POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 24, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 10:29 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011
For four straight years, former Hawaii Pacific All-Americans Mikael Maatta and Jan Tribler found their way to the finals of Hawaii's most compelling tennis tournament. Every year they were turned away, grinding through torturous three-set losses three times.
At this year's 41st Blue Moon Men's Night Doubles at Kailua Racquet Club, which starts today, Maatta and Tribler come in with a few aces up their sleeves and the top seed.
They have won the first two stops of the new Triple Crown of Tennis and are on the verge of clinching a wild card into the 2012 Honolulu Challenger, Hawaii's only USTA Pro Circuit event.
A month ago at the Waikiki Tennis Club Clay Court Championship, they took home most of the $1,000 purse put up by Wealth Strategy Partners — where they work as financial advisers — by sweeping Ji Hoon Heo and Vaclav Stverk.
Last Saturday, they erased match points and state high school champion Chas Okimoto, from Kauai, and his partner, Punahou senior Paul Okuda, to capture the Oahu Club Men's Night Doubles in a marathon final. The tournament drew 22 teams — more than twice as many as last year's inaugural event.
Now they go for Hawaii's big tennis enchilada, which has eluded them for so long. Kailua has a record 56 teams entered, for the second straight year.
That does not include Dennis Lajola and Ikaika Jobe, who won the past two championships — beating Maatta and Tribler in a third-set tiebreaker in 2009 — but will not defend. Three-time champs Wei-Yu Su and Minh Le, who lost in last year's final and beat Tribler and Maatta in 2006, ‘07 and ‘08, are also not playing.
Lajola is traveling on the pro circuit, so Jobe is going after his fourth title (he won with Bradley Lum-Tucker in 2004) with Thomas Shubert. They are seeded second. Former HPU coach Stefan Pampulov is playing with new coach Hendrick Bode and they are seeded third.
The remarkable popularity of Kailua's tournament served as inspiration for the Triple Crown, put together by the USTA's Hawaii Pacific Section, which wanted to promote its new Waikiki Tennis Club, and tennis directors Henry Somerville (Oahu Club) and Bruce Nagel (KRC).
"We've tried a couple things the last few years, like the circuit series for men and women, but nothing seemed to catch on," said HPS executive director Ron Romano. "Bruce, Henry and I got talking and thought this would be a good idea. The whole thing is, once people are not playing competitive tennis in high school or college or whatever, a lot of players don't want to play singles, but they love doubles. Doubles has been working for Bruce, who probably has the most successful doubles event in the history of Hawaii tennis."
Kailua Night Doubles is part tennis tournament, part massive Windward party. The top eight teams are seeded. The other 48 will be cut down to eight in the next week, with the main draw starting next Sunday. The final is Aug. 6. The club has bleachers for 600 and has been attracting some 7,000 spectators over the two weeks the past few years.
Lajola, the best player in Hawaii for most of the last decade, is not the only big name to win Hawaii's biggest tennis event, only the latest. Jobe, Minh Le and 2005 finalist Christopher Lam all played the pro circuit. So did Lahainaluna graduate Ryan Ideta, who won six titles in the space of seven years beginning in 1994. Yue Wang, his partner that year, is now in charge of China's push in professional tennis. Somerville and twin brother Jim won four titles from 1986 to 1992.
In the first 14 years, Peter Isaak and Kendall Char captured five titles together and Rick Fried won four with three partners.
In 2000, KRC started a Women's Night Doubles event in November. Next year, the plan is to make that a Triple Crown as well, with events at the Waikiki and Oahu clubs beginning in October.
"We've had nothing but positive feedback from players," Romano says. "They seem to love it. I think all the draws will be full next year. We hope the women's side will take off."