Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Grueling workouts as teen pay off for 30 Indoors champ

Second-seeded Jan Tiilikainen, left, used his outstanding fitness
to beat top-seeded Clayton Almeida for his fifth men's singles
title in the National 30 Indoors. Photo by Paul Bauman
   GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- From age 15 to 18, Jan Tiilikainen endured workouts that make a North Korean labor camp look like Club Med.
   "We had a crazy coach in Finland," Tiilikainen, a 42-year-old Reno teaching pro from Helsinki, recalled Monday after winning his fifth singles title in the USTA National Men's, Women & Mixed 30 Indoor Championships. "We did 2 1/2 hours of conditioning five or six days a week in addition to tennis. He'd put a bucket in the corner of the field and say, 'Go throw up.'
   "We'd carry a guy piggyback 400 yards around a track. We'd run a lap, do 2,000 sit-ups, run a lap ... We'd do cross-country skiing pulling a sled filled with rocks uphill. Your thighs would be burning. We did whatever he'd come up with. You never knew what to expect."
   Tiilikainen continued: "If you didn't give 100 percent, you were out of the group. He'd get someone else. There were eight of us.
   "I was never kicked out. I was very self-motivated. I was usually the first guy out there and the last guy who left the gym."
   Considering that regimen -- and other factors -- it's not so surprising that it was the much younger, bigger and stronger Clayton Almeida rather than Tiilikainen who broke down in the final at the Spare Time Indoor Tennis Center.
   Almeida, the top seed from West Palm Beach, Fla., strained a groin and quadriceps muscle late in the second set of the second-seeded Tiilikainen's 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 victory. Clearly hurting, Almeida stopped moving in the third set of the 2-hour, 44-minute match. At times, the 33-year-old Brazil native bent over and winced between points.
   "It was a tough decision whether to keep playing or retire," conceded Almeida, who had cramped at the end of his 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 semifinal victory. "I've never retired in my life. Jani is a great guy. It definitely would have taken a little bit away from his title. It's just not a part of me."  
   Tiilikainen, meanwhile, looked as if he could run all day. He was playing at sea level rather than at Reno's 4,505-foot (1,373-meter) elevation, and he's accustomed to playing four matches a day (singles and doubles) in the heat in outdoor tournaments.
   "This is easy for me," proclaimed Tiilikainen, who played singles only in the 30 Indoors.
   Indeed, when asked what he considers his greatest strength, Tiilikainen blurted, "Fitness." 
Heather Nobler, middle, won the women's singles round robin. Marisue Jacu-
tin Mariona, left, finished second, and Petra Wallace, right, was third.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Heather Nobler of Lincoln, Neb., won the women's title by finishing 3-0 in round-robin play. The former University of Oklahoma standout coasted after outdueling Marisue Jacutin-Mariona 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (4) in Saturday's opening round.
   Almeida and Tiilikainen contrasted sharply in almost every way.
   Almeida, 6-foot-5 (1.96 meters) and 225 pounds (102.1 kilograms), looks more like a tight end or heavyweight boxer than a tennis player.
   Tiilikainen, 5-foot-11 (1.80) and 158 pounds (71.7), looks by comparison as if he could have ridden California Chrome to victory in Saturday's Kentucky Derby instead of demolishing Joshua Prager of Yuba City 6-0, 6-0 in the quarterfinals.
   Almeida has a powerful serve and sensational one-handed backhand. Tiilikainen employs a strong return of serve and slugs two-fisted backhands.  
   Both starred at U.S. colleges but in vastly different parts of the country. Almeida played at Winthrop in steamy Rock Hill, S.C., and Tiilikainen in the desert at Nevada.
   After winning the 30 Indoors title in his debut in 2007 and repeating in 2008, 2010 and 2011, Tiilikainen lost to former Pepperdine All-American Calle Hansen in the semifinals in 2012 and final last year.
   "It bugged me," Tiilikainen, whose brother Kim coaches 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz of Poland, said of the drought. "It was a long drive home. People were texting me wishing me good luck (this year), and it's always nicer to text back saying I won."
   In Almeida, Tiilikainen was playing a 6-foot-5, 33-year-old in the final for the second year in a row.
   "This guy had beaten Hansen in college," Tiilikainen noted. "I knew it would be a tough match."
   But Tiilikainen figured he could use Almeida's size against him.
   "I knew if I could keep him moving and stretching, I'd get him tired," Tiilikainen offered.
   Eventually, that's what happened.
   The first set was a titanic, 65-minute battle as the players traded vicious groundstrokes and displayed tremendous mental toughness. Almeida survived four set points to hold serve for 5-5 and broke Tiilikainen at love on a runaround forehand passing shot for 6-5. Tiilikainen saved five set points in the next game before uncharacteristically spraying a forehand wide to hand Almeida the set.
   Both players held serve for 3-3 in the second set, but Almeida was done. Tiilikainen won nine of the last 11 games.       
   "He chases everything down, hits solid and puts a lot of stress on your body," Almeida said. "I'll practice more for next year."
   Almeida, a teaching pro, is playing in the 30s for the first year as he prepares for the 35s. He won the  USTA 30 Hard Court Championships in Austin, Texas, in March for his first gold ball.
   "I love teaching and playing," Almeida gushed. "It's more about the competition than the gold ball. To know I can still play at this level at 33, it makes me happy at the end of the day."
USTA NATIONAL MEN'S, WOMEN'S & MIXED 30 INDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS
Men's singles final
   Jan Tiilikainen (2), Reno, def. Clayton Almeida (1), West Palm Beach, Fla., 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.
Women's singles final round-robin standings
   1. Heather Nobler, Lincoln, Neb., 3-0.
   2. Marisue Jacutin-Mariona, Los Altos, 2-1.
   3. Petra Wallace, Sacramento, 1-2.
   4. Amy McCampbell, Austin, Texas, 0-3.
Men's doubles final
   Darrin Cohen, Lafayette, and Pablo Schurig, Walnut Creek, def. Derek Fitzpatrick, San Jose, and Marco Foelz, Campbell, 6-2, 6-4.
Women's doubles final round-robin standings
   1. Lauren Barnikow and Francesca LaO (2), San Francisco, 3-0.
   2. Amy McCampbell, Austin, Texas, and Heather Nobler (1), Lincoln, Neb., 2-1.
   3. Ditta Reed and Petra Wallace, Sacramento, 1-2.
   4. Camille Benvenuti, Sacramento, and Stacey Griggs, Carmichael, 0-3.
Mixed doubles final
   Francesca LaO, San Francisco, and Jason Pickett, San Carlos, def. Clayton Almeida, West Palm Beach, Fla., and Heather Nobler (1), Lincoln, Neb., 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.

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