In a move made to grow the grassroots of tennis, the USTA opened its U.S. Open this year with a series of national playoffs. A bunch of pros, former junior champions and kids showed up for the Hawaii Pacific sectional, along with an Olympic gold medalist in skiing and a law student who moonlights as the University of Hawaii’s volunteer tennis coach.
The law student won his case on the court.
Ikaika Jobe, a former state high school and Kailua Racquet Club Men’s Night Doubles champion, captured the men’s title here earlier this month. It was one of 16 across the country. California’s Maureen Diaz, who played No. 3 singles for USC and won a Futures event in the Philippines in 2006, took the women’s title.
They advance to the U.S. Open National Playoffs, held in conjunction with Olympus U.S. Open Series events. Jobe is headed to Atlanta next month. The winner there gets the wild card into the New York qualifying round in August, and a check mark on the tennis player’s bucket list.
"I’ve viewed the competition from the tournaments that are over," said Jobe, who played professionally for 2 1/2 years. "I recognized a lot of names. There are some pros in there, a lot of really good players. I’m not going in there expecting to win, but there’s always a chance."
For Jobe and Bode Miller, there is always a backup.
Miller, with his huge assortment of Olympic medals and World Cup skiing titles, grew up in tennis. His grandparents founded the Tamarack Tennis Camp in Easton, N.H., and he was the 1996 Maine state singles champion.
Miller didn’t make it past the first round at the Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park Tennis Complex. Jobe did, between studies in his first year of law school and after helping the Rainbows reach their third consecutive NCAA Tennis Championship.
He played three years for St. Louis University, studying aviation science with hopes of becoming a professional pilot. He can still fly, but his feet have been firmly on the ground—hardcourt, clay and grass—since he transferred to Boise State for his senior season, then played tennis all over the world, reaching a high of No. 787 in the ITF rankings.
"I got out of college at 23, and I’d always dreamed of being a professional tennis player," Jobe said. "Growing up in Hawaii, you never really know how to go about achieving that dream. I didn’t know how, just thought it would happen. In college, I learned more about the professional system and wanted to give it a shot.
"It was a great lifestyle, but … when you’re winning it’s great. Losing is no fun, You have to wait a whole week to play again and you’re not making any money. The travel was fun most of the time and the lifestyle was the most fun, but it’s very costly and you think about that when you’re playing."
Jobe’s favorite tennis destination was Indonesia, where he could check out the surf spots. Ultimately he came home to surf and start law school, and help UH coach John Nelson with a team that has now won the last three WAC championships.
The Rainbow Warriors were his practice partners going into the U.S. Open Hawaii Pacific qualifier, but now most of them are gone. Jobe is focusing on off-court training before he heads to Atlanta, trying to "re-condition" a body no longer built for the pounding tennis provides.
Jobe’s best match came in a semifinal against Florida’s Eric Hechtman, someone he had played on the pro tour and who has served as hitting partner for Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Venus and Serena Williams.
In May, Hechtman won the USPTA National Clay Court Championships and USTA National Clay Court Championships. This month, Jobe beat him in straight sets while taking a break from his studies.
"I knew it would be a tough road to actually win," Jobe said. "I was really proud to win."