southern Methodist in the final. Jones won his championship singles final in another upset over SMU's John Ross.
He Frustrated Goldie
Jones handled Goldie with ease in their only meeting as college players, 6-2, 6-0.
He said that Goldie "likes to control the tempo," but "I was on the attack all the time. He got frustrated when I hit 15 winners off return of service." Though it was the first time they met in college play, Jones said they played about six times as juniors and that he thinks he won four of the matches.
He said that he finds doubles to be a game mostly of reflexes while singles is more of a thinking man's game. "When I play my best in singles I'm thinking a lot. When I'm not thinking I'm foggy and can't see anything."
On the other hand, he said that his mind is one of the weak points of his game. "I'm very competitive, and I have a tendency to let things bother me too much. It depends on my mental state when I'm in a match. If I'm pretty calm throughout a match, then that's good and I'm able to take anything.
"When I'm playing I try to think that the other guy has problems. When I'm playing in some matches I'm scared, but I never would let opponents know that."
He's a Target
He said that because of his two doubles championships, he often faces "guys who have nothing to lose. That works for you or against you--but mostly for you."
Sometimes, however, he finds himself at a disadvantage against lower-ranked players who are playing over their heads. "He will be hitting winners, and I'll be thinking, 'How can this guy be playing so well?' That's when I get in trouble."
He said that he has been "a serve-and-volley player all my life. But now I'm trying very hard to be more of an all-court player" in an effort to improve.
Pepperdine's team victory at the national college tournament in Louisville, he said, "was the most exciting thing that has happened to me since I've been on the squad," particularly because last year the Waves didn't beat any team that was ranked above them.
He hopes his team is successful at this year's NCAA Championships because "we have a bunch of great guys." The wins over higher-ranked teams at Louisville were good for the Waves, he said, because, though they haven't won an NCAA title, "we know we have the talent. . . . The whole game is confidence, and it's a great feeling knowing other teams are gunning for you."
Jones is gunning for W. P. Knapp and that third doubles title. And he could pass Knapp. If he keeps getting better in singles, Jones may be remembered in 2086 as the only collegian to win three doubles titles with a different partner each time--and a singles crown all by himself.