The NTRP Kickoff Tournament, held Friday through Sunday on the Athletic Club of Bend tennis courts, included 18 separate divisions, but juniors boys doubles was not one of them.
That is how Zack Olander, 13, and 11-year-old Zachary Ramirez, both a bit shy of 5 feet tall, ended up facing Greg Ewald and Andy Stricker in the men’s doubles 6.0 finals late Saturday morning.
Ramirez said he was not too concerned ahead of the tournament, even though he knew some of the teams he would be facing would have decades of experience on the court.
“I wasn’t that nervous, because you don’t know what to expect,” Ramirez said. “They’re 55-year-olds. Maybe they can put the ball away easily. Or maybe they just can’t play. I just expected both.”
Olander and Ramirez beat another junior team in the first round and then won again in the semis, but by that point they had learned enough to be wary of their elders. Ahead of the final match against Ewald and Stricker, Olander told a spectator, “We’re about to get wrecked.”
“One of my friends had played them, and he said they were pretty good,” Olander said.
And Ewald and Stricker did win, in commanding fashion, 6-1, 6-2.
“One of them kept lobbing it, and since we’re both pretty short, that was kind of hard,” Olander said. “One of them served left-handed, so it was kind of weird (to handle).”
“Yeah, I caught the ball one time,” Ramirez added.
But the two boys, who also competed in the 14-and-under singles bracket, said they would happily compete in the men’s division again.
Aside from the 14-and-under singles division, the Kickoff Tournament divisions were based on National Tennis Rating Program levels, which rank players from 1.0 for complete novices to 7.0 for international-caliber players. In doubles, the two players’ ratings are added together to determine the team’s rating.
So when one 6.0 mixed doubles team pulled out of the competition Saturday night, Athletic Club of Bend tennis director Jason Quigley, the director of the annual tournament, needed to find male and female players whose ratings added up to 6.0 to fill a semifinal spot Sunday morning. He found Catherine Rutherford, 16, and Landon Akins, 15, who both play on the Summit High School tennis teams but did not know each other. Rutherford had not signed up for the tournament but had showed up to cheer on some of her friends who were competing, and Akins had already lost in the men’s 3.0 singles bracket.
The new pairing was knocked out by Andy and Jessica Mardock, a married couple who live in Bend, but not before splitting two sets and going 11-9 in the tiebreaker.
“I was kind of nervous, but Landon’s a good partner, so I wasn’t too stressed out,” Rutherford said. “And I wasn’t in the bracket originally, so I wasn’t that mad about losing.”
The Mardocks, who have been married for five years and doubles partners for two years, said they would not have guessed that Rutherford and Akins had never played together before. And while Andy, 33, said he and his wife have an advantage on the court because they can read each other easily, Jessica, 36, said that is not the case for all couples.
“For couples, you can either do it or you can’t,” Jessica Mardock said. “Thankfully, for us it works. He typically plays in a men’s league where he gets to kill the ball and get his competitive aggression out. Whereas our mixed league and tournaments that we play in are a little bit more for fun, because I like to play to have fun. I like to compete, too, but it’s more for fun.”
Many of the approximately 120 Kickoff Tournament participants, including Andy Mardock, competed in both singles and doubles divisions. Marie-Sophie Wecker and Anika Groener started their 4.0 women’s singles final match on Sunday just minutes after the conclusion of their mixed doubles semifinals.
“It was rough,” admitted Wecker, who also competed in the women’s doubles with her Summit teammate, Emmaline Fievet. “My back hurt a little bit. It still hurts because of back injuries.”
Wecker, who won a high school state doubles championship with Madi Sebulsky last spring, won the match 3-6, 6-4, 10-4.
“I figured she might win because of how good she is,” Wecker said of Groener, who is also a Summit tennis player. “When I started getting ahead, I was like, OK, it can still change. Just keep going the best you can, and try your best.”
Wecker said winning the bracket was tempered by the fact that she had to beat her Storm teammate to do so. But Groener did not have much time to feel down — she had another finals match coming up at noon.
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