TENNIS: ‘IT’S GOT TO BE PERFECT’
The top-seeded duo in the Men’s 50 Doubles bracket of the annual Ted Smyth tennis tournament knew they needed to play a nearly perfect match in order to win.
Facing off against the No. 3 seed team of Vivek Varma and the highly-decorated former professional Rick Leach, the duo of Arthur Hernandez and Carsten Hoffmann battled hard but were unable to pull out the win Friday afternoon at the Santa Barbara Tennis Club. Varma and Leach won by scores of 6-1, 7-6 (6-8), 6-3.
“(Leach) is tough to play because he doesn’t give you anything easy,” Hoffmann said after the match. “He never makes an easy mistake, and even when you come up with really good shots he knows how to put you in really uncomfortable positions.
“He’s tough to play because he makes you play virtually perfect tennis,” he said. “And that’s fun. It’s fun to go up against a guy where you know that you’re going to get punished for any little mistake you make, but it’s a lot of pressure too because you feel like it’s got to be perfect.”
Leach and Varma got off to a hot start in taking the first set. Varma capitalized on several lob shots and forehands down the line and Leach was seemingly able to place the ball wherever he wanted.
With Leach and Varma leading 2-1 in the second set, the teams went back and forth, drawing even at nearly every turn before the score was tied at 6-6. In the tiebreak, Leach and Varma were trailing 2-4 before staging a comeback and taking a 5-4 lead. Hernandez and Hoffman were able to hang tough and come away with the 8-6 victory in the tiebreak to take the set.
“We felt like we were finally really getting our teeth into the second set and I just didn’t want it to end, I wanted a chance to kind of keep fighting.” Hoffmann said.
“They just battled and came back strong in the second,” said Varma. “We had chances to close it, just couldn’t get. It’s always hard to close — get the final out as they say.”
Varma admitted his serve is the weaker part of his game and said he had to make several adjustments throughout the match.
“Coach Rick and I muscled through,” he said with a laugh. “He’s been a guru of mine for almost 12 years…. I love this tournament and I just try and get better every year, and find a good partner. The key to life — find a good partner.”
Varma said he and Leach were surprised in the second set when Hernandez and Hoffmann came on strong late.
“I don’t know how many match points they saved, but anytime you drop match points you’ve got to regroup,” he said. “Really, the third set we just came out and started playing our game. In that situation you have to just take care of your serve.”
Leach, a lefty who won five Grand Slam doubles titles and four mixed doubles titles during his playing career, turned to his partner on several occasions between points and offered words of advice or encouragement.
“What he said about my serve was ’embrace it, just go after it,” Varma said. “It all worked out.
“All four of us volley well, and then there’s Ricky who’s kind of on another level,” he said. “A couple of points here and there and it’s a different outcome.”
Hoffmann, who was coming off an elbow surgery last year, said that in Friday’s match it was the first time in nearly three years that he felt totally in control — both physically and mentally.
“I felt a bit like I hadn’t had enough reps lately to play my very best, but that’s the way it goes,” he said.
In doubles play of the Santa Barbara Open, the No. 1 seeds Victor Krustev and Miles Seemann cruised past the No. 2 seeds Graham Maassen and Jackson Powell 6-2, 6-2.
Krustev, who will be entering his junior year at UCSB in the fall, will be taking on his doubles partner at 1 p.m. today in the Men’s Open Singles Final.
“It’s going to be a fun match, I’m excited,” said Krustev. “I hope we both play well and whatever happens happens.”
Seemann said that playing alongside Krustev he realized how quick he is and how well he uses his forehand. He said he will try and do everything he can to take that away in today’s match.
“I’m hoping to beat him, but I think it will be very tough,” said Seemann. “I hope my body will hold up. I have to serve well in order to win the match.”