Men of Steel Get Collegiate Challenge : Tennis: College teams have dominated the Pacific Coast Men’s Doubles Championships.
La Jolla’s John and Bruce Steel realize the Pacific Coast Men’s Doubles Championship is a tournament for the young. Even though their combined age is only 56--Bruce is 24 and John 32--history is not exactly on their side.
Collegiate teams have won five of the past six titles. And juniors Rick Leach and Tim Pawsat won two consecutive championships earlier in the 1980s.
So why do the Steels give themselves a chance to win the tournament, which begins this morning at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club?
“We play well together,” Bruce Steel said. “And we have different styles--they complement each other well.
“John’s steady, and he keeps the ball in play. And I hit out (go for winners) most of the time. That’s what you need in doubles to be effective. Two people who play the same way are usually not going to be a very good doubles team. You need a mix-and-match.”
Although John and Bruce, who both played collegiately at Dartmouth, don’t team up much anymore, they have had some success together. Three years ago, while Bruce was still at Dartmouth, the Steels reached the semifinals at La Jolla.
Tournament director Bill Kellogg must have remembered their showing, because he seeded the brothers first among independent teams.
The Steels open play against USC’s No. 4 doubles team of Chad Rosser and Phil Whitesell at 11 a.m. today. If they win their first three matches, the Steels would meet UC Berkeley’s Bent Pedersen and Matt Lucena, last year’s runners-up and this year’s No. 2 seeds.
If the Steels are going to have any shot at beating a team like Pederson and Lucena, the elder Steel said he will have to be at the top of his game.
“The problem is these college kids are playing every day,” John Steel said. “I’m not worried about Bruce. It just really depends on how well I play.”
Now that John runs a company that manages doctors’ finances, he no longer is able to play every day. But he is not lacking in competition. Almost every week, John plays against touring pros who make their home in San Diego.
One of those pros is Bruce, who has been playing the satellite circuit part-time since graduating from Dartmouth in 1988. The climb in the computer rankings has been slow. He is ranked 400th in doubles and 370th in singles.
But he said his recent doubles victories with San Diego’s Scott Patridge have been encouraging. The two reached the semifinals in a tournament in Guam last month.
The Pacific Coast doubles tournament is not exactly a pro event, but Bruce said the level of play is not much of a comedown.
“I like playing here, because the competition is quite good,” he said."We’re one of the top teams, but we could lose in the first round.
“Four or five of the top teams here could probably win a satellite event and be competitive on the Challengers (the circuit closest in talent to the main tour).”
Another reason Bruce took some time off from the tour is the event’s tradition. Today begins the tournament’s 102nd year, the last 49 at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.
“Growing up here, you always think about winning this tournament,” he said. “This is the biggest men’s tournament in San Diego.”
The names of previous winners prove that. In addition to Rick Leach, who paired with Jim Pugh on last year’s U.S. Davis Cup team, the list of past titlists reads like a who’s who in tennis. Included are Bobby Riggs, Tony Trabert, Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Peter Fleming and John McEnroe, who won the event during his freshman year at Stanford.
McEnroe and Fleming actually started the trend of college players winning the event. Before the pro tour began offering so much money, top-ranking professionals often came to La Jolla for the weekend.
But since the mid-1970s, only two non-collegiate teams have won at La Jolla. San Diego’s Kelly Jones and partner Jerome Jones won the title in 1984, a year after their playing careers ended at Pepperdine. Two years ago, USC grads Robert Van’t Hof and Douglas Adler won the championship.
Kellogg, who has been running the tournament since 1978, said the collegians’ stamina and speed have made it tougher on older teams.
“Doubles is very fast-paced and high-powered,” he said. “The kids seem to thrive on that. The older players can pull one or two upsets, but then we start getting the aches and pains.”
Last year’s tournament was won by a couple of Stanford freshman, Jonathon Stark and Jared Palmer, but the older generation did put some scares into the college teams.
Harold Hecht and Mark Wooldridge, both 30, came within a tiebreaker of upsetting Pederson and Lucena in the round of 16. Chris Dunk, 34, and his 16-year-old partner, Jonathon Leach, lost to Pederson and Lucena in the semifinals.
How embarrassing would it be for a top-ranked college team to lose to an older team?
“If I were 20 years old, I wouldn’t like to lose to some guys who were called independents,” John Steel said.
“The college guys get pretty competitive,” Bruce Steel said. “They don’t like to lose to guys who only play once a week or guys who are teaching pros. I’m sure they probably wouldn’t mind so much losing to me. But to John--they might get a little upset.”
San Diego Diego State has four teams entered, including its No. 1 team of Dax Peterson and Jeff Belloli. UCSD has three teams in the draw, including the No. 1 team of Chris Belloli and Chad Morse. USD’s only team is Akida Mashaka and Fredrik Akslater. . . . Jonathon Stark and Jared Palmer, the defending champions and top-ranked NCAA team, are seeded third. The top-seeded team is USC’s Byron Black and Brian MacPhie. . . . The No. 2 independents are Brent Buffington of La Jolla and Mark Basham of Santa Barbara.