Foreigners make points in men's, women's finals Robinson, Obziler win national clay courts

October 02, 1995|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

The victories by England's Paul Robinson and Israel's Tzipora Obziler in the T. Rowe Price National Intercollegiate Clay Court Championships underscore a trend in college tennis.

Foreigners have a powerful presence.

That disturbs some people. Others think it's good for the game as well as the American players.

Of the 16 quarterfinalists, only four -- Sara Pritchard, Lauren Nikolaus, Pablo Montana and Damon Henkel -- are Americans. Only Montana and Nikolaus reached the semifinals. An American male never has won this event, which began in 1986.

In the 76-minute men's final yesterday at Suburban Club, Texas Christian's Robinson ousted Fredrik Giers of Fresno State and Sweden, 6-2, 6-3. It took Old Dominion's Obziler only 63 minutes to polish off Kylie Hunt of Kansas and Australia, 6-2, 6-0.

The foreign accent is particularly noticeable on clay because so many of the imports grew up playing on that surface. But it is true throughout college tennis.

"The good thing is the cross-cultural exchange which exposes our kids to different styles of play," said Tennessee coach John Kreis. "The negative is that a lot of internationals enter our colleges at 22, 23 or 24.

"Legislation will be voted on in December designed to level the field. It would require players to enter college within a year after graduating from high school. It's not fair to have an 18-year-old freshman playing against one who's 23 and has been on a satellite tour for a few years."

Obziler doesn't fully fit that description, but she is a 22-year-old freshman. A mandatory two-year hitch in the Israeli army, when she didn't play much tennis, accounted for much of the gap between high school and college. She arrived here a month ago.

All four of the finalists came to the U.S. for one reason: Universities in Europe and Australia don't have athletic programs.

"I wanted to get an education and continue tennis at a high level," Robinson said. "We can't do that over there."

American coaches began recruiting foreigners when most of the top players in this country were congregating at just a few colleges, such as Stanford, Southern Cal, UCLA and, in the case of the women, Florida.

"The talent pool expanded greatly when kids from former Communist countries needed a place to play," said Intercollegiate Tennis Association spokesman Tim Curry.

Obziler became the first woman to capture a college grand slam event after reaching the main draw through the qualifier. This was her second college tournament, following the James Madison Invitational, giving her 12 matches in eight days.

Obziler, noting that Hunt had a bad knee, occasionally used that to her advantage, making her run.

"From time to time, I dropped shots," Obziler said, smiling slyly "but it wasn't my main tactic."

The top-seeded Robinson, a senior, avenged his only loss to Giers, last year on clay in Sweden, and broke through with a grand slam title after two runner-up finishes to Sargis Sargsian in the Rolex National Indoor Championships. Sargsian reached the third round of the U.S. Open .

"I was lucky in the final," Robinson said. "Most of the close balls and games went my way. I was shaky in the last game, leading 5-3, 40 love. Fredrik came back and made it close, but I managed to clinch it."

Robinson became the first player since Mississippi State's Daniel Courcol in 1992 to win doubles and singles. He and Texas Christian teammate David Roditi defended their title by defeating Wichita State's Phil Cooper and Simon Evelyn.

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