The streak doesn’t matter to Darren Joe.
Nor does the Marmonte League singles championship or the opportunity for a Southern Section singles title.
Joe, a Westlake High senior, has played 14 matches and won each of his 42 sets for a Warrior team that is 20-0.
But Joe, ranked No. 15 in the Southern California Tennis Assn. 18-and-under division, is not concerned with individual accolades. Instead, he is focused on helping Westlake win the Southern Section Division II team championship.
The Warriors can realize that goal today when they meet Beverly Hills at 3 p.m. in the division final at the Thousand Oaks Racquet Club.
“I’m not really concerned about the streak,” Joe said. “I just want to win as a team. If I lost a set but we still win the championship, then I’d be elated.”
The team title is what Joe and his teammates have been eyeing since a heartbreaking 10-8 loss to Harvard-Westlake in the Division III final last season.
“That was pretty depressing,” Joe said. “We were undefeated the whole year and went stomping through the playoffs and then it just ended. It was really kind of a downer.”
The Warriors take the same team they had last year into the final today. Nobody graduated, nobody new came in.
An enrollment increase forced Westlake to move up a division, eliminating the possibility of a rematch against Harvard-Westlake.
But the lack of a revenge factor hasn’t diminished the team’s hunger for a victory.
“We all know that feeling of losing that big match,” Joe said. “We don’t want to go through it again.”
Joe’s recent performance is indicative of that attitude.
In a semifinal against Mission Viejo last Thursday, Joe trailed Eric Bachelor, 4-5, and was down two set points.
But the gritty right-hander took a few risks and used well-placed overheads to stay alive and eventually win the set, 7-5. The team score was tied, 3-3, at the time. But seemingly on Joe’s cue, the rest of the Warriors rallied to win going away, 13-5.
“He’s very inspirational,” Westlake Coach Grant Calkins said. “The other players take inspiration from the way he plays.”
Joe often is compared to professional Michael Chang, and not just because of their Chinese ethnicity.
Joe, who has been Westlake’s No. 1 singles player since he was a freshman, is exceptionally quick, allowing him to track down balls other players might give up on.
What the 5-foot-8 Joe gives away to bigger players in power, he more than makes up for with court sense.
“He just kind of wears you down,” Calkins said. “He’ll move you around until he sees an opening and as soon as you are just the slightest bit out of position, look out.”
Joe’s off-the-court accomplishments also are noteworthy.
A class valedictorian candidate, he has a 4.0 grade-point average and will attend Princeton in the fall.
When not smashing forehand winners deep into corners or burying himself nose-deep in calculus and advanced-placement English studies, Joe likes to relax by playing the guitar and singing.
He’s better at tennis.
“It can be pretty disastrous,” Joe said of his musical musings. “Sometimes my mom will come by and say, ‘Darren, why aren’t you working out?’ ”
The owner of an extensive CD collection, Joe listens to alternative, rap and old fashioned rock and roll.
“Music soothes me,” Joe said. “I like all types. I try and keep an open mind.”
And time for everything on his busy schedule.
Joe is eagerly awaiting the results of exams in calculus and English, tests that forced him to sit out the Marmonte League singles tournament and defend the title he won last season.
By not playing in the league tournament, he was not eligible to compete in the Southern Section individual tournament.
“I was kind of bummed for a little while,” Joe said. “But I did that last year, so I knew how it felt. I studied the whole year for those tests and I just wouldn’t have been able to do both.”
It’s a predicament Joe has found himself in before. Maintaining a high level of excellence in school and tennis can be quite time consuming.
“It’s tough sometimes,” Joe said. “There are some days when you can’t study and there are days when you can’t practice. But you learn how to manage your time. I’ve grown accustomed to it.”
Usually, he said, his studies take precedent over a tennis match.
“My coach will probably kill me for that,” Joe said.
His undefeated-sets streak is in jeopardy today. Joe has never beaten Jose Lieberman, Beverly Hills’ top player, though he took him to three sets once in an Southern California Tennis Assn. event.
Calkins said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Joe’s winless streak against Lieberman come to an end, especially with a section title at stake.
“Darren really gets up for the occasion,” Calkins said. “He’s self-motivating. He rises as high as he needs to.”
Joe, who has won SCTA events at Northridge and Claremont, is not worried about his nemesis.
“Hopefully I can win it,” Joe said. “But if I win one, two or three sets, it doesn’t matter. I’m just going to do as much as I can for the team.”