TENNIS : Candid Camera Catches Chatsworth Player in Act of Ditching Practice

It was no misunderstanding. Fred Weiner did tell Chatsworth High Coach Joe Santellano that he would miss tennis practice last week because of a doctor's appointment, not a Dodgers' appointment.

Still, Weiner wasn't exactly getting his blood pressure checked when Santellano spied him on television. Weiner was at the Dodger game lunging for a foul ball and Santellano, watching the game while eating lunch at a restaurant, nearly swallowed his fork.

"The camera panned over and I thought, 'Wait a minute, that looks like Fred,' " Santellano said, laughing. "It panned over again and, 'That is Fred!' "

It was Fred Weiner's Day Off.

Santellano playfully scolded Weiner at the next practice.

"He just stood there with his mouth open," the coach said. "He didn't say anything, his mouth was just wide open."

No doubt Weiner closed his mouth when teammates rendered their punishment: They stood him against a backboard and smacked tennis balls at him.

Success story: Brian Giffin's plans for a fruitful collegiate tennis career seemingly were dashed.

No one at UC Santa Barbara questioned his ability to fire passing shots. Earning passing marks was a different issue.

A standout at Camarillo High last season, Giffin joined the UCSB tennis team as a walk-on but withdrew from the school in January with a 1.6 grade-point average--an athlete must carry a 2.0 GPA to compete at UCSB--and even lower self-esteem.

Tennis had gone well--Giffin was the only freshman to make the team, for which he played No. 6 singles--but school was a grind.

"I was overwhelmed," Giffin said. "It was really hard."

Wayne Bryan noticed as much. Bryan, owner of the Cabrillo Racquet Club in Camarillo, is a close friend of Giffin's and a former No. 1 singles player at UCSB.

"He was absolutely devastated," Bryan said. "It was a classical deal where he took a very heavy load his freshman year.

"He called me right after it (news of his ineligibility) broke and we talked for two hours. He was very distraught. It was the most distressing thing he had ever encountered, I think."

Comparisons made matters worse: Peter Morawiecki, Giffin's doubles partner at Camarillo, was thriving at Texas El Paso. Morawiecki, with whom Giffin had won the high school doubles division in the 1989 Ojai Valley tournament, was playing No. 4 singles for the Miners.

But a happy ending awaited. Giffin transferred to Riverside College and his grades improved rapidly. The transition on the court was not so silky smooth, however.

"My game was really bad," he said. "Emotionally, I lost it because I was so out of it with what happened at Santa Barbara. I had a really bad start of the season and lost to a lot of players that I thought I should have beaten. My mental game was really low."

Predictably, his tenacious play resurfaced and he worked his way into the No. 1 singles position. Riverside finished eighth in the state junior college team rankings, and, although the names have yet to be released, Giffin says he will be ranked among the state's top 10 junior college players.

Giffin recently was offered a full athletic scholarship to attend UC Riverside and he says he will accept. NCAA regulations stipulate that he will have to sit out a season because he transferred from one Division I school to another.

Nevertheless, he was thrilled with the offer.

"I never thought my tennis career was over," he said. "I just thought it was on hold."

Thinking small: The diminutive tandem of Steve Jang and Josh Litter, Harvard High's No. 2 doubles team, has been the brunt of a slew of "short" jokes fired across the net during matches. The two are easy targets for the barbs: Jang stands 5-foot-3, Litter is 5-0.

Usually, however, their opponents wind up with the short end of the shtick.

In the Southern Section 2-A Division final Wednesday, Jang and Litter swept their doubles matches against Cate--the only team to do so--and played a significant role in Harvard's 10-8 victory.

Winning in a big world when you're ballboy-sized doesn't come easily.

"Big serves, big volleys right at your stomach--I get used to it," Litter said. "I don't talk back because I don't want to get my butt kicked."

Jang, a sophomore, and Litter, a freshman, are both tournament tough, having played in Southern California Tennis Assn. junior events. The two have earned the respect of teammates, including senior Pat List, who plays No. 1 doubles with Chris Pisano.

"I think their mental game is totally superior to mine," List said. "When Josh misses a shot, you don't have to worry about him coming back for the next point. When I miss, Chris has to restrain me from throwing my racket."

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