OJAI — The Ojai Tennis Tournament is a special trip every year for standout CIF Southern Section tennis players.
Everyone enjoys making the trek to the small town of about 8,000 people, located about 83 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Libbey Park, in the middle of town, is hopping all weekend.
The tournament is in its 113th year. A list of past champions reads like a who's who of tennis.
Someday, people may look at University High senior Gage Brymer on that list. They may say they saw him on the last weekend of April, 2013, when he made history at "The Ojai."
He's on a first-name basis here. Just mention "Gage," and near everyone on the grounds knows who you're talking about.
The UCLA-bound Brymer won his third straight CIF Singles division title Saturday, defeating Torrey Pines freshman Taylor Fritz, 6-3, 6-0, in the championship match. Brymer became the third player to win the division three times in a row, the first since Bobby Riggs in 1934-36.
Fritz had topped CdM senior Alec Adamson, 6-1, 6-4, in a semifinal match earlier Saturday. In the final, the talented freshman just ran into a buzzsaw. Brymer grinned widely, pumping his fist toward his parents, Chuck and Mary, after the final point.
"It's so special, it's so important to me," Brymer said. "High school tennis is a big deal to me and my school, and coming to Ojai, this is one of the staples of our season. It's one of the best tournaments I play in general, not just in high school. So being able to come back and win for the third time is a really, really big deal."
University also win the Griggs Trophy, awarded to the high school team that performs the best in singles and doubles, for the fourth straight year. The Trojans' Drew Dawson and Tyler Lu captured the doubles title over Daniel Gealer and Robert Carter of San Marino, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Only Santa Barbara (1990-95 and 2005-2009) and La Jolla (1971-74) also have won the Griggs Trophy four straight years.
Brymer was dominant throughout the tournament, winning all 12 of his sets. The closest set was 6-3. Brymer, who recently won the Easter Bowl and is also a two-time CIF Individuals champion, has not lost a high school match since his sophomore year. University Coach John Kessler said it couldn't happen to a better kid.
Brymer embodies the success that the three-time defending CIF Southern Section Division 1 champion Trojans have had as a team. As important to Kessler, his senior captain also embodies the respect that the Uni players show to their opponents during a given match.
"It's really who he is, the history of it and the work he's put in and also the kind of person he is," Kessler said. "He's just humble and down to earth, on and off the court, and he respects the tradition. He really deserves it. If there's going to be someone who's going to get history, he deserves it. He's put the work in.
"If you don't respect your opponents and the tournament, you're not going to make it. I think that's what puts him over the top. Then you have his mom and dad, and they're just a team. Without mom and dad, none of this happens, because they're just a phenomenal team."
Brymer's first set against Fritz was close. Brymer dug out of a love-30 hole serving at 2-3, but then went on to break Fritz twice to take the first set.
Fritz's patented big forehand kept missing long in the second set, but much of the credit for that goes to the pressure that Brymer puts on his opponents.
"I think a lot of my matches are like that, where it's really tight in the beginning because both players are playing really well," Brymer said. "But I think my game is pretty solid, so it's hard to stay with that game. We were playing good points until the end … but it was those big points that were going back and forth in the beginning. Once I won a couple of games in a row and momentum started to shift my way, I was winning more of the bigger points."
That's not an accident. Brymer's father, Chuck, who is the tennis director at the Woodbridge Tennis Club, said he has been working with his son a lot on mental toughness lately. For the Brymers that's pretty weighty stuff. Chuck said he has been looking at the Navy SEALS and Black Ops, "all types of high-level pressure situations of life and death."
"I've studied how the mind works, how it shuts off and on, how it goes into the 'fight or flight,'" Chuck Brymer said. "We've spent an enormous amount of time looking at that aspect, how to deal with the pressure on the court the same way those guys deal with the pressure in the field."
Clearly, it has worked for the Brymers. And Gage shows no signs of slowing down. Much preparation went into this tournament in particular, which Gage called one of his favorites.
"We've been thinking about it ever since last year, when he won it the second time," Chuck Brymer said. "There was only a handful of people who won it two times, and to go for the third, it's an enormous amount of pressure. You see the talented players who are here, and it's just ridiculous. He handled everything extremely well, I thought.
"That's a part of it, dealing with the press, all of the articles that come out. Everyone keeps coming up and saying, 'Hey, looking for the three-peat.' Just those comments are inside your head, and he managed that extremely well, I thought. He was tenacious through every match. I thought the last two matches [including a 6-0, 6-2 semifinal win over San Marino's James Wade] were his best two of the tournament."
Adamson did not have one of his best matches of the tournament against Fritz, who won the first set easily. But a "let" call with Fritz serving at 2-1 got into the head of the Torrey Pines player. His ace that would have won the game was disallowed, and his serve was eventually broken in the game. The players stayed on serve until Fritz broke Adamson in the seventh game of the set, and he held on.
Adamson said after the match that the serve clearly clipped the tape. Fritz begged to differ.
"Not even close," Fritz said when asked about the call. "And [Adamson] knew it, too."
But Fritz, who is ranked No. 5 in the country in the boys' 16s, found a way to refocus. Eventually his big serve and forehand wore on Adamson.
"I was able to attack and make my shots," Fritz said. "It's hard to stay out there all day and rally with him. He's not going to miss that much, but when I'm playing well, I like playing against that game he has. I really get to do what I love to do: attack the ball and go for it."
Adamson said he started slow and it was hard for him to recover. But a semifinal showing was still an improvement over a round of 16 showing last year. And CdM Coach Jamie Gresh, who said his quarterfinalist doubles team of Carson Williams and Josh Kliger played their best tennis of the season this weekend, said the Sea Kings can take momentum from their Ojai experience.
"Just to be here on the final day is a great experience," Gresh said. "I think seeing this will give these guys and our team a good spark as the playoffs come up. I think it will rejuvenate them to be around this environment."
CdM and University both have their final league match on Monday. The league finals individual tournament is Wednesday and Thursday, at Beckman High.
Brymer again will be the favorite there. Expect him to react accordingly.