They're in the Hunt for a Tennis Title : Area Team Will Compete in U.S. Tennis Assn. Championships in Las Vegas

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

To understand the nature of the tennis team that Steve Hunt assembled and runs, you must first understand the nature of Steve Hunt's house.

It's on the beach. The only things between the two-story Hermosa Beach home and the Pacific are a bit of sand, a ribbon of blacktop and the roller skaters, bladers, bikers, joggers and gawkers who pass by.

"It's as much a socializing thing as anything," said Jens Capp, one of Hunt's friends, about membership on the team. "And Steve's house is about the best place I can think of to socialize."

Which all sounds very quaint--playing a few sets and then retiring to the terrace of your buddy's beach pad for selected cold beverages and male bonding rituals. But the fact is that this friendly venture has been devastatingly successful.

Playing in the open division of the U.S. Tennis Assn.'s adult league, Hunt's team, called simply Redondo Beach, played eight matches consisting of 24 sets. They won 23 of those sets in a manner one team member called "pretty easy, really."

The team then took the Southern California Regional to qualify for the USTA Championships, to be held Oct. 11-13 at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.

Included among the 14 team members are a guy who beat Stefan Edberg, another who spent more than a decade on the professional tour, another with a 127-m.p.h. serve and seven teaching professionals.

In fact, the talent is so good that Hunt, 43, has found it hard to break into the game-day lineup. USTA matches consist of one singles and two doubles matches.

Hunt has to choose a lineup for every match, and only once during the season has he called his own number.

"The problem is I recruited too well," he said.

It is just like Hunt to do something like that. If he wasn't born to coach, then he spent most of his life learning from a master. His father, Vard Hunt, coached football, basketball, golf and other sports for 42 years at Leuzinger High in Lawndale. He was also the school's athletic director.

Vard Hunt's dedication showed in the fact that he never missed a day of work in those 42 years. When he died in 1981, Steve received more than 1,000 letters from people who had been coached by his father.

"He was my idol," Hunt said. "Naturally I wanted to be just like him."

Hunt coached youth teams in high school and college--he attended USC, where he played on the basketball and volleyball teams. But as he progressed at USC, one person warned him about following in his father's footsteps.

His father.

"He told me to go make some money first," Hunt said.

So, one MBA, nearly 100 commercial developments--including 20 acres on the island of Kauai that he hopes to make into a resort--and one house on the beach later, he was ready to cut back on his workload and take up coaching again.

That was nine years ago, and now Hunt coaches just about everything and everybody who asks.

Five years ago he decided he wanted to take up tennis. He is now a teaching professional working out of King Harbor Sportscenter. He also coaches the sport at North Torrance High and plays it at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.

"Steve's an unusual guy," said Kurt Kredel, who partners with Paul Landry in the team's No. 1 doubles slot. "He's an exceptional athlete, though he always plays that down. He has a great knowledge of what it takes to win at any sport. I think that's why he was able to progress at tennis so quickly."

As he progressed, he met, learned and played against the friends who now make up the team. Among them are Capp, who, as a 16-year-old in Sweden, beat a 13-year-old named Edberg.

"The funny thing about that match is that he had match point on me and I got lucky on a net cord shot," Capp said. "I came back and beat him. Of course, it was a long time ago, and I was older than him and I couldn't touch him now, but for the rest of my life I'll be able to say I'm 1-and-0 against Edberg."

Capp, 23, alternates with Alvin Gardiner as the team's No. 1 singles player. Gardiner, 40, was on the pro circuit from 1969, when he left Australia at age 18, until 1981. He played in all the major tournaments and faced his share of legends--from Laver to Connors to a 17-year-old kid named McEnroe.

"I lost against him, and I wasn't very happy about it," Gardiner said. "But as that year went by, and he started making the semis of a lot of big tournaments, that loss started looking better and better all the time."

Gardiner's highest ranking as a pro was 70th, but he aged well and by 1989 was the No. 1-ranked 35-and-over player in the world.

The team also has Kredel, who owns the 127-m.p.h. serve; Mike Costigan, who recently won the Redondo Beach Open Tennis Championship; and Bennett Slasarz, a teaching pro at Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach who has been winning tournaments this year on a satellite pro tour in Europe.

Competition in Las Vegas will be stiff. The defending champion is a Northern California team usually made up of UC Berkeley players. Hunt also expects teams from Texas and Florida to be tough.

But what do they care, right? Gardiner says the only thing he's sure will happen is "a bit of gambling, eh?"

Asked if his team will rise to the occasion, Hunt said: "These guys have competed for a long time. There's a lot of pride. If they're pushed, I think they'll respond."

Capp puts it more succinctly:

"I know we haven't taken this thing that seriously, but with a national championship on the line, I think you'll see the horns come out in the guys."

And you can be certain the frosty mugs will soon follow at Hunt's house.

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