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Tennis: Hoffmann moves into semis at Ojai

OJAI — When Corona del Mar High junior Bjorn Hoffmann says he comes from a family of 'Eaters, it has nothing to do with appetite.

Hoffmann's father Carsten, mother Biljana Longman and uncle Zoran Korac all played tennis at UC Irvine. You could say Bjorn was born to be a tennis player, but that would discount all of the hard work that that Cal-bound player has put into the sport.

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Of Hoffmann's parents, only Carsten was in action along with Bjorn on Friday at the 115th annual Ojai Tennis Tournament. As Bjorn labored away in three straight CIF singles division matches at Libbey Park and Thacher School, Carsten was in men's open doubles action with his longtime partner, Art Hernandez of Huntington Beach, at Ojai Valley Inn.

Biljana was content to just watch her son's matches.

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"I would have played, but I'm busy with the children," she said with a smile.

Bjorn smiled too when he heard that comment.

"That's funny," he said. "She's always trying to relive her glory days."

The glory days for Bjorn are the present time. He won all three of his matches Friday to advance to the CIF singles division semifinals. He topped Anthony Balthazar of Rio Mesa, 6-2, 6-0, in a round of 32 match that was postponed from Thursday. Hoffmann then beat Julian Gordy of Viewpoint, 7-5, 6-3, in the round of 16, and Danny Gealer of San Marino, 6-4, 6-3, in the quarterfinals.

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Hoffmann is two matches away from joining his father and uncle as Ojai champion. Carsten won the men's open doubles in 2001, while Zoran took the CIF singles title in 1999 with San Marino High.

Bjorn, the No. 3 seed, will play another kid with a tennis pedigree, Brandon Holt of Palos Verdes, in a semifinal match Saturday at 9 a.m. at Libbey Park South. Holt, who won the Ojai CIF doubles title last year, is the son of former world No. 1 Tracy Austin.

Top-seeded Michael Genender of Harvard-Westlake will play No. 4-seeded Riley Smith of Los Alamitos in the other CIF singles semifinal match. The title match is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Libbey Park.

"I feel good," Bjorn Hoffmann said. "I feel like those three matches helped me more than hurt me. I feel like I got more rhythm, and I'm feeling the ball better and I'm not too tired."

Hoffmann last played Holt when CdM visited Palos Verdes in a nonleague match in early March. Hoffmann won that set, 6-3. Both are playing strong in this tournament, as neither has dropped a set.

"I played really well," Hoffmann said of the earlier meeting with Holt. "I hope I can kind of do the same thing I did there, just go out and focus and do what I have to do to win … I just want to get as far as I can, just compete, but have fun with it too. It's nice being out here."

Meanwhile, Orange Coast College's Hali Dickson is still alive in the Community College championships. The No. 6-seeded Dickson upset No. 3 Vanessa Tevas of Modesto Junior College, 7-6, 6-4, in a women's singles round of 16 match.

Dickson will play No. 2-seeded Leticia Dos Santos of College of the Desert in a quarterfinal match Saturday at 8 a.m. at Ojai Valley Athletic Club.

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Newport Harbor High senior Reese Stalder also impressed Friday in men's open doubles. He and partner Alexander Lebedev of Island Park, N.Y., defeated Victor Delavega of Oxnard and Todd Dickey of Ojai, 6-4, 6-4, in their first round match.

Stalder and Lebedev then nearly upset the top-seeded team of Jochem Hoefnagels of Azusa and Peter Lucassen of Rolling Hills before Hoefnagels and Lucassen rallied, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, in a quarterfinal match. Stalder and Lebedev were up 5-2 in the second set tiebreaker, but couldn't put it away.

Still, the TCU-bound Stalder, who also won one round in men's open singles, saw the obvious benefits of playing in the men's open division. He said he wasn't even going to play doubles at "The Ojai," but Lebedev got Stalder's number from a mutual friend before the tournament and sent him a text message.

It worked out for the duo.

"Very rarely do other kids play 'real' doubles," Stalder said. "It's fun [playing in the men's open division], which is really nice. They hit the ball bigger … it's not the junior ball that you see every weekend."

Carsten Hoffmann and Hernandez got a tough draw in the men's open doubles and fell to former UCLA standout Clay Thompson and Josh Osswald of Kentucky, 6-3, 6-3, in the opening round.

Other locals also fell Friday. CdM junior Siena Sharf and partner Layla Rodriguez won their first-round girls' 18 doubles match before they were edged by No. 2-seeded Madison Hale and Mattea Kilstofte of Santa Barbara, 6-3, 4-6, 10-6, in a semifinal match.

Corona del Mar resident Alex Reyna advanced to the boys' 16 quarterfinals before losing to Connor Rapp of Rancho Mirage, 6-3, 6-3. Newport Beach resident Austin Di Giulio lost in the boys' 16s round of 16 to Lucas Bellamy of Pacific Palisades in a third-set super-tiebreaker.

In other events Saturday at The Ojai, top-seeded Stanford will play No. 2 USC for the Pac-12 Conference men's tennis championship at 5 p.m. at Libbey Park. Stanford got past Cal, 4-1, in a semifinal Friday, while USC beat UCLA by the same score. UCLA featured Newport Beach native Joseph Di Giulio, who lost at No. 2 doubles and No. 6 singles.

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