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Tennis : Former Foes Leach and Pugh Spell Double Trouble as a Team

Rick Leach did not notice anything unusual when he was playing a week ago last Thursday at home in Laguna Beach. But, eventually, Leach’s early morning practice was interrupted by other players, asking him whether he had felt the latest “earthquake.”

“I just thought something was wrong with my shots,” Leach said, joking.

Something wrong? On the contrary, everything has been going right for the 23-year-old Leach since he ventured Down Under last month, and, resurfaced with a Grand Slam title.

Leach and his partner, Jim Pugh, won the Australian Open men’s doubles title by defeating Jeremy Bates and Peter Lundgren, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, on Jan. 23 in Melbourne to become the first American team to win the championship since Bob Lutz and Stan Smith did it in 1970.

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Less than an hour later, Pugh teamed with Czechoslovakia’s Jana Novotna and completed his sweep of the doubles events, defeating Tim Gullikson and Martina Navratilova, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, in the mixed final.

“I was hesitating about even going there because it’s such a long trip,” Pugh said. “I only decided about five or six weeks beforehand that I was going to go. . . . I feel very fortunate.”

And surprised. Although Leach and Pugh were seeded fifth, they didn’t really start feeling confident about winning the tournament until defeating the No. 3-seeded team of John Fitzgerald and Anders Jarryd, 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, in the quarterfinals. Also, there was more reason for optimism when No. 1-seeded Paul Annacone and Christo Van Rensburg lost in the second round.

What makes Leach and Pugh such a balanced team is that Pugh plays with two hands on both sides in the deuce court, and Leach, a left-hander, plays the add court.

Not so long ago, Leach and Pugh were usually playing against each other--first, as junior rivals in Southern California and later as collegians, Leach at USC, Pugh at UCLA.

Those UCLA-USC dual matches, of course, were often filled with tension, sometimes bordering on animosity. Now, though, friends from both schools aren’t treating them like traitors.

“We don’t take that too seriously, now,” said the 24-year old Pugh, who lives in Rancho Palos Verdes. “But those matches were something else. It was like going to a football game . . . probably like going to South America and playing Davis Cup.”

Which, naturally, is where Pugh and Leach hope their partnership eventually leads. But they both know it’s going to take a lot more than an Australian Open title to supplant the top U.S. team of Ken Flach and Robert Seguso.

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Then again, Pugh and Leach couldn’t have dreamed a better start as a doubles team. They started their partnership in 1986 at a satellite event, which they won, in Raleigh, N.C. They have won 8 of 9 tournaments. Leach and Pugh were hoping to make it 9 of 10 this weekend at the U.S. Indoor Championships in Memphis, Tenn.

But Leach, while playing in the qualifying tournament, injured his ankle and was forced to withdraw. Pugh and Leach have entered the $702,500 Newsweek Champions Cup at Indian Wells, which starts a week from Monday.

At least, unlike Australia, their parents will get to see them play this time.

The odd thing is that Pugh’s father was in Melbourne earlier in the tournament, returning home shortly after his son lost in the second round of singles.

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“He definitely was kicking himself,” Pugh said. “And I was right behind him, too.”

What exactly does Peru’s recent 4-1 Davis Cup victory over Chile have to do with the U.S. team?

The win moves Peru into the American Zone semifinals against the United States on April 8-10. After losing to West Germany last summer in Hartford, Conn., the Americans were relegated to zone competition.

The first test in zone play comes against two formidable clay-court players, Jaime Yzaga and Pablo Arraya.

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Which brings us to the venue. Since the two nations have never met in Davis Cup play, Peru won the choice of ground by lot.

And, most likely, the ground will consist of that slow, slow stuff known as clay. Of course.

There are no changes among the top three teams in men’s college tennis rankings. Stanford and Georgia still are tied for first place, while USC is ranked third. Pepperdine dropped from a fourth-place tie to No. 5, just behind Louisiana State. UCLA is No. 6, and UC Irvine moved up one spot to No. 10, which is the first time the Anteaters have been ranked in the Top 10 since 1983.

Not surprisingly, Pepperdine’s Rob Weiss made a substantial jump, from No. 48 to No. 1, mostly on the basis of his three tournament victories in January. His teammate, sophomore Andrew Sznajder, who won the Rolex National Indoor Championships earlier this month, is ranked second. USC’s Scott Melville has dropped from first to third.

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Four teams from California are ranked among the top five in the women’s collegiate poll: Stanford (No. 1), USC (No. 3), Cal (No. 4) and UCLA (No. 5). Florida freshman Halle Cioffi is the top-ranked individual, while Tami Whitlinger of Stanford (No. 4) and Eleni Rossides (No. 5) are the top singles players from California. Also, USC freshman Trisha Laux is No. 10, and Pepperdine sophomore Ginger Helgeson is No. 14.

Tennis Notes

According to the Miami Herald, the USTA has narrowed its search for a director of coaching for the new Player Development program to these candidates: former tour player Tom Gullikson, Tennessee Coach Mike DePalmer Sr. and Southern Methodist Coach Dennis Ralston. Ralston has also been coaching Chris Evert the last few years. . . . Rod Laver, the only player who has won the Grand Slam twice, will be honored during the Newsweek Champions Cup tournament at Indian Wells for his outstanding achievements in tennis. Laver recorded his Grand Slams--winning the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same calendar year--in 1962 and 1969.

The Pacific Coast men’s doubles championships is March 4-6 at La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. Ball State’s Eric Nixon and Todd Hershey, who finished second at the recent National Collegiate Indoors tournament, are one of the top entries in the event. . . . Nabisco, sponsor of the men’s Grand Prix tour since 1985, will no longer continue in that role after 1989. According to Edward Redding, the senior vice president and director of Nabisco’s tennis operation, the company is undergoing a change in marketing strategies.

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