Getting better with age

Art Hernandez is ready to hold court. It's something he's become accustomed to.

The long-time Huntington Beach resident has several national senior tennis titles to his credit — seven to be exact — and on Friday begins defense of a championship he won last year in his own backyard: a doubles title at the Huntington Beach Open.

Pacific Sands Cabana Club in Huntington Beach is hosting the annual event, which is holding its 50th anniversary tournament starting Friday at various tennis venues in the city. The tournament continues Saturday and concludes with division finals Aug. 20-21 at the club.

The Unites Stats Tennis Assn.-sanctioned tournament includes Open players and National Tennis Rating-ranked players in Men's, Women's, Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles competitions. Division winners and runners-up earn trophies and cash prizes will be awarded to semifinalists and finalists in the Open divisions.

Hernandez, 45, won a doubles title partnered with Brian Morton (Newport Beach) in the Open division at last year's event. This year, he will be teamed with Carsten Hoffmann of Newport Beach in the Open division. Last year, Hernandez was ranked No. 1 nationally for doubles in the 35s and 40s divisions. In 2009, he was ranked No. 1 in doubles in three age groups: 30s, 35s and 40s.

"My hope is to shine a light on the world of Senior tennis and even with a very busy life, you can still compete in the arena," said Hernandez, who is a sales leader in the medical field and played men's tennis at UC Irvine during the 1980s.

Three weeks ago, Hernandez and Chris Kearney of Irvine, who played last year for UC Irvine, won the Southern California Open Sectionals doubles title in Seal Beach. The pair defeated four teams that were either collegiate or high-ranking Junior level players about to enter college.

Also at the tournament, Hernandez played in singles competition and won a first-round match against a top-rated 16-year-old player before being eliminated.

The Seal Beach tournament marked the first time Hernandez and Kearney played doubles together.

"Competing against opponents that were 25 years younger than me, and winning, was the best," he said. "It helps having a great player (Kearney) as a partner, as well."

Hernandez teamed with Brian Cory of Salinas to win the his seventh national title, the 45s doubles Hard Courts Tennis Championships, in Westlake Village on June 12. He preceded that in April by winning the National 35s doubles Hard Courts tennis championship in Scottsdale, Ariz.

His goal, he said, is to represent the U.S. next year at the World Championships.

Major tournament titles won by Hernandez in 2011 include the Southern California Open Sectionals with Kearney, National 45s Hard Courts with Cory, Adoption Guild 35s and Babalot Tennis Tournament championships with Hoffmann and the National's 35s Hard Courts championship with Neel Grover of Laguna Beach.

He has won on hard court, indoor court and clay court, and has won gold medals in every age group in which he is eligible to compete. He won his first "gold" with Morton in 2006. The only title that has eluded him, he said, is on a grass court. He has, however, captured silver medals three times with Grover on grass.

Hoffmann, who also played at UCI, has been Hernandez's primary playing partner since 1999 and the two have won eight titles in some of the bigger tournaments in Orange County.

Hernandez started playing tennis at 12 and was taught how to play by his father Angelino during the 1970s, when the sport was "at its peak."

"Besides my parents, my hero was Jimmy Connors because he never quit," he said.

Hernandez went on to become the top-ranked player at St. Francis High in La Cañada Flintridge and was ranked in the Southern California Tennis Assn. for Junior players. He said his peak rankings were No. 18 for singles and No. 1 in doubles for 18-and-under in 1984. He went on to play men's tennis for UCI in both singles and doubles and was a scholar athlete for the Anteaters in 1987.

Nowadays, Hernandez is competing in both singles and doubles, but favors playing in tandem.

"I prefer playing doubles because the reaction time is much quicker and being in the heat of battle with a friend is the best because you are in it together," he said. "Singles takes a lot out of you, but I am competing this year (in singles) because my No. 1 goal is to make the national team and represent our country in the World Championships, which will be held next year in San Diego. Wearing USA on your back has always been a dream of mine, so I will give singles a shot."

Beginning this weekend, he'll take a swing at winning a repeat Open doubles title at the Huntington Beach Open.

"I am very thankful to my dad for introducing the game and also thankful for the opportunity to still compete at a high level, because I love this sport. It has given me and continues to give me so much. I hope to pass this game on to my kids.

"For someone who plays on the weekends, I feel pretty happy at where my tennis is at for an old guy."

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