Brad Gilbert is blazing hot. He recently won three consecutive professional tennis tournaments--a feat last accomplished by Boris Becker in 1986--and reached the final of a fourth. He is ranked No. 8 in the world.
Not only has Gilbert remained unaffected by success, friends say, but he is still the first to criticize his own game.
“He’s very unassuming,” said Allen Fox, a Calabasas resident and co-coach at Pepperdine. Gilbert played for the Waves during the 1983 season before turning pro. “If he had a bad game, he would say, ‘I served like a 14-year-old. I couldn’t hit a backhand in the court.’ He would never say how good he is.”
Nor would he praise competitors. In fact, the good-natured Gilbert often mocked opponents, criticizing their abilities, to bolster teammates. Before a match, each Pepperdine player would receive his assignment from Fox and some unsolicited advice from Gilbert.
“Brad was so confident, he would ruin the other guys,” said Fox, who laughs now but wasn’t amused by Gilbert’s comments at the time. “He would say, ‘You’re playing him. He’s horrible. Can’t hit his forehand in the court. Hit three or four balls back to him and he’ll miss.’ ”
Richard Gallien, who played No. 3 at Pepperdine while Gilbert played No. 2 and is now co-coach with Fox, says Gilbert would invariably follow through on his predictions.
“Every single match, he was like Minnesota Fats,” said Gallien, who lives in Canoga Park. “He’d tell you all the shots he was going to make and give you some idea of the score.
“I’ve never seen a guy who would believe it the way he did and come through like he would.”
Once, while warming up for a doubles match against USC, Gilbert sniffed overconfidence in his opponents. “You could just tell by the way (the USC players) were warming up,” Fox recalled. “The way they were flipping their rackets. Twirling them.”
Not to be upstaged by the upstart pair, Gilbert, a right-hander, warmed up with his left hand.
“It’s obviously demeaning when you start hitting left-handed with somebody,” Fox said. “Brad wasn’t too interested in his opponents. He wasn’t deliberately mean to them but if somebody tried to intimidate him or was cocky to him, he wouldn’t take it lying down. He would always react.”
Fox is quick to add that Gilbert has a soft side. Once, Gilbert came back to Pepperdine after he had joined the pro tour and stayed in an off-campus apartment with some friends. Upon departure, he stocked the cupboards with new pots, pans, dishes and silverware.
“No tennis players do that,” Fox said. “You’re lucky if they say ‘goodby’ on the way out the door after they’ve emptied your refrigerator.”
Deja vu reprised: Simi Valley High has hired Rick Fields, the girls’ junior varsity basketball coach, to coach the girls’ tennis team. The Pioneers were 14-6 last year and placed third in the Marmonte League but lost their top two players when twins Jeannette and Jamie Davis graduated. Jeannette was the league champion.
But Fields will replace those two with another set of twins: sophomores Michelle and Lisa Richards. Michelle is ranked third in Ventura County in the under-16 division by the Southern California Tennis Assn. and Lisa is ranked fourth along with Lisa Cockerill, another Simi Valley sophomore. All three are ranked in the top 50 in their age group in Southern California.