BERKELEY -- While an epic tennis battle played out July 6 on Wimbledon's Centre Court (Novak Djokovic defeating Roger Federer in five sets), over at the Claremont Hotel Club and Spa the "10s Tennis" tournament was rife with grueling -- and often spectacular -- matches featuring more than 40 top Northern California players ages 10- and-under.
The grounds were crawling with youngsters lugging tennis rackets that almost equaled the kids in height. Even the youngest competitors bore a look of determination. And, once on court, each player seemed to slip into a persona beyond his or her years -- poised, and the probable recipient of a raft of tennis lessons.
The two-day event culminated with the girls and boys 10-year-olds' finals under a blistering sun, which saw a redoubtable Vivian Ovrootsky of San Jose rally from five games to none down in the first set to overtake Georgia Beard of Santa Rosa 7-6, 6-4.
"I had to battle my opponent and the bees," said a victorious Ovrootsky, whose serve was frequently delayed as she swatted away the pesky insects. But it was her steely groundstrokes and court coverage that made the difference in a hard-fought match. Both players rarely strayed from the baseline but relied on two-fisted backhands for punishing strokes and intense rallies.
Serving at 4-4 in the second set, Beard faced a break point and, disappointingly, plunked a sitter into the net, giving her opponent the chance to serve out the match. Both girls were generous in line calls, and the influence from the pros was evident in the girls' occasional fist pumps and strident calls of "let's go."
The boys match started near dusk as finalists Alex Chang of Berkeley and Alex Koong of Los Altos strode onto Court 2.
The boys evinced more variety than the girls, but also featured groundstrokes of power and precision that belied their youth. The pair frequently hit "moon" balls that sometimes pinned their opponent against the fence; and neither was reluctant to come to net and whack a winner down the line or cross court.
The first set was a nail-biter with solid defense, resulting in five service breaks. Koong managed to fight off four break points in the sixth game to keep the set close.
But serving at 4-5 he seemed to feel the tension. First came a missed drop shot, then a double fault and a groundstroke that went long.
Chang seemed about to claim the set, but Koong came up with two winners to bring the score to 30-40. The next rally, however, ended when Koong's ball sailed over the baseline, giving the set to Chang, 6-4.
Chang capitalized on the momentum and won the match 6-4, 6-1. Asked for a comment after his victory, Chang reverted to being a 10-year-old, slightly shy although pleased with his performance.
Of his opponent, Chang said, "He's one of those consistent types. He doesn't miss but doesn't have much firepower."
Chang also indicated an interest in playing college tennis down the road.
Both boys made the trek downstairs to the tournament desk, where they posed for photos with their trophies. "Remember," stressed Rosie Bareis, Director of Tennis and co-tournament director along with Claremont pro Dale Evans. "There are no losers here. There are winners and unfortunates."
All participants received a trophy and a goody bag for their participation.
Bareis later made a point of explaining that the tournament has no huge trophy for the winners, instead seeing to it that each youngster has a positive tennis experience.
Bareis is also obsessed with the future of U.S. tennis.
"One thing is certain," she says. "If they don't learn the fundamentals when they're young, they won't have a chance."
Other finals results
Girls 9-and-under: Madeleine Jessup (Menlo Park) defeated Ria Bhakta (Saratoga) 6-2, 6-3.
Girls 8-and-under: Natasha Rajaram (Los Altos) defeated Anya Murthy (Fremont) 6-4, 6-2.
Boys 9-and-under: Spencer Leung (Tiburon) defeated Nicholas Throgmorton (Foster City) 6-0, 6-1.
Boys 8-and-under: Mason Nguyen (El Dorado Hills) defeated Mitchell Lee (Oakland) 7-5, 2-6, 6-2.
Junior Singles 7-and-under (sets of 4 games): Cameron Chen (Menlo Park) defeated Gabriel Jessup (Menlo Park) 4-0, 4-0.