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Pac-10 Championships on tap for Oregon tennis

Heading into the Pacific-10 Conference Championships, six men and two women from their respective Oregon tennis squads have differing expectations for the singles and doubles tournaments that will commence today in Ojai, Calif.

The tournaments are composed of four different brackets; there is a singles championship draw and singles invitational, as well as a doubles championship and doubles invitational, with the championship winners being declared Pac-10 champs and the invitational being more of a exhibition bracket.

The Oregon men’s team is sending freshmen Robin Cambier and Alex Rovello, sophomore Aaron Clissold, and juniors Sho Higuchi, Jose Izquierdo and Doug Mayeda. The team’s only senior, Duncan MacDonald-Korth, was also slotted to go to Ojai and finish out his career, but a last-minute back issue ruled him out.

Rovello, Cambier and Izquierdo will play in the singles championship, while Clissold, Higuchi and Mayeda will compete in the singles invitational. Cambier and Rovello, as well as Izquierdo and Mayeda, will make up the championship doubles teams, and Higuchi and Clissold, as a pair, will represent the Ducks in the invitational.

The Pac-10 championships are an opportunity for players on the cusp of the NCAA Tournaments (singles and doubles) to prove themselves worthy of a bid. For the men, the likelihood of qualifying for either the singles or doubles NCAA tourney is low, and this weekend will likely result in the end of the season, but it will provide strong experience for the team’s top two players — Rovello and Cambier — both of whom are freshmen.

“Being as young as we are and playing with freshmen in spots one and two, (the tournament) is very educational for those guys, and it is another chance for them to get tough matches against some of the best players in the country,” said head coach Nils Schyllander.

Rovello agreed with his coach.

“It would be a success to make it out of round one and a privilege to play against these top guys,” Rovello said. “But if I were to make the semis or finals I could make it to the NCAA tournament.”

Schyllander was a bit more optimistic about the Ducks’ chances in the doubles championship, but was reluctant to forecast them going far enough to qualify for the NCAAs.

“I think doubles-wise, Rovello and Cambier beat the No. 22 team in the country (Washington) and if they get hot they can beat anyone,” he said. “But it really comes down to whoever is hot for three days.”

On the women’s side, there is a brighter outlook for producing a player who could make it to the NCAA singles tournament — Pavlina Smatova.

But there is no guarantee Smatova will qualify for the NCAAs, and she’ll have to perform well to earn a selection according to women’s assistant coach Maja Kovacek.

“The draw is important, and she needs to beat top-40 players,” Kovacek said. “But if she makes it to the semifinals that will put her in a good position to get an at-large bid.”

“If I play against someone who is top-10 in the second round or something, then there is a good chance I can make it,” Smatova said.

The only other women’s player being sent to Ojai is Patricia Skowronski, who will compete in the singles championship and partner with Smatova in doubles.

“I think the main thing is for them to play and compete well,” Kovacek said. “If they can both make it through three rounds I would consider that a big success, for both doubles and singles, and I think it is realistic.”

Both the men and women’s singles and doubles championships have 32 players, while the other brackets vary between 18 and 29 registered competitors.

The entire Ojai Valley Tournament will last from Thursday until Sunday.

The NCAA tournaments will begin May 19 at Stanford.

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