Sunday, April 22, 2007

Tennis Anyone? The 107th Ojai Tennis Tourney

As published in the Spring issue of the Ojai Visitors Guide, by Lisa Snider:

The 107th Annual Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament, or “The Ojai®” to the more savvy, is the most anticipated event of the season; springtime in Ojai just wouldn’t be the same without it. The smell of sweat and sunscreen commingled with grilled tri-tip and orange blossoms create an air of unmistakable Ojai. Presented April 26-29 by the non-profit Ojai Valley Tennis Club, it’s Ojai’s oldest event and one that carries with it an esteemed reputation rich in history and tradition.

“We have 1500 competitors, we use over 100 courts, we have 500 people working all the various phases of the tournament, but we own no tennis courts and have no paid employees,” said Sam Eaton, public relations chair for The Ojai®.

Home of the annual Pac-10 men's, women's, and doubles individual championship matches, The Ojai® brings tourists and tennis fans to our small town for 4 days of intense competition. Libbey Park, in the heart of Ojai, is the venue for the finals of all divisions, including Div. III West Regionals, Community and Independent Colleges, Junior and CIF events, and the Open.

After 107 years, I couldn’t help but ask if anything new is in the works, any plans to mix it up a bit this year? “Nothing new, just the same wonderful stuff that has kept us going for 107 years. Perhaps that's the beauty of the whole thing,” said Eaton.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about the game. I tried, though, having spent two summers during my pre-teen years at tennis camp. I forgot my racquet one year; my mom had to turn around and drive 50 miles back home to get it for me. I never excelled beyond beginner level, nor did I figure out the scoring (love?). I did, however, become quite adept at flinging the racquet out of my hand, tagging my tennis instructor once or twice. Childhood traumas aside, I wouldn’t miss a courtside seat at The Ojai®.

I think as far as collegiate sports go, The Ojai® is to tennis what March Madness is to basketball. The brackets, displayed on several boards at Libbey Park, are dizzying and require careful study, but I can always turn to local legend, Stacy Margolin Potter, who sorts it all out for me. She played on the Professional Women’s Tennis Tour from 1977-1987 and reached a World Ranking of #18. She hails from USC, where she won both the National Collegiate Singles and Team Titles. Her association with The Ojai continues today and you can always find her courtside cheering on her alma mater.

One of the biggest attractions of The Ojai® is the tea tent, where every afternoon tea and cookies are offered complimentary. It’s all very sophisticated and one year I made the shocking faux pas of ordering a Venti Decaf Chai Latte, quickly discovering that the menu here is simple and dignified with a choice of black tea with a lemon wheel or cubed sugar.

Last year’s Tea Tent Vice Chair Peggy Chase, who, in a lovely wide brimmed garden chapeau, shared the magic and mystique of the tea tent with me. There are 1500 real china cups and saucers with The Ojai® logo and perfectly polished silver tea pots. She later wrote me and shared, “As a young girl, I was enchanted by the two glistening silver tea services and the ‘dressed up ladies’ who so elegantly poured the tea and passed cookies to players and spectators. The players, some just off the courts, would stand a bit straighter, speak a bit more softly, and might even crook a little finger as they sipped from china cups.”

Last year at The Ojai®, I landed the big get. Not even the most seasoned sports reporter could get close to this one. I had a sit-down with one of the unsung heroes of tennis: the ball boy. You know him, he’s the one crouched down under the net, waiting patiently to retrieve loose balls and holding sweaty towels for the players. After a match that went to all 3 sets, I got a face-to face with local Sean O’Brien, and he looked tired. He chased down errant balls and got tagged by 100-mile-an-hour serves. Between sets, he juggled tennis balls. And got an admonishment from the judge. Why?

“I bounced the ball,” he confessed. I guess it’s hard to maintain focus after hours in the hot sun.

And then I asked the question of the hour; how does one get chosen to serve with the ball boy elite? “I got assigned,” replied the eye-rolling teen. It seems that his holding court on the local Thacher tennis team brings an automatic appointment to the task. I’m told we might see him again this year, so make sure you give him a shout out!

For more information about The Ojai®, call (805) 646-7241 or visit www.ojaitourney.org. See you on the courts!

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