Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - May 23, 2014

BOYS' TENNIS

Having a Ball

is nothing new

for Menlo team

by Keith Peters

Being the third of four tennis-playing brothers at Menlo School, David Ball has watched his older siblings achieve a lot of success over the years at the Central Coast Section and NorCal tournaments.

He watched the eldest, Jamin, close out a 4-3 win over Saratoga in the 2010 CCS final while playing No. 1 singles. And he watched brother No. 2, Andrew, win at No. 1 last year as Menlo defeated Serra. Both Jamin and Andrew then led their respective teams to NorCal titles.

Now, it's time for David Ball to follow in the impressive footsteps of his brothers.

He took the first step last Friday as he fittingly played on center court at Courtside Club in Los Gatos, posting a 6-0, 6-0 victory at No. 1 singles to help the top-seeded Knights (21-3) hand Saratoga (20-1) its first loss of the season, 6-1.

Ball now will take the final steps this weekend at the CIF/USTA Northern California Regional Championships at the Gold River Racquet Club, just outside of Sacramento.

The Knights will open on Friday (1:30 p.m.) against the winner of Lowell (San Francisco) and Enterprise. The semifinals will be Saturday at 1:30 p.m., followed by the finals at 3:30 p.m.

Menlo has won 10 of the 15 titles since the NorCal playoffs began in 1999. The Knights have won five straight and can extend its ongoing record to six on Saturday. Saratoga is in the other half of the bracket.

Ball heads into the weekend ranking second in his family in career dual-match wins. He now is 104-5 from 2011-14. Andrew leads with a remarkable 110-2 mark while Jamin is 97-11.

Since 2007 when Jamin was a freshman until this season, the Ball family has helped Menlo fashion a record of 201-16. Moreover, all three brothers have been a part of the three most successful four-year stretches in program history. From 2009-12, Menlo went 110-3. From 2010-13, the Knights fashioned a 110-2 mark. And, from 2011-14 (David's career), Menlo is 104-5.

Andrew won four CCS and NorCal titles. David now has four section crowns and needs one more NorCal title to match Andrew, who just finished his freshman year at Harvard. Jamin, who is finishing his senior year at Stanford, had three of each.

David looked at both schools but chose Brigham Young University. He'll be the only senior starter leaving Menlo. Thus, Menlo's winning legacy will be passed down to yet another brother, Mark, a freshman this season.

David Ball didn't know he was going to play at No. 1 in the CCS finale until the day before the finale.

"Once I heard I was going to play on center court, I thought it would be super awesome to carry on the tradition, for my team and my family," Ball said.

The win over Saratoga gave Menlo its sixth straight CCS title and 13th overall. The Knights now have won six in a row twice, last accomplishing that from 1998-2003. Palo Alto (1991-1996) and Monta Vista (1997-02) also have won six. Gunn holds the record with seven straight from 1972-78.

While David sees carrying on the family tradition as something important, it ranks No. 2 to something else.

"I think it's important, but I think the team comes first," he said. "I'm proud to be a part of this winning tradition and represent Menlo. It was an honor to take center court."

Ball had prepared himself to face Saratoga's No. 1 player, Neel Bedekar, but the Falcons' first-year coach switched up his lineup in hopes of ending Menlo's streak. Bedekar played at No. 2 singles and his No. 3 singles player played doubles.

The switch had no effect on the outcome, at least not for the Falcons.

"It just fired up our team even more," said Menlo coach Bill Shine. "It's not a good move on their (Saratoga's) part."

Ball blitzed his opponent and junior Vikram Chari did the same at No. 3 singles, 6-0, 6-0. Menlo's No. 3 doubles team of Clarence Lam and Alex Neumann gave the Knights a 3-0 lead with a 6-2, 6-4 triumph.

With four matches still on the courts, Menlo's Gunther Matta wrapped up the title with a 7-5, 6-0 triumph at No. 4 singles.

"I knew it would be me or Victor (Pham)," said Matta. "It doesn't really matter who is the clincher. The key thing was to find a way to get the win."

Pham won a few minutes later, 6-4, 6-2, and the No. 1 doubles tandem of Gabriel Morgan and Nathan Safran put the finishing touches on the triumph with a 6-2, 6-7, 6-2 win.

"It's amazing," Matta said of Menlo's string of titles. "Bill does such a good job. The coaches (including assistant David Wermuth) have us practice hard every day, to get us in great shape."

"I'm happy for all the new kids on the team," said Shine. "It (winning CCS) never gets old; it gets better."

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