Senior Nick Andrews (l) and sophomore teammate Ben McLachlan following the Napa Valley Tennis Classic final.
© Paul Ballard
By Steve Pratt, special to USTA.com
ST. HELENA, Calif. – Moments after two of his Cal Berkeley tennis players advanced to the final for the first time in the history of the Land Rover Napa Valley Classic, Cal coach Peter Wright made a big announcement to the crowd: "Ladies and Gentleman, obviously this tournament is rigged."
Senior Nick Andrews then proceeded to beat sophomore teammate and his Napa roommate sophomore Ben McLachlan in a tiebreaker final shootout 10-7 to win the 11th annual event played at the Meadowood Resort despite a halt in play for two and a half hours mid-morning due to rain.
"What a phenomenal finish," a beaming Wright said under clear skies at near-perfect temperatures afterward. "It’s really a dream come true. That’s part of the excitement of this format: anything can happen once the shootout starts."
After on-court coaching all weekend, there was nothing Wright or his assistant Tyler Browne could say to both players during the final.
"It’s like watching your two kids play," said Wright, in his 19th year at the helm at Berkeley.
USTA Player Development Managing Director Tom Jacobs awarded Andrews with the winner’s trophy and announced that he would also receive a wild card into a future USTA Pro Circuit event. Meadowood Director of Tennis Doug King then awarded Andrews the Norma Miner Outstanding Player award.
Eight players advanced to the shootout round after winning their respective flights, with Andrews one of five players to complete 8 a.m. best-of-three matches Sunday morning as he went undefeated in round-robin play before the rains came.
Both Andrews and McLachlan had to beat USTA juniors for the right to meet in the final, as Andrews downed local Bay Area-resident Connor Farren, 16, and McLachlan took out Southern Californian Alexios Halebian, 17, by identical 10-7 scores.
Down 7-5 in the final, Andrews followed a shot to the net and hit a nice pick-up volley that passed McLachlan for an unlikely winner that left the crowd cheering and both players smiling. Andrews said it was the shot he needed to make his comeback.
"I couldn’t have been happier playing another Cal guy in the final," Andrews said. "I think after I double-faulted the second time I told myself to just calm down a little bit. And then I made that little stab at the half volley, and that changed the momentum."
Was it a lucky shot? "Yeah, I’m kind of known for having the lucky shots on my team," Andrews said. "I just pulled another one out of the bag."
"That was just a real enjoyable final to be in," said McLachlan, who hails from Queenstown, New Zealand. "I wasn’t surprised he made that little half volley. He tends to make a lot of those in practice."
The other players who won their flights and took part in the shootout losing in the quarterfinals included Warren Hardie of UCLA, Ahmed Ismail of Cal, Sam Keeton of Notre Dame and Adrien Puget of UCLA.
Wright said over the weekend that he wasn’t surprised the USTA juniors had as much success as they did with two of them winning their flights and making the final eight shootout, especially after watching the USTA beat his Cal team in a dual match last week.
"It wasn’t a surprise at all," he said. "You don’t want the college guys to win every match or the juniors to win every match. I think it’s fantastic for the USTA and for the event."
He added, "The one thing the college guys are realizing is that you have to bring your top guys, otherwise the event doesn’t work. The college coaches have so much incentive now because they don’t want to look bad. The USTA has done a great job of getting guys different ages to come here and play. They are not just bringing guys who are looking to go pro or straight to college but a mix. We really haven’t had any juniors who didn’t belong on the court with the college guys, and that’s what you like to see."
USTA National Coach Stanford Boster said he would like to see more events combining the collegiates with the juniors, but the schedule doesn’t allow for it.
"It would be great, but the schedules are so crazy," he said Sunday. "And there’s got to be a purpose for it. When they’re playing ITF junior matches, the goal is to get to the Slams. When they’re playing Futures events, the goal is to get ranking points. You want to spend time playing tournaments that serve a purpose, and the juniors just don’t have the time to be playing a lot of these."
Boster, hired just before the US Open this year, said the weekend was a great way to let him get to know eight of the top U.S. juniors. "The biggest advantage for me is that I get to see three matches in a row from the juniors and get to know their games a little bit, and you get to figure out a little bit of what you have to deal with."
Sunday’s completed singles results:
Nick Andrews (Cal) def. Blake Bazarnik (Vanderbilt), 6-2, 6-0
Ed Jones (Tennessee) def. JC Arragone (USTA), 6-3, 4-1, retired
Ahmed Ismail (Cal) def. Nikko Madregallejo (USTA), 6-3, 6-1
Japie De Klerk (Tulsa) def. Alex DiValerio (Vanderbilt), 6-3, 6-2
Alexios Halebian (USTA) def. Greg Andrews (Notre Dame), 7-6 (2), 6-4
Warren Hardie (UCLA) def. Hunter Reese (Tennessee), injury default
Sam Keeton (Notre Dame) def. Clay Thompson (UCLA), 10-5 (tiebreaker)
Ben McLachlan (Cal), def. Luca Corinteli (USTA), 11-9
Connor Farren (USTA) advances to Shootout after Tulsa’s Marsland defaults.
N. Andrews (Cal) def. Hardie (UCLA), 10-8
Farren (USTA) def. Ismail (Cal), 10-8
Halebian (USTA) def. Keeton (Notre Dame), 10-1
McLachlan (Cal) def. Puget (UCLA), 10-2
B. McLachlan (Cal) def. Halebian (USTA), 10-7
N. Andrews (Cal) def. Farren (USTA), 10-7
N. Andrews (Cal) def. B. McLachlan (Cal), 10-7