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Hermiston's Dain Lloyd serves the ball. (Photo by AJ Mazzolini)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

HERMISTON — The consolation bracket lived up to its name on Tuesday.

After a disappointing finish to Day 1 of the Special District 1 tennis tournament for Dain Lloyd, the Hermiston senior came out snarling in Hermiston on Tuesday, winning a pair of matches to secure fifth place in the district.

“If I had ended my career on a loss that definitely would have been more heart breaking than not going to state,” Lloyd said following his 6-4, 6-1 victory over Hood River Valley’s Scottie Ziegner. “This is at least somewhat satisfying.”

Following a letdown in the quarterfinals on Monday — a 6-3, 6-1 shortcoming to Summit's Parker Nichols  — the best Lloyd could hope for was fifth place. In fact, squeezing into the Top 5 was the best any Hermiston or Pendleton tennis player could have managed with Monday’s early loses.


 
 
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Hermiston's Emily Stocker (back) and Sarah Hawman. (Photo by EJ Harris)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

HERMISTON — Though a likely state doubles contender was mounting a comeback two courts away, the tennis match of the day at Hermiston High on Wednesday played out between the Pendleton and Hermiston No. 1 singles girls.

The Buckaroos’ Jessica Clark and the Bulldogs’ Zoey Garcia took their match to the limit for the second time in two meetings this year before Garcia could fend off the visitor. Garica won 5-7, 7-6 (7-3), 10-8 in a pair of tiebreakers.


 
 
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Hermiston's Dain Lloyd returns a volley. (Photo by EJ Harris)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

HERMISTON — The Hood River Valley Eagles won just as many boys’ tennis matches as Hermiston in the schools’ meeting Wednesday, but a short club roster left some Bulldogs without opponents to face at the back end of the lineup. Those forfeitures handed Hermiston the 5-3 match victory, its third Columbia River Conference triumph in the first section of league play.

Hermiston beat conference rivals The Dalles Wahtonka and Pendleton last week before downing Hood River Valley on Wednesday.


 
 
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Top-ranked American Mardy Fish at the Western & Southern Open. (AP Photo)
By  AJ Mazzolini

MASON, Ohio — Many of his fellow countrymen might not recognize his face or his name, but Mardy Fish insists he’s fine with that.

It actually has helped his rise in the tennis world from consistently strong veteran to upper-echelon elite.

The Los Angeles resident is playing the best tennis of any American on the men’s tour, and has been for most of the year. A string of victories and deep runs in tournaments has vaulted him into uncharted territory in the world rankings. He currently sits at No. 8, amid a slew of European players, and he’s the only American in the top 20.

Fish is seeded eighth for the U.S. Open, which begins Monday in New York.

“I don’t necessarily feel like I’ll be the top American,” Fish said. “I will maybe be ranked the highest. I’ve sort of gone under the radar pretty comfortably and haven’t had to answer too many critics.”

 
 
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Andy Murray (AP photo)
By  AJ Mazzolini

MASON, Ohio — Novak Djokovic watched Andy Murray return a strike over the net, a floating entree ready to be devoured. The usual Djokovic, who reeled off 43 straight wins to capture the world’s top ranking earlier this year, would have crushed the ball off the court for a point.

Yesterday though, the Serb’s forehand put the ball into the net and left a grimace on his face.

Soon after, Djokovic opted to retire from the match due to a right shoulder injury, handing Murray the championship at the Western & Southern Open. Murray was up a set, won 6-4, and was leading 3-0 in the second when play ended.

“I would have obviously liked to have won by finishing the match,” said the fourth-ranked Murray, who won the tournament in 2008. “But sometimes it happens.”

The loss was only Djokovic’s second of the season, dropping his record to 57-2, a mark that’s earned him nine titles on the year, including two Grand Slams. He had been a perfect 33-0 on the hard court before yesterday.

“I apologize to the tournament; I apologize to the people who came here today to watch the match,” said Djokovic, 24, who had been experiencing shoulder pain for about 10 days.

 
 
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Williams announces her withdrawal from W&S Open. (AP photo)
By  AJ Mazzolini

MASON, Ohio — Serena Williams returned to tennis with a blaze this summer after a long injury layoff, but she might have pushed herself too hard on her recently healed foot.

Williams withdrew from the Western & Southern Open yesterday because of a toe injury. The former No. 1 player in the world was riding a 12-match winning streak and was due to face 10th-ranked Samantha Stosur in the second round, a rematch of the Rogers Cup final that Williams won Sunday.

The withdrawal is precautionary, she said, and should not affect her playing in the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 29 in New York.

“It’s not as bad as it was before,” Williams said of the injury, which she suffered in July 2010 after stepping on glass in a restaurant in Germany. “It’s just more of an aggravation.”

The cuts required two surgeries and put her tennis career on hiatus for nearly a year. She returned to the court in June.

 
 
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The UM tennis squad a recent practice. (Photo by Ben Coulter)
The Montana women's tennis team will be experiencing déjà vu when it takes on Northern Arizona this Saturday at the Big Sky Conference Championship Tournament.

The Grizzlies' opening round matchup will feature the same team and same players as last weekend's regular season finale.

Montana coach Steve Ascher is hoping the outcome will be different this time around.

"I always appreciate rematches, especially if you come out on the losing side the first time," said Ascher, referencing his squad's loss last weekend.

 
 
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UM senior Amanda Bran. (Photo by Steel Brooks)
While Montana's clinching of a Big Sky Conference Championship berth was the biggest tennis news of the weekend, a close second was the return of Amanda Bran.

After a February foot injury derailed her promising senior season, Bran spent more than two months rehabbing — working with trainers sometimes two or three times a day. She sat watching her teammates and waiting. On April 9, her wait ended.

"I was a bit nervous actually stepping back in," said Bran, who suffers from plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation near the heel that makes bearing weight difficult. "But after a few minutes it felt all natural again. It was amazing."

The rust didn't show on Saturday as the women's tennis star helped the Griz knock off Idaho State 6-1, guaranteeing a second straight Montana postseason trip. The Australian-born tennis player rekindled the fire with doubles partner Constance Alexander to the tune of an 8-0 thrashing.

 
 
Basketball

The Grizzly men's basketball team fell in overtime at Eastern Washington 59–55 on Saturday, likely dropping out of the running for the Big Sky Conference regular-season title and a chance to host the conference tournament next week.

The Griz final game wrapped up league play at a 12–4 record, 20–9 overall, but they trail Northern Colorado for first place. A win would have guaranteed the Griz a share of the conference crown, but the loss could drop them as low as third depending on Northern Colorado and Weber State's remaining schedule.
 
 
Carl Kuschke
Montana's Carl Kuschke of South Africa. (Photo by Greg Lindstrom)
Strolling by the University of Montana tennis courts on a spring afternoon can be a quick lesson in dialect recognition.  Chances are, accompanying the rhythmic thwaps of the ball belted back and forth during the Grizzly men’s tennis practice, some unusual accents and languages can be overheard.

On the team are six of about 420 international students at the university.  That’s more than half of the squad’s 11 players hailing from countries around the globe, including Poland, South Africa, Brazil, Germany and Canada.  Only two of those 11 are native Montanans.

Imported talent is often a quick fix for holes in a tennis program.  International recruitment can be a solution both for filling roster spots with up-to-par skill and dealing with teams’ budget hardships.  The help is out there, said Jim O’Day, athletic director at the University of Montana, you just have to be willing to search for it.